Friday, November 18, 2011

Henry Ford’s fiddle contests hits Minnesota in 1926.

In 1926 Henry ford decided to have a bunch of fiddle contests at auto shows simultaneously all across the country. They became a major cultural phenomenon. Henry’s putting the fiddle in the national spotlight led to many newspaper articles about the contests. Luckily for us, some of these newspaper clips were collected in one of Bob Andresen's files at the University of Wisconsin. It gives us a peak into who the great Minnesota fiddlers were 85 years ago and glimpses of their repertoire. It shows that Minnesotan fiddlers were playing many of the common tunes that were shared by fiddlers around the country- the kinds of tunes that are still played in jams today. I would be remiss if I didn't add some of these popular tunes into this blog's collection. The three that come up the most are Turkey in the Straw, Irish Washerwoman, and The Girl I Left Behind Me. All three of these tunes have been in Minnesota since the early days of Fort Snelling.

Some notable excerpts from the statewide contests:

- A.A. Lund, chewing away for dear life, without a tooth in his head, gave them The Girl I Left Behind Me, his moustache jerking up and down in perfect time with the tune.

- Between 20,000 and 30,000 fans have packed three theatres over the last 4 nights.

- Rules of contest: Entrant must be over 60 years of age. 90 names were entered.

- Diffney’s right arm amputated just below the elbow where his violin bow was strapped. His second number was Irish Washerwoman which received shouts and applause.

- 600 people attended. Largest crowd ever assembled in the hall.

I have no Minnesota sources of these tunes from the 1920's.  So here are the popular stringbands of the day playing them-

Turkey In The Straw. Gid Tanner And His Skillet Lickers (1926)

The Girl I Left Behind Me. Gid Tanner And His Skillet Lickers (1926)

 Irish Washerwoman. Doc Roberts (1928)


  1. This is great stuff! Contests were much more creative back then with a lot more tricks and fun rather than serious violin playing. Thanks for posting - I'll be sure to share.

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