Road Scholars Speakers

In the late 1970s Joyce and Jim Cauthen discovered old-time music, a fiddle-centered style of folk music that is the forerunner of bluegrass music. Jim took up the fiddle and Joyce learned to accompany him on guitar. At the time most fans of old-time of music looked to North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee, and other Appalachian states for fiddle music. The Cauthens wanted to find how fiddles were played in Alabama and discover tunes that were played there in earlier days.

Joyce made it her mission to find fiddlers who had learned to play by ear from their kinfolks and neighbors, those who knew archaic tunes and had not had the opportunity or felt the need to become polished and improvisational as many did after World War II.

Because such fiddlers seldom performed in public she looked for them in published histories of towns and counties in Alabama and vintage newspapers in archives and libraries across the state, and asked contemporary fiddlers if they knew of any older fiddlers who would fit the bill. When she got a lead she would either take off on her own to find that fiddler or wait until her husband could make the trip with her. If they found a “bonafide” old-time fiddler, they were rewarded with good tunes and wonderful stories told by a person who was delighted to share them. They encouraged fiddlers to go deep into their memories and pull out rare tunes that had been played within their families or in their communities but were now on the verge of extinction. These they recorded, first on inexpensive cassette recorders, later on professional equipment loaned by the Library of Congress.

In this program, Joyce will give a brief history of the fiddle in America (Alabama, in particular) and describe the development of Southern old-time music. From their front porch in Birmingham they will take the audience on virtual visits with some of the fiddlers, share their stories and play, on fiddle, guitar and banjo, unique tunes they learned from them.