The old-time banjo player, fiddler and guitarist, Alva Lee Hendren (Mrs. Kenneth Hendren) of rural Madison, Missouri, died March 6, 2007 at the age of 77. Alva Lee was born in Moberly (Randolph County) in 1929 and was part of a well-known musical family. Her father was Luther Wilson, a coal miner in the Moberly-Huntsville area, who who taught Alva Lee a two-finger, up-picking style of playing five-string banjo. Wilson had learned banjo from Columbus Raider, and this banjo style, providing excellent accompaniment for fiddling, reached back to the Civil War in central Missouri.
Alva Lee and her husband Kenneth farmed in the Madison-Middle Grove area of Monroe-Randolph Counties. In her later years, Alva Lee frequently performed at local dances, jam sessions, senior citizen’s centers and other venues. She often played electric guitar accompaniment at dances, as well as picking banjo tunes and playing fiddle tunes. I enjoyed participating in jam sessions with Mrs. Hendren, at places like an ice cream social at a church in Moberly (September 2000), as well as fiddle jam sessions organized by Preston and Tammy Williams in Madison.
Alva Lee appeared with Frank Reed on the 1977 LP “I’m Old But I’m Awfully Tough: Traditional Music of the Ozark Region” (New Haven, Missouri, Friends of Folk Arts), an interesting compilation project. That album’s title is misleading, however, because several of the musicians on the project, such as Hendren and Reed, were from the Little Dixie region, not the Ozarks region.