Miller County, Missouri
Driver played for dances and played in (and won) contests in Miller County for many years in the 1920s-1940s.
Players: Bill Driver, fiddle; probably R.P Christeson, piano
R.P. Christeson collected this tune from Bill Driver in the late 1940s and included several of Driver’s tunes, including this one, in the “Old Time Fiddler’s Repertory.”
Bill Driver is one of two African-American traditional fiddlers from the Central Missouri area who are still well-known.
Bill Driver was born in Miller County, southwest of Iberia. His father, also named William Driver, was the son of a slave known only as Mandy Dixon or Dickson. William Driver, Sr., was born in 1859 and adopted as a child by a family called Driver, the name he carried for the remainder of his life. When he died in 1934, Bill, Sr.’s occupation was listed as Minister of the Gospel; he had been a Free Will Baptist preacher traveling the circuit. His occupation suggests that he was able to read, which would have been unusual for an African-American at the time. He played a drum as part of his preaching. Bill, Jr. was born in 1881, married Violet Williams, and had 6 daughters and one son. The 1920 census records the Driver family, with race “mulatto” and occupation “general farmer,” along with noting that both Bill and Violet could read and write. While there was once a black school near Iberia, by the time the young Drivers were school age, it was no longer in use, so Violet educated her children at home. Peggy Hake, a Miller County resident who knew the Driver family, states that by this time, the Drivers were virtually the only black children remaining in the area.
In later years, Bill and his family moved to Centertown, in Cole County. Mr. Driver passed away at the age of 104 in Jefferson City in 1985.
Driver played for dances and played in (and won) contests in Miller County for many years in the 1920s-1940s. Peggy Hake writes, “Bill Driver had the unique, God-given talent of a musician. He was very well-learned on the old country fiddle and during his lifetime he won many fiddling contests across the countryside. Often his first-place prize was $25 in cash…..He was much in demand at Saturday night dances where he played to the delight of his many admirers. Many times he was accompanied by the Howser sisters (Sadie and Sylvia) as they picked their flat-top guitars for lively dances. Bill and the Howsers (including Sadie and Sylvia’s blind brother) often played at the local picnics held each summer at Hardy Lollis Park in Iberia. Mrs. Edna Williams Irwin of Iberia, before her death in the early 1990s, told me that often her husband, Dr. Ray Irwin, would meet Bill Driver in Iberia at the Adams and Casey Store and they would sit for hours playing their fiddles in double harmony….Dr. Ray Irwin was a retired professor of history at New York University.”
Bill was known by R. P. Christeson, a voracious documenter of Missouri fiddling, as well, and Christeson recorded and transcribed several tunes from Bill Driver which are still part of the central Missouri repetoire, including the appropriately-named Iberia Breakdown. It is through Christeson’s efforts that there are a few recordings preserving Bill’s fiddling.
Thanks to Peggy Smith Hake and the Miller County Museum for much of the source material for this biography, including the photographs. Read more reminiscence of the Drivers and other local African-American families.