Roger Williams, Missouri Bluegrass Fiddler, Dies at 84

Roger Williams plays fiddle in his living room with guitar backup played by Ed McKinney

Roger Williams plays some tunes on the violin his uncle Clyde Briggs, a soldier in World War Two, brought home from Germany after the war in 1945; Roger acquired the bow while in the Army in 1960. With guitarist Ed McKinney, West Plains, 2013. (Photo by Howard Marshall)

Roger A. Williams, one of the Midwest’s foremost bluegrass fiddlers, died in West Plains, Missouri, December 15, 2019. He was 84. Williams was born in 1935 on the family farm between Cureall and Pottersville in the gently rolling landscape of Howell County in southern Missouri. Roger descended from Scottish, English, Irish, and Cherokee Indian people, and there are many musicians in the clan. Continue reading

Bethel Youth Fiddle Camp, 2019

Master fiddler Vesta Johnson with students.

Vesta Johnson shows some young fiddlers how to play a dance tune.

The annual youth fiddle camp hosted in Bethel, Missouri, will be held June 9-14 this summer. It’s a great opportunity for young fiddlers to spend the week working with master musicians every day and meeting other young musicians who love to play as much as they do. Read more about the event or register to attend.

Bethel Adult Fiddle Camp, 2019

This event has been postponed and more information will be shared when it has been rescheduled or canceled.

Adults play fiddle tunes together at Bethel adult fiddle camp.This year’s adult Missouri fiddle camp will be taking place in the spring. Come join fellow learners at the Bethel German Colony in Bethel, Missouri for a long weekend of instruction and jamming May 15-18. Read more about the event or register to attend.

Master Missouri fiddlers Charlie Walden, Angie Lennie, and Mickey Soltys will be teaching workshops all weekend. They represent a broad variety of Missouri styles and a deep trove of traditional tunes and lore.

Come play till your fingers bleed and learn tunes till your brain leaks out your ears! Your friends and family might not understand, but you’ll meet new friends who do at Bethel!

Memorial Scheduled for Missouri Fiddler John White

John White, holding his fiddle, sits in front of an upright piano smiling.We are very sorry to report that Missouri fiddler John White, of Hallsville, passed away this past weekend. He was 81, and had just returned from teaching as a master fiddler at the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes in Port Townsend, Washington in July. John, never one to sit still for long, had also just finished recording a new CD, now available from Missouri Valley Music, and teaching at Bethel Youth Fiddle Camp, a week-long camp for young people to learn traditional Missouri fiddle.

John will be sorely missed by his family, his musical compatriots, the many young and young-at-heart musicians who learned from him, and of course, his community dance in Hallsville. The Hallsville dance was a labor of love for John for over 15 years (during which he missed only two dances!), and we will continue dancing on the second Saturday of each month at the Hallsville Community Center.

There will be an Open House in John’s honor at Bach-Yager Funeral Home in Columbia, MO on Friday, August 18 from 5-7 pm.

There will be a Celebration of Life and Jam Session, also at Bach-Yager Funeral Home in Columbia, MO, on Saturday, August 19 from 2-5 pm.

“Fiddler’s Dream” Book-Signing in St. Louis

Cover art for "Fiddler's Dream"On Friday evening, July 7, at 7 pm, author (and musician!) Howard Marshall will sign copies of his new book (with companion CD), “Fiddler’s Dream” (University of Missouri Press) at The Book House in St. Louis.
“Fiddler’s Dream” is the sequel to Marshall’s “Play Me Something Quick and Devilish” (2012). It continues the saga of traditional fiddle and dance music, focusing on the period from the 1920s to the 1960s, and such topics as radio fiddlers, early fiddlers contests, oprys, swing, early Missouri bluegrass, and old-time fiddling.
The 540-page book incorporates oral history and archival research, numerous photograph, and 24 transcriptions of fiddle tunes.  The book comes with a CD with 30 recordings from 1939 to 2015.  Marshall is Professor Emeritus of Art History and Archaeology at the University of Missouri (Columbia) and former director of the Missouri Cultural Heritage Center (and yes, he plays a bit of fiddle, himself).
The event will include live music by some of St. Louis’s finest musicians — Geoff Seitz (violin), Dave Landreth (banjo), and Jim Nelson (guitar).
The Book House is located at 7352 Manchester Road (in Maplewood), tel. (314)  ​

New Book: Fiddler’s Dream

Cover art for "Fiddler's Dream"Another fine book on Missouri fiddling, “Fiddler’s Dream: Old-Time, Swing, and Bluegrass Fiddling in Twentieth-Century Missouri,” has been written by Dr. Howard Marshall and will be published by the University of Missouri Press (Columbia, MO) on June 30, 2017. This is the project that picks up where the 2012 book & CD, “Play Me Something Quick and Devilish,” left off. So, the time span for “Fiddler’s Dream” is from the 1920s to the early 1960s, and it includes chapters on early fiddlers contests, swing, early bluegrass, and more.

The book includes a CD produced by Voyager Records (Seattle, WA) including 30 tunes, ranging from a 1939 radio broadcast featuring Lonnie Robertson to a 2015 home recording of Cecil Goforth. Other fiddlers represented on the CD (many more are discussed in the book) are Howe Teague, Roy Wooliver, Bert Lewis, Billy Moore, Don Russell, Leroy Canaday, Larry Ellis, Luther Caldwell, Emmett Heath, Zed Tennis, Bobby Joe Caldwell, Dale Pauley, Jamie Haage, Lyman Enloe, Delbert Spray, Warren Helton, Roger Williams, John Williams, and Pete McMahan. There are also tunes from Missouri fiddlers who migrated to the West — Ishmael (Ozark Red) Loveall, Earl Willis, Ellis Cowan, Ron Hughey, and Bob Fast.

Book Release Events

  • Friday, June 2, 11:30 am – 1:00 pm, Jefferson City, Downtown Book & Toy​ on High Street (​book signing​ only​​).
  • Thursday, July 13, 2107, 7 pm, Jefferson City, Missouri Valley Regional Library, Art Gallery, program with live fiddle music, with book signing after.
  • Saturday, September 23, mid-day, Gainesville, program with live music at The Historium museum, during Hootin an’ Hollerin Festival. (Featuring fiddler H. K. Silvey)
  • Saturday, November 18, 9:30 am, Columbia, book talk with live music at Boone County Historical Society museum, Nifong Park.
  • Saturday, December 2, 9:30 am, Columbia, Osher Institute, Book Talk with live music. (Featuring fiddler Dale Pauley)
  • Monday, December 11, 7 pm, Columbia, Daniel Boone Regional Library.

You can pick up your copy locally at Downtown Book & Toy in Jefferson City, or order it online from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or directly from the University of Missouri Press.

Congratulations are due to Howard on a job well done!

Ozark Fiddler Cliff Bryan Dies at Age 89

West Plains Missouri Fiddler Cliff Bryan

West Plains, Missouri, Fiddler Cliff Bryan, as pictured on the cover of his recent Voyager Records CD. Photo by Rachel Reynolds

Submitted by Dr. E. D. McKinney, Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University, West Plains Campus

“His fingers look like spiders dancing on the strings!” So said Allison (Scheets) Williams, an aspiring young fiddler, when she first closely observed Cliff Bryan’s fiddling about 1999 or 2000.

Cliff Bryan of West Plains, Missouri passed away Sunday, March 12, 2017. He was a renowned fiddler and teacher of fiddle playing, having participated as a teacher of fiddling in the Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program first introduced under the direction of Dr. Howard Marshall, who in 1987 was the Director of the Missouri Cultural Heritage Center at the University of Missouri at Columbia. In addition to his role as a master teacher, Cliff received the honor of being recognized for his fiddling by the National Endowment of the Arts Council of the University of Missouri. He was a life-long musician, having played guitar for dances with Seth Crabtree, a fiddler of the West Plains area in the 1940s and 50s, and during those years Cliff began honing his skills as a master fiddler in his own right.

He taught many younger aspiring fiddlers during the past 25 years. Many of them, such as Rachel (Reynolds) Luster, Jessica Collins, Joel Hinds, and others, became exceptional fiddlers under his tutelage. Cliff was a master of the “short bow” style of playing and had a large repertoire of fiddle tunes, both those common to the area, and compositions he picked up from radio and recordings. As long as his health permitted, he was a regular attendee and performer at various folk music and bluegrass festivals and jam sessions in the West Plains area. He particularly enjoyed playing with other fiddlers in a segment called “The Fiddlers’ Frolic,” held each year in June at the Old Time Music Festival in West Plains.

Recordings of Cliff Bryan’s music are relatively rare. One favorite tune of his was “Black-Eyed Susie,” included in the CD accompanying Dr. Howard Marshall’s first volume concerning Missouri fiddlers, Play Me Something Quick and Devilish: Old Time Fiddlers in Missouri (University of Missouri Press, Columbia, 2012). Also, Cliff recorded one CD of 32 fiddle tunes in 2014, entitled “Got A Little Home To Go To.” This CD was produced under the direction of Jim Nelson, and is available from Voyager Records. Also, Cliff can be heard on YouTube, under “Cliff Bryan Fiddle at the Fiddlers’ Frolic.” We can now only wish there had been other CDs of Cliff’s fiddling produced—this would have more completely filled a gap in the Ozark’s musical culture. As Illinois Folklorist Matt Meacham said, he was “a walking encyclopedia of traditional fiddle music around Howell County and the Ozarks.” We shall miss him.

Phil Williams, Friend of Missouri Fiddling, Passes Away

Musician and music organizer Phil Williams of Seattle passed away last week in Seattle. With his wife and musical partner, Vivian, he ran Voyager Recordings which published CDs of many Missouri and Missouri-inspired musicians, including discs from John White, Howard Marshall, and Travis Inman. Brendan Kiley of the Seattle Times has written a wonderful remembrance of Phil, “Don’t fence me in: Phil Williams, who co-founded Folklife and fought to keep it free, dies at 80.” He will be missed.

Happy Birthday, John White!

Happy 80th Birthday to fiddler John White!

At 80, soft-spoken John isn’t resting on his laurels:  he keeps learning tunes and challenging the rest of us to keep up with him. He plays dances, organizes the long-running Hallsville Dance on the second Saturday of each month, teaches several fiddle students a week, and still finds time for his favorite students, his grandchildren. He is also a dance fiddlin’ machine: he played nine dances and performances in the month of October!

If you see John around town or at the Hallsville dance, be sure and wish him a happy birthday.

Charlie Walden has provided a little John White flashback:


And here’s John today, teaching at the 2016 Bethel fiddle camp!


Upcoming Events

Adult Fiddle Camp in Bethel, Missouri

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Hallsville Jam Session – October 2023

Saturday, October 14, 2023 • 4-9 p.m.

Hallsville Jam Session – November 2023

Saturday, November 11, 2023 • 4-9 p.m.

Hallsville Jam Session – December 2023

Saturday, December 9, 2023 • 4-9 p.m.

See more events