Callaway County, Missouri
Bill Katon is known today primarily from his days of playing fiddle on the radio out of WOS in Jefferson City in the 1920s.
Bill Katon (or Caton) was a well-known African-American fiddler from Tebbetts, Missouri, in Callaway County. Little is known about his life. He was born in 1865, and his birthplace and parents are unknown. Like many people in the days before easy record-keeping and widespread literacy, even his name is a source of mystery; while it is spelled Caton on his death certificate, many other sources use Katon, including his gravestone; Katon is preferred by the family.
In the 1920 census, he’s listed as “Caton,” and resident at Caldwell, in Callaway County, Missouri, a widower with two sons, John and Fred. He’s reported as owning his home and being able to read and write.
Bill Katon is known today primarily from his days of playing fiddle on the radio out of WOS in Jefferson City in the 1920s. WOS was an early and powerful station that could be heard from Hawaii to Cuba (Marshall, 174). Dr. Howard Marshall recounts that the station in those days beamed live from the tip-top of the capitol building, a convenient high spot. Since it was radio, there was no need to disclose the race of their musicians; even when told, some people at the time refused to believe that such a great fiddler could be black, despite evidence to the contrary.
Bill passed away at St. Mary’s Hospital in Jefferson City in 1934, at the age of 69. Like Bill Driver, Bill Katon left behind tunes for us to remember him by. One in particular, under the names “Caton’s Reel” or “Old Jeff City” is popular from Seattle to Clifftop.
Source: Marshall, Howard. “Play Me Something Quick and Devilish: Old-Time Fiddlers in Missouri” (University of Missouri Press, 2012)