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Fiddlin' John Carson

March 23, 1868 – December 11, 1949 Inspiration for Stephen Vincent Benet (in his “The Mountain Whippoorwill, or How Hill-Billy Jim Won the Great Fiddler’s Prize”), and acclaimed for making what were, in effect, the first commercially successful country music recordings, Fiddlin’ John Carson was 55 years old before playing the legendary 1923 sessions that would establish his reputation. A jack-of-all-trades whose fiddle remained a constant in an ever-shifting life, Carson made a name for himself in Georgia’s fiddling contests, and came to be so well known that politicos of the day, such as the man who "discovered" him, Bob Taylor, would employ Carson to campaign for them. His local renown eventually led to his acquaintance with Polk C. Brockman, whose Atlanta furniture store had become an outlet for phonographs and phonograph recordings. Brockman convinced Ralph Peer of Okeh Records that Carson was worthy of recording, and although Peer thought Carson’s voice “plu perfect awful,” trusted Brockman’s instincts. Carson fast became a celebrity with the release of “Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane” / “The Old Hen Cackled and the Rooster’s Going to Crow,” in 1923, and became a stalwart of Okeh’s catalogue. Along with his daughter, “Moonshine” Kate, Carson continued to record into the 1930s, but realized little profit from his efforts, and eventually took a job as an elevator operator in Georgia's capitol, a position secured for him by Gene Talmadge, for whom Carson had campaigned.

Adapted from:

Wiggins, Gene. Fiddlin' Georgia Crazy. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987.

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