By Randall Franks
I am honored to have known some of the most amazing fiddlers in American history. I have added to that list someone that, when I was a little boy, I saw perform on “The Beverly Hillbillies” and “Captain Kangaroo.” That person is America’s first woman fiddler of note, known to millions through television, live performances and demonstrations of her craft of making fiddles, Violet Hensley.
She marked her 98th year on October 21, 2014. Throughout the week she greeted fans and friends at the National Cowboy and Harvest Festival at Silver Dollar City in Branson, Mo. where she has held court for the past 47 years.
I am privileged to share this occasion with her. Many fans who have stopped to see her carried home her new autobiography, “Whittlin’ and Fiddlin’ My Own Way: The Violet Hensley Story,” which I helped pen.
“I never thought I would be writing about my life, my music and my fiddle making,” she said. “I would have never dreamed, coming from a farm in the backwoods of Arkansas that the things I learned on that farm would make me a TV personality and gain me fame around the world.”
The Arkansas Living Treasure Award winner from Yellville, Arkansas learned to fiddle in 1928 and then make fiddles from watching her father, George W. Brumley, in the community of Alamo, Arkansas, in 1932.
It was an amazing experience to work with Violet weekly to refine the experiences from her life and compile a book, which not only reflects what many rural families endured in America in the 20th century, but what was most unique about Violet as she grew artistically and to find folk music stardom at nearly 50.
She raised a family of nine with her late husband Adren while he moved the family from town to town and state to state.
With the advent of the folk music revival, Violet’s blossoming musical and fiddle-making talents caught the attention of Grammy winner Jimmy Driftwood and the owners of Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri.
She joined the crafter’s cast at Silver Dollar City in 1967, becoming part of the city’s celebrities who used radio, television, and newspapers to invite visitors to the amusement park.
Sharing her talents in front of millions, Hensley became one of the first woman fiddlers to reach a large international audience appearing at the Smithsonian’s Festival of American Folklife and at festivals, colleges and on countless local, regional and national television and radio shows such as “To Tell the Truth” and “Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee.”
“I hope folks will enjoy getting a glimpse at what my near century on this world has been like,” Violet said. “It’s been a hoot so far and what’s even better is that while the book is written, the story continues. I hope folks will join me for what is yet to come. They can start by reading the book.”
The 258-page soft cover book from Peach Picked Publishing includes 145 photos and is available for $25 including shipping.
For more information about the book, visit http://randallfranks.com/, http://violethensley.com, or order it through fine booksellers everywhere. The book can also be liked on Facebook.
Randall Franks is an award-winning musician, singer and actor. He is best known for his role as “Officer Randy Goode” on TV’s “In the Heat of the Night” now on WGN America. His latest CD release, “Mississippi Moon,” is by Crimson Records. He is a member of the Independent Country Music Hall of Fame. His latest book is “Encouragers I: Finding the Light.” He is a syndicated columnist for http://randallfranks.com/ and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.