Fiddlin’ John Carson (1868–1949)

Updated: February 28, 2011

Early country fiddler and singer.

Born March 23, c. 1868, in the north Georgia mountains, John William Carson as a boy learned to play fiddle on an instrument brought from Ireland by his ancestors. In 1879, at a political function in Copperhill, Tennessee, the young Carson was dubbed “Fiddlin’ John Carson” by fiddler and governor of Tennessee, Bob Taylor. With fiddling as a side- line, Carson made his living in a variety of jobs, working as a farmer, railroad worker, jockey, and moonshiner. After moving to Atlanta in 1900 to work in a textile mill, he found increased opportunities to entertain as a fiddler. A 1913 strike caused Carson to turn to fiddling and singing on the streets. A major figure at the Georgia Old-Time Fiddlers’ Convention, held annually in Atlanta between 1913 and 1935, Carson received extensive coverage in the city’s newspapers. He was a favorite among the competing fiddlers and a colorful character who attracted large audiences wherever he performed.

When Atlanta’s first radio station, WSB, went on the air in 1922, Carson was among its first performers. The large number of letters, telegrams, and telephone calls from listeners who appreciated his repertoire of traditional fiddle tunes kept Carson on the station as a regular performer for the remainder of the decade.

Recording company executives discovered the profitability of Appalachian and southern “hillbilly” music after Carson’s debut release became popular. Recorded June 14, 1923, by producer Ralph Peer for the OKeh label, it featured the song “The Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane” and the instrumental “The Old Hen Cackled and the Rooster’s Going to Crow.” Although Carson was a pioneer in the fledgling commercial country music industry, his sound was soon deemed too “primitive,” and his subsequent recordings for the OKeh and Bluebird labels received less attention. He died December 11, 1949.

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"Fiddlin’ John Carson," Encyclopedia of Appalachia, 2018, Encyclopedia of Appalachia. 19 Oct 2018 <>

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Fiddlin’ John Carson