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.
Cite this Entry
"Fiddlin’ John Carson," Encyclopedia of Appalachia, 2017, Encyclopedia of Appalachia. 26 May 2017 <http://www.encyclopediaofappalachia.com/entry.php?rec=45>
"Fiddlin’ John Carson." (2017) In Encyclopedia of Appalachia, Retrieved May 26, 2017, from Encyclopedia of Appalachia: http://www.encyclopediaofappalachia.com/entry.php?rec=45
Fiddlin’ John Carson