The Old-Time Herald Volume 9, Number 5

Feature
Violet Hensley:
The Whittling Fiddler of Yellville, Arkansas

by Linda Higginbotham

Introduction

Since the 1960s Arkansas fiddler and fiddle maker Violet Hensley has earned national renown. Given the nickname, the “whittling fiddler,” Mrs. Hensley has appeared on national television on shows from the Beverly Hillbillies, Art Linkletter, Charles Kuralt’s On the Road, Captain Kangaroo, To Tell the Truth Tokyo, to Tokyo, Japan’s 60 Minutes. She has also tirelessly performed and demonstrated her craft at festivals, schools, colleges and nursing homes and promoted Arkansas’ Silver Dollar City in appearances throughout the West and Midwest. Many periodicals from the local to the national level have run features on her, from National Geographic and Modern Maturity to Country America.

Photo by Alice Gerrard

In 2004, Mrs. Hensley received the Living Treasure Award from the Arkansas Arts Council. To commemorate the honor, she received a plaque, which honored her for a lifetime of achievement. Nearly 200 members of her community gathered to help her celebrate as she and her family gave a performance that included tunes she has known since the 1920s— “Little Brown Jug” and “Eighth of January.” Accompanying her were family members Lawonna Nelson, Sandy Flagg, Calvin Hensley, Tim Nelson and little Kailee Nicole Wehunt. Sandy, Calvin and Tim played guitars while her daughter Lawonna played the “jackassophone,” (the jawbone of a jackass), and great grandaughter Kailee kept up the beat on the spoons.

The interview portion of this article was done by Linda Higginbotham, and appeared originally in Sing Out! magazine (v. 32, no 4, Spring 1987). Brad Leftwich prepared the transcription of one of Violet Hensley’s signature fiddle tunes, “Jericho.”

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