A blog sponsored by the Michigan State University Museum's Michigan Traditional Arts Program, a partnership with the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs. Sharing news and information about the Great Lakes Folk Festival, Quilt Index, the MSU Museum's traditional arts activities, Great Lakes traditional artists and arts resources, and much more. Development of content for this blog supported by funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Fiddlers and Collectors: Jim McKinney and Glenn Hendrix

Jim McKinney and Glenn Hendrix have a lot in common. Both are accomplished fiddlers. Both were born in Southern Michigan in the 1950s. Both have been involved with musical organizations like the Original Michigan Fiddlers Association or the Original Dulcimer Players Club. Both have known many fiddlers from  previous generations. Both enjoy playing for dances. No doubt, both play many of the same fiddle tunes. Yet, one of the most unique commonalities between the two soft-spoken fiddlers is the fact that they have been involved in the collection, transcription, publication, and general preservation of Michigan fiddling.

In February, I interviewed both of these remarkable fiddlers. I was on a fieldwork trip interviewing Michigan’s fiddlers as part of a National Endowment for the Arts grant project administered through the Michigan State University Museum. I make my living as a fiddler and storyteller. I am a native of Michigan who has made the fiddle playing of the Great Lakes region – especially Michigan, one of my primary research interests. This led to the founding of a website dedicated to Michigan Fiddlers.

Jim McKinney
photo by A. Trae McMaken, Feb. 2014
Besides the six recordings on his discography with the Golden Griffon Stringtet, his wife Loretta McKinney, or solo, and besides the awards won for original fiddle tunes compositions, his competition laurels, his induction into the Michigan Fiddlers Hall of Fame, or his work running the Michigan State Championship Old-Time Fiddlers Contest at the Huron Applefest, Jim McKinney has transcribed and compiled a remarkable collection of fiddle tunes. Beyond that, Jim played a major part in the production of a book of tunes and stories from the life and repertoire of Michigan Heritage Award Winner Les Raber entitled Come Dance With Me: Original Fiddle Compositions and Favorite Tunes of Les Raber. Jim also produced the CD, Come Dance With Me. . . Again that, along with other recordings, shares Les Raber’s fiddling with the public. More information about this work can be found at the Golden Griffon Stringtet website. Jim’s transcription and publication projects continue with other fiddlers, and it is likely that before long the public will get the chance to benefit from Jim’s work again.

Jim is unusually precise when it comes to his descriptions of what he believes comprises Michigan style fiddling, at least among the players he knew. At the Michigan State Championship Old-Time Fiddlers Contest he hopes to encourage more players to pursue this style through requiring the playing of particular dances – a waltz, a schottische, a jig, and a reel. Jim began requiring these tunes after he took oversight of the pre-existing contest. In addition, Jim identifies a very structured phrasing, danceable tempos, and staying close to the melody as an aspect of Michigan style.

Jim continues to perform with the Golden Griffon Stringtet and also calls dances.


The above video is one of many found of YouTube of the Golden Griffon Stringtet. In this selection, they can be seen playing for a dance in Holland, Michigan.

Glenn Hendrix
photo by A. Trae McMaken, Feb. 2014
It’s an honor to play a fiddle that has a long history. If you ever have the pleasure to listen to Glenn Hendrix fiddle, he may be playing the fiddle of a notable late fiddler from Beaver Island by the name of Patrick Bonner. The fiddle is on loan to Glenn from Bonner’s family. Though residing downstate, Glenn can regularly be found on Beaver Island in the summertime with Bonner’s fiddle, playing tunes for the islanders and visitors. It makes sense for the fiddle to be in Glenn’s possession. Glenn made the tunes of Bonner a special interest and undertook the painstaking process of transcribing recordings of Bonner made by Great Lakes folksong and music collector Ivan Walton. This work became the book An Island of Fiddlers: Fiddle Tunes of Patrick Bonner, Beaver Island, Michigan. In it, Glenn examines Bonner’s life and shares a significant repertoire of tunes. To learn more about Patrick Bonner from Glenn’s own research, visit the Patrick Bonner Page at MichiganFiddle. This information was generously made available to the public by Glenn.

Glenn worked with Pattie Greenman to produce Michigan Jamboree: Fiddle Tunes for Round and Square Dances. This is an important and so far one-of-a-kind publication of Michigan tunes from a variety of different fiddlers and regions in Michigan. Glenn has collected much music around the state and his transcription efforts continue. He currently performs actively on the fiddle, and over the years his travels around the state have equipped him with a wide repertoire that includes the Finnish traditions of the Keweenaw Peninsula. The Keweenaw juts far into Lake Superior at the top of the state. Glenn is a member of the Original Michigan Fiddlers Association and currently produces the regular OMFA newsletter which always includes history and a tune transcription.

Click here to hear a recording of Glenn Hendrix sharing about the history of the Patrick Bonner tune “Beaver Island Schottische,” followed by a performance of that tune.

Written by Trae McMaken in conjunction with the Michigan Traditional Arts Program of the MSU Museum.