Roy Acuff fiddle to the Mountain Music Museum

Jim VanCleve playing the Roy Acuff fiddle on the Huckabee show

Back in January we wrote about a fiddle that had once been owned by Roy Acuff turning up at a Goodwill location in Kansas City. This was the instrument Acuff had used during his pioneering career in traditional and country music, and it somehow had ended up in a pawn shop in Alabama where it was purchased by the brother of the current owner, Lamar Peek.

Peek knew the fiddle’s provenance, but a member of his family gave it to Goodwill in hope of seeing it restored, and to assist the organization in its charitable efforts.

They had provided Goodwill with letters of authenticity, and the fiddle was in the process of being auctioned, when Peek realized what had occurred. He got in touch in Goodwill, who canceled the auction, and returned the fiddle to him. As an act of “small g” goodwill, Peek made a donation of $1,000 to Goodwill Industries in gratitude. Another anonymous donor matched the $8,000 leading bid at the time the auction was halted, leaving Goodwill with a very good day.

The story caught the attention of music lovers all across the country, including the good folks at the Mountain Music Museum in Kingsport, TN. Executive Director Rick Dollar reached out, knowing that the fiddle would be a big attraction there, and arranged to display it at the museum for the next year.

“Roy Acuff is one of the great musical artists from East Tennessee, so we thought it would be great to include the fiddle as part of an exhibit. We reached out to Goodwill, and they forwarded a message to the owner. We are grateful to Mr. Peek for his generosity.”

Before the fiddle goes on display at the Mountain Museum in May, it will be featured on the Huckabee show airing this weekend on the Trinity Broadcasting Network. The show is hosted by Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas, who now functions as a political commentator and Christian minister, and is recorded just outside of Nashville.

Jim VanCleve, fiddler with country sensation Josh Turner and a long time grasser, was invited to play the fiddle on the program, and shared this story about how it almost didn’t happen.

“It was VERY much an honor to be asked to play that fiddle for the last time before it goes on display!!

It was kind of crazy, I was playing an awards show the night before, filming at the Grand Ole Opry, and I was there in the Acuff Room… On the walls there are pictures of Roy holding that same fiddle. So, I’m sitting there looking at them, thinking, ‘Man… I’m going to be playing that very instrument tomorrow night… for the last time – maybe ever, on live (to tape) national TV.’ No pressure! haha.

The next day, sound check and camera blocking for the show started at 2:00 p.m. At about 2:30, Lamar arrived with the instrument. Upon my getting hold of it, I discovered that a few things had to be done (and very rapidly) to make the instrument even playable for the segment. The clock was suddenly against us.

I called longtime friend and fiddle guru, Fred Carpenter of The Violin Shop, to see what, if anything, could be done on such incredibly short notice. Also, Fred Anderson, publicist for the Mountain Music Museum took it upon himself to brave Nashville rush hour traffic and raced the instrument downtown while I was sound checking some other pieces with the band. Thankfully, as he has done so often down through the years, Fred Carpenter and his awesome staff dropped everything and came to the rescue, making the adjustments to the instrument in record time. It arrived back at the set JUST before we needed to get in place for the shots… so I didn’t get quite the time I’d have preferred to play the instrument and get comfortable with it, but I did get some very cool video and pictures!

When I finally was able to lay hands on it, I did notice that the fiddle itself looked like it had lived every one of those years it has been in existence… imagine the stories that fiddle could tell! Inside, there was a homemade label which had obviously been glued down a LONG time ago. It read: ‘Handmade by Evart Acuff, 1945 in Merryville, TN.’ So cool.

Such a historical piece of country music history, and such a humbling opportunity… Grateful for the opportunity to be a small part of it all!!”

Lamar is quite pleased with the way this all turned out, and was with Dollar and VanCleve when they taped the Huckabee show.

“My brother had a passion for violins and fiddles his whole life. I feel like he would be happy to see this fiddle displayed for people who have an interest in country music. This is my way of honoring him.”

What a wonderfully happy ending to this story.

The Mountain Music Museum is operated in east Tennessee by the Appalachian Cultural Music Association. It is open daily from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.