Old-Time Fiddling, Maben
Charles Smith was born in 1922 in Webster County and has been playing the fiddle since childhood. He got started on an old fiddle that his father had brought broken and pieced back together. After teaching himself his first tune, his father (who had played the instrument as a younger man) showed him the basics of the instrument. Smith also learned from an older fiddler in the community named Jim High.
He began performing in front of audiences when he was eleven or twelve years old. His older brothers took him along to country dances where he would play, sometimes earning two or three dollars a night. Smith also began competing in local fiddle contests.
Smith served in the Army during World War II and was stationed in Germany. He got some opportunities to perform with others. Louis “Grandpa” Jones was in the same battalion as Smith and he got to meet and play with the future Grand Ole Opry star.
After returning to Mississippi, Smith lived and worked in the Delta for several years. During this time he performed on the radio in Greenville with the Uncle Pat and the Sunshine Boys, a group from Clarksdale. Smith later returned to Webster County to live and began playing with various groups in the area. In the late 1980s, he began competing in contests again, winning first place twice at the fiddling contest at the State Fair in Jackson. He has since retired from competing, but still plays with friends in the area.
With the help of fiddle researcher Norman Mellin of Starkville, Smith has recorded a series of five CDs that showcase his extensive repertoire (the series contains 124 different tracks). He has also served as a master artist in the Arts Commission’s Folk Art Apprenticeship Program. Most recently he has worked with Hannah Melby, a young fiddler from Starkville.
For more information on Smith, see the following article:
Mellin, Norman. “Charles Thomas Smith: A Mississippi Fiddler.” In Mississippi Folklife, Volume 32, No. 1 (Fall 1999), p.22-27.