Henry Taylor – Missouri Fiddle Champion of Yesteryear
Americans have an insatiable urge to know who is the best at every endeavor from tiddlywinks to frog-jumping. Once that person has been determined through a fairly judged competition we then heap praises, trophies and titles on the individual. Old-time fiddling is an activity in which this practice has found especially fertile ground.
These days we name champions of all sorts in old-time, fiddling. From the National Champion at Weiser, Idaho, to the so-called “World Series of Fiddling” at Crockett, Texas, to our own “Missouri State Fair Fiddling Championship” we are dead set on figuring out who can out-fiddle everyone else on a given day.
While we have lots of big contests today, the decade of the 1920s rivaled our era in the number, size and grandeur of promotion. These included numerous state and interstate championships, Henry Ford’s several “national” contests, and numerous on-air competitions promoting the latest entertainment medium—radio.
One such contest, a “state championship” sponsored by the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, occurred at Paris, Missouri, on June3, 1923. With this report the name of the winner, Henry Taylor of Cairo, is placed among the likes of other Show-Me giants of the day such as Louie Barton of Jefferson City, Vee Latty of Fulton, and Tom Massey of Nevada,
While few details of the contest itself are available at this writing, some interesting facts concerning Mr. Taylor’s family can be reported. Henry was one of five children, the son of James B. and Betsy Taylor. James was reared in Fayette County, Kentucky, and was the son of Major Jonathan Taylor, a first cousin of General Zachary Taylor, the 16th president of the United States. James served in both the Colonial War for American Independence and the War of 1812. Henry Taylor was praised in a 1930 newspaper article (sorry, no further citation was provided).
DAMERON PRAISES SQUIRE TAYLOR
Champion Fiddler Likes Sacred Music Best—He Knows Politics, Too
By W. T. Dameron
“To Us, there’s no music sweeter and more inspiring than the melody of a violin, when played by a real old time fiddler of the old stripe. We have heard many good fiddlers in our time play many inspiring tunes, both sacred and otherwise, but we have not heard anyone get more real, sweet music out of a violin than does Randolph County’s champion fiddler, Squire Henry Taylor of Salt River Township, who has won first prizes in district and state contests.” “We had opportunity to hear Squire Taylor play quite a selection of his best tunes at the Fox Hunter’s meeting on Warren Turner’s farm Thursday night. He is just simply a “born fiddler” that’s all. He and his two sons, with banjo and guitar, sure make the walls ring with good music. “Squire Taylor is conscientious in the music he plays. Personally, he likes sacred numbers the best, but he plays all the old time dancing tunes with vim and enthusiasm. However, you may be surprised when we tell you that he will not play for a dancing party of any kind, though he does not object to others dancing. He has personal reasons for refusing to play for dances, but we have never heard him explain them. “Squire Taylor is 66 years old and has lived on the farm on which he was born all his life, nor has he ever moved from the house in which he was born. He is the father of twelve living children.
“His father, J. Blevard Taylor, was a native of Kentucky and came to Missouri in 1882, settling in Salt River Township on 160 acres of Government land. He lived on the farm for the remainder of his life, and apart of it is now owned by Squire Taylor.
“The Taylor boys have always been staunch Democrats and prominent in party affairs, as was their father J. B. Taylor, who was a man of few words, but influential in his community. He was a mechanic and conducted a blacksmith shop for years. During hot discussion preceding the outbreak of the Civil War, he was a Southern sympathizer, but he was opposed to secession.