Fiddlin' John Carson (ca. 1868-1949)
In the spring of 1922, Georgia's "Fiddlin' John" Carson, at the age of fifty-four, became the first genuine old-time country musician to broadcast genuine old-time country music over a radio station. A year later, on June 14, 1923, the country-music recording industry was launched when Carson made his first phonograph record.
When Atlanta's WSB, the South's first radio station, went on the air on March 16, 1922, Fiddlin' John Carson took notice. A week later, fiddle in hand, he visited the studios to inquire about being allowed to have a try at this latest marvel of entertainment technology. Taking his place before the microphone, Carson launched into an impromptu concert of mountain music that lasted, according to one station official, until "exhaustion set in." The response from listeners was instantaneous and profuse. Telephone calls, telegrams, and letters poured in for days afterward. Carson was a regular performer on WSB into the early 1930s and thereafter, intermittently, into the 1940s. In those early days of radio, when the air was clear and broadcasting stations were few, WSB's signal could be picked up as far away as the Rocky Mountains, New York, Cuba, and Canada. Carson, therefore, became a national radio personality.
Carson began making records in 1923, when an official with a New York record company, visiting Atlanta for the OKeh label, reluctantly allowed Carson to record two songs, "The Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane" and
Carson was frequently accompanied on radio, records, and stage by his daughter Rosa Lee (1911-92), a guitarist, singer, and dancer. Under the pseudonym Moonshine Kate, Rosa Lee established herself as an independent performer, thus becoming a pioneer among women country music performers. In 1925 she recorded "Little Mary Phagan," a ballad composed by her father ten years earlier in response to the Leo Frank case. The song proclaims the guilt of Frank, a Jewish factory manager convicted of killing thirteen-year-old Mary Phagan, one of his employees. Although today Frank is widely considered to be the innocent victim of anti-Semitism, the ballad, which Carson performed in 1915 on the steps of the state capitol, expressed the sentiments of many Georgians at the time. Around 1925 he also recorded another song related to the case, "The Grave of Little Mary Phagan."
Fiddlin' John Carson spent the last years of his life as an elevator operator in Georgia's state capitol, a job earned as a reward for years spent entertaining prospective voters at campaign rallies for Georgia governors Eugene and Herman Talmadge. Carson was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 1984.
Bob Coltman, "Look Out! Here He Comes, Fiddlin' John Carson, One of a Kind, and Twice as Feisty," Old Time Music 9 (1973).
Wayne W. Daniel, Pickin' on Peachtree: A History of Country Music in Atlanta, Georgia (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1990).
Bill C. Malone and Judith McCulloh, Stars of Country Music: Uncle Dave Macon to Johnny Rodriguez (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1975).
Gene Wiggins, Fiddlin' Georgia Crazy: Fiddlin' John Carson, His Real World, and the World of His Songs (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987).
Wayne W. Daniel, Chamblee
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