Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Dawn Waltz

Major Franklin and
Mark O’Connor
Major Franklin was a pioneer of Texas style fiddling. Born in Arkansas in 1904, he received a little tin fiddle when he was four years old. When Major was eight, his family moved to Texas where he eventually became one of the most legendary contest fiddlers Texas has ever known. Franklin and his fellow competitors – Eck Robertson, Red Steeley, Irvin Solomon, Oscar Harper, Bryant Houston and Benny Thomasson – are the stuff of Texas folk music legend. Thomasson and Franklin would often tie for 1st place in the contests of breakdowns and waltzes, being called back repeatedly until one of them would finally come out on top.

In most musical genres, the responsibility for young prodigies learning their craft falls upon the great players from the generation before. The beautiful melody and history of Dawn Waltz may have disappeared into obscurity when Franklin died if he had not passed it on to a 14-year-old fiddler named James “Shorty” Chancellor. Often referred to by his stage name “Texas Shorty,” he was about the only fiddle music prodigy that appeared on the scene in those days, becoming the first teenaged fiddle champion in Texas. Born in Dallas in 1943, Shorty played only the mandolin until he was 13. At that point he met Benny Thomasson and
James “Texas Shorty” Chancellor
began private lessons with the fiddle legend. Shorty entered fiddle contests with Thomasson, accom­panying him on mandolin and entering the junior divisions himself on fiddle. Thomasson finished his string of wins at the Crocket World Fiddle Championships in 1957. After his unprecedented three wins in a row, contest officials barred him from entering again. Irvin Solomon’s adult son Norman won in 1958 and 16-year-old Shorty followed by matching his old teacher’s record with three consecutive wins in ’59, ’60 and ’61.

The accomplishments of the young Texas Shorty were preserved in a series of 45rpm recordings made between 1961 and 1965. Chancellor adapted the tune that Franklin had called Virginia Moonlight and recorded it as Dawn Waltz in the only known recording of this music. The composer of this beautiful melody, however, remains unknown.

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