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Obit: Joe Thompson, old-time fiddler 1918-2012

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GUEST,Dani 20 Feb 12 - 08:33 PM
Desert Dancer 20 Feb 12 - 08:36 PM
GUEST,Janie 20 Feb 12 - 09:49 PM
GUEST,BanjoRay 21 Feb 12 - 04:10 AM
Janie 21 Feb 12 - 08:48 PM
Desert Dancer 21 Feb 12 - 09:59 PM
Desert Dancer 22 Feb 12 - 12:33 AM
Desert Dancer 22 Feb 12 - 12:38 AM
GUEST,nickp (cookieless) 22 Feb 12 - 04:12 AM
GUEST,Dani 22 Feb 12 - 08:39 AM
Desert Dancer 22 Feb 12 - 03:07 PM
topical tom 23 Feb 12 - 12:02 PM
open mike 23 Feb 12 - 06:04 PM
Desert Dancer 23 Feb 12 - 06:18 PM
Desert Dancer 23 Feb 12 - 07:14 PM
Desert Dancer 23 Feb 12 - 07:16 PM
Janie 23 Feb 12 - 10:41 PM
GUEST,Dani 24 Feb 12 - 02:22 PM
gnu 24 Feb 12 - 02:26 PM
GUEST,Joy M. Salyers 24 Feb 12 - 06:01 PM
Bill D 24 Feb 12 - 06:46 PM
Desert Dancer 02 Mar 12 - 01:06 PM
GUEST,Dani 05 Apr 12 - 05:30 PM
Janie 05 Apr 12 - 10:07 PM
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Subject: Obit: Joe Thompson, fiddle player, good man
From: GUEST,Dani
Date: 20 Feb 12 - 08:33 PM

on the fly now, don't have much information, but I heard tonight that Joe Thompson has died. It's a little sadder and quieter down here tonight, but I'm sure there's a dance starting up in heaven : )

Joe was a true gentleman, generous musician, and just a lovely man.

http://www.kennedy-center.org/explorer/artists/?entity_id=18071&source_type=B

Dani


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Subject: Obit: Joe Thompson, old-time fiddler 1918-2012
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 20 Feb 12 - 08:36 PM

The Southern Folklife Collection at the University of North Carolina reports via Facebook that African-American old-time fiddler Joe Thompson of Mebane, North Carolina, died today.

He was a recipient of the North Carolina Heritage Award in 1991, and a National Heritage Fellowship in 2007.

Joe was often cited as a key mentor for the contemporary African-American string band, the Carolina Chocolate Drops.

From the North Carolina Arts Council artist page (linked above for the NC Heritage Award):

It is not widely known in this day that the fiddle and banjo were commonly played by African Americans from slavery times to well into this century. The two instruments in combination once provided much of the dance music for the balls and frolics of both white and black Southerners. And thousands of dance tunes--waltzes, schottisches, and reels--were adapted and composed for the fiddle and banjo.

Scholars have long established the African origins of the banjo, the prototype of which was made of hollow gourds and animal hides. The fiddle, of course, is the familiar name for the European violin, which was brought by early settlers from the British Isles and Germany. No one knows exactly when or how the instruments were first played together, but it was a marriage of two radically different cultural traditions, giving rise to one of America's first truly indigenous musical forms.

Joe and Odell Thompson were among the few "old-time" stringband musicians still active in the South. They were first cousins who made their homes near the Alamance and Orange County line north of Mebane. Born and raised on farms in the area (Odell in 1911; Joe in 1918), they grew up helping their parents tend crops of tobacco, cotton, corn, and wheat. Music-making was much valued in their households, and the sounds of the banjo and fiddle could be heard often in the evenings and on weekends, whenever the work was done. Joe and Odell's fathers, Walter and John Arch Thompson, were constantly sought after by neighbors, black and white, to play for square dances.

The Thompson boys soon began performing at Saturday-night dances with their dads. Joe recalls taking his position in the doorway between rooms filled with dancing couples. "We were playing [four- and eight-hand square dance] sets--I was only seven years old. We had straight chairs, and my feet couldn't touch the floor. And we were running them folks, man, a half an hour."

As popular tastes in music and dancing changed through the years, there was less call for fiddlers and banjo players. Joe played his fiddle at dances and parties throughout the 1920s and '30s, while Odell took up the guitar and learned the blues. But the Thompson's love of the old-time dance music persisted in more private settings, and they continued to perform favorite traditional standards such as "Georgia Buck" and "Hook and Line" at home and family reunions.

The early 1970s brought a revival of interest in African American folk music traditions. The Thompsons were "discovered" by folklorists who encouraged them to play publicly again, only this time for predominately white audiences at folk festivals and special events. In more recent years, they appeared at the National Folk Festival at Lowell, Massachusetts, the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes in Washington state, and at New York's Carnegie Hall.

Until Odell's untimely death in 1994, the Thompson's playing was as inspired and vigorous as ever, thanks in large part to the love and support of their wives, Susie and Pauline. Their dynamic instrumental styles and soaring vocals packed plenty of punch and brought attention to the rich tradition of African American stringband music in the South. Joe Thompson received the National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellowship in 2007 and continues to play his fiddle for appreciative audiences in North Carolina.

video search results for "Joe Thompson fiddle"

~ Becky in Long Beach


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Subject: RE: Obit: Joe Thompson, old-time fiddler 1918-2012
From: GUEST,Janie
Date: 20 Feb 12 - 09:49 PM

Thanks for letting us know, Dani. I have recently wondered how he was faring after Annie told me he had been in a nursing home for a few months.
Some fine fiddling happenin' around St. Peter's gate tonight.

Peace and condolences to his wife, family and family.

Thanks, Joe, for sharing so much and teaching so many.


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Subject: RE: Obit: Joe Thompson, old-time fiddler 1918-2012
From: GUEST,BanjoRay
Date: 21 Feb 12 - 04:10 AM

That's really sad news, he was a great inspirational player and singer of African American Old Time music, with a big influence here on the East side of the pond as well. He and Odell are both fine, long-lasting memories...

Ray


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Subject: RE: Obit: Joe Thompson, old-time fiddler 1918-2012
From: Janie
Date: 21 Feb 12 - 08:48 PM

Obituary article from the local Burlington (Alamance Co.) newspaper

I understand that Mudcat does not have a lot of oldtime stringband enthusiasts and am not surprised at the lack of interest or comment on Joe Thompson's passing. Mudcat's current tech problems also have a bearing, I'm sure.

I am disappointed in the sparsity both of articles and of the content of articles in regional news coverage. Joe represented the last of a tradition of black stringband musicians whose history in the folk tradition had been nearly forgotten and completely ignored for way too long - the effect of our long history of racism.

He had been called a national treasure. He was certainly that, especially so since so many of his cohorts and antecedent black stringband musicians were never recorded or noted in the annals of folk music history or archives. And even his light will apparently remain relatively hidden.


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Subject: RE: Obit: Joe Thompson, old-time fiddler 1918-2012
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 21 Feb 12 - 09:59 PM

NPR had a short spot this morning, with Bob Carlin, but I don't find it online.

Janie, regional coverage may build in the next few days (I hope).

~ Becky in Long Beach


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Subject: RE: Obit: Joe Thompson, old-time fiddler 1918-2012
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 22 Feb 12 - 12:33 AM

There's an AP story out now, so Google results are growing. It looks like lots of NC area stations picked up the story.

Also

WUNC had a short note from Dave Brower yesterday; they linked to a fuller profile done in 2008 when he turned 90.

Chapel Hill Magazine today

News & Observer (Raleigh)

~ Becky in Long Beach


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Subject: RE: Obit: Joe Thompson, old-time fiddler 1918-2012
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 22 Feb 12 - 12:38 AM

The Life & Times of Joe Thompson (look on that page) Was alterted by the other WUNC link: "Watch an award-winning 30-minute documentary about Joe that aired on Public Televison 4 years ago, produced by his niece (video is listed as the third selection from top and has a preview and full docu)"


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Subject: RE: Obit: Joe Thompson, old-time fiddler 1918-2012
From: GUEST,nickp (cookieless)
Date: 22 Feb 12 - 04:12 AM

Another sad loss. I had the pleasure of seeing him several years ago with the Chocolate Drops. Nick


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Subject: RE: Obit: Joe Thompson, old-time fiddler 1918-2012
From: GUEST,Dani
Date: 22 Feb 12 - 08:39 AM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IytZb5MxIX8

The fiddle sound isn't great on this, but it's the way I remember Joe : )

Dani


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Subject: RE: Obit: Joe Thompson, old-time fiddler 1918-2012
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 22 Feb 12 - 03:07 PM

A friend in Durham writes about her Joe and her husband:

One of the many great things about Bobb being unemployed was that he got to spend quite a bit of time playing with Joe. Joe inspired and taught so many musicians in this area. He will definately be missed.

~ Becky in Long Beach


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Subject: RE: Obit: Joe Thompson, old-time fiddler 1918-2012
From: topical tom
Date: 23 Feb 12 - 12:02 PM

Another great gentleman and musician gone. RIP, Joe. You will add another great sound to the heavenly choir.


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Subject: RE: Obit: Joe Thompson, old-time fiddler 1918-2012
From: open mike
Date: 23 Feb 12 - 06:04 PM

http://www.thetimesnews.com/news/thompson-52756-musician-great.html
http://www.kennedy-center.org/explorer/artists/?entity_id=18071&source_type=B


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Subject: RE: Obit: Joe Thompson, old-time fiddler 1918-2012
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 23 Feb 12 - 06:18 PM

From open mike's first link:

Thompson remembered as a man as well as a musician

Mike Wilder / Times-News
(videos and photos at the story page linked above)

People who knew Joe Thompson say he was more than a great musician.

He was a great man.

Thompson, a fiddler who shared his music in Alamance County and around the world, died Monday night at the age of 93.

Joe Newberry, a spokesman for the N.C. Arts Council, called Thompson "a singular person and a singular musician.

"He's not replaceable," Newberry said, but "we can still take the lessons he taught us about music and how to live your life."

Newberry said Thompson, like many of his generation, lived life in a quiet, dignified style and worked diligently to share his musical gifts.

"He loved playing with young musicians and sharing what he knew," Newberry said.

Among those were members of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, a North Carolina-based musical group that won a Grammy for Best Traditional Folk Album in 2011. The group's website, at www.carolinachocolatedrops.com, says Thompson was a key influence on musicians Dom Flemons, Rhiannon Giddens and Justin Robinson.

The website says the "three young black musicians" traveled to Mebane every Thursday night during the summer and fall of 2005 "to sit in the home of old-time fiddler Joe Thompson for musical jam sessions." Forming the band was "mostly a tribute to Joe, a chance to bring his music back out of the house again and into dance halls and public places."

The N.C. Arts Council posted an online tribute to Thompson following his death that highlighted his influence on younger musicians.

"Probably more than anyone else, Joe was the inspiration for a national revival of stringband music among young generations of African-American musicians," said Wayne Martin, the council's folklife director.

Born in Orange County in 1918, Thompson moved to Alamance County in 1948. His father taught him how to play the fiddle. A previously published N.C. Arts Council profile of Thompson described how he and his cousin, Odell Thompson, became well-known during a revival of African-American folk music in the 1970s, playing in prestigious locations and events such as New York's Carnegie Hall; Sydney, Australia; and the National Folk Festival in Lowell, Mass.

Thompson's longevity as a musician is even more impressive given the effort he put in to continue after a stroke in 2000. The stroke affected his ability to move his left arm, and he was told he wouldn't be able to keep playing.

Thompson's major accolades include a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2007. He received a North Carolina Heritage Award from the N.C. Arts Council in 1991 and was honored in 2004 by the city of Mebane with a Joe Thompson Day.

Iris Thompson Chapman, one of Joe Thompson's cousins, is a retired Elon University professor who put together a documentary called "The Life & Times of Joe Thompson."

"He was the most humble person that I have ever met," she said. "Everybody was always trying to interview him and get him to play, and if he could do it, he would."

"He was playing two (hundred) or 300 years back, because he was playing what he had heard his father play, and he was playing what he had heard his father play," with the chain going back to earlier generations. And looking forward, Thompson shared what he knew with younger musicians.

"The Chocolate Drops got it; they paid attention to it," Chapman said. "Probably otherwise it would be a dying tradition."


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Subject: RE: Obit: Joe Thompson, old-time fiddler 1918-2012
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 23 Feb 12 - 07:14 PM

The UNC Southern Folklife Collection has a tribute page, inviting comments.


N.C. folk musician Joe Thompson dies at 93
Band preserves his influence

BY DAVID MENCONI
Charlotte Observer
Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012

Sad news from the world of Piedmont old-time music: Fiddler Joe Thompson has died at 93. If you've ever listened to Carolina Chocolate Drops, then you've heard some of his influence, and not just because their upcoming album leads off with one of the songs they learned from Thompson ("Riro's House").

The Chocolate Drops spent time woodshedding with Thompson in their early days, playing with him at his Mebane home as well as various festivals including Merlefest (where they recorded a live album together in 2008).

Rhiannon Giddens of the Chocolate Drops remembers the first time Thompson heard her band mate Dom Flemmons playing a jug during an early Chocolate Drops jam session.

"Joe had never heard jug in a fiddle tune before and he would turn around while playing and just give a look," Giddens said, laughing at the memory. "He'd go back to playing, then turn around and look again. He finally decided it was OK, and we knew without him having to say anything. That was Joe, always real subtle and gentle. He'd never say, 'You're not playing that right.' It was always, 'That might be just a little too fast.' Not saying it was good or bad, just nudging it along until we were where he wanted us to be."

The Chocolate Drops weren't the only youngsters to learn from the master, either.

"Nobody was too big or too little for Joe to sit down and pick with," said Larry Vellani, a musician from Mebane who often played with Thompson. "He never met a stranger. If you were into music, Joe was into you. Just that straightforward. Everywhere he went, he left kernels of wisdom, good sense and good musical taste."

In recognition of his influence, Thompson was awarded an NEA National Heritage Fellowship in 2007, to go with a North Carolina Heritage Award he won in 1991.

"Joe Thompson was a gentleman, and a gentle man," said Joe Newberry, another of Thompson's frequent playing partners. "To hear his legacy in a younger generation of musicians is very satisfying to all of us who play this kind of music. He really was a one-of-a-kind fiddle player, and we're all lucky and honored to have just walked in his garden."


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Subject: RE: Obit: Joe Thompson, old-time fiddler 1918-2012
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 23 Feb 12 - 07:16 PM

Dom Flemmons of the Carolina Chocolate Drops is quoted here:

Said Dom Flemons, "Joe Thompson changed my life. When I first met him in 2005, I had no idea that I would be so heavily involved in making music with him and then making a group that has helped get his name out there further than he might have by himself. One thing for sure is that from my end it has been a constantly humbling journey to be able to have said I worked with him and that my music has forever been affected by his guidance and willingness to share his music with me. He opened up the idea of the "American Songster" to me at a time when I was only searching for the way to express it in the dark. And he only did this by playing and singing a song. I am eternally grateful to you, Joe Thompson. May the man have a solid place for you up yonder because you've more than earned it."


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Subject: RE: Obit: Joe Thompson, old-time fiddler 1918-2012
From: Janie
Date: 23 Feb 12 - 10:41 PM

Lovely.


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Subject: RE: Obit: Joe Thompson, old-time fiddler 1918-2012
From: GUEST,Dani
Date: 24 Feb 12 - 02:22 PM

I want to second what Larry Vellani said. I am thrilled (for them AND for Joe, and for the rest of us) that the great folks of the Chocolate Drops connected with him, but they sure weren't the only ones. His warm and generous spirit enriched the lives of many people who play for love and for fun, and won't ever see their names in lights.

Dani


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Subject: RE: Obit: Joe Thompson, old-time fiddler 1918-2012
From: gnu
Date: 24 Feb 12 - 02:26 PM

Quite a guy. RIP


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Subject: RE: Obit: Joe Thompson, old-time fiddler 1918-2012
From: GUEST,Joy M. Salyers
Date: 24 Feb 12 - 06:01 PM

Some more memories and pictures of Joe Thompson from the North Carolina Folklife Institute - http://www.ncfolk.org/News.aspx. .


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Subject: RE: Obit: Joe Thompson, old-time fiddler 1918-2012
From: Bill D
Date: 24 Feb 12 - 06:46 PM

I sat and watched 'most' of the videos of Joe on YouTube the other day.....including the long one at the Kennedy Center page.


He was a delight and, although he probably would have denied it, he was important. I have most of the Chocolate Drops stuff, and I see Joe's influence all thru their recordings.

I am so glad he had a long and productive life.


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Subject: RE: Obit: Joe Thompson, old-time fiddler 1918-2012
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 02 Mar 12 - 01:06 PM

The New York Times has finally posted an obituary.

Joe Thompson Dies at 93; Helped Preserve the Black String Band

By Douglas Martin
New York Times
March 1, 2012

"I got the name of being a pretty good fiddle player," Joe Thompson once said. "I even been to Carnegie Hall playing fiddle."

He also played at the Kennedy Center in Washington and at folk festivals from coast to coast, including one at the Smithsonian. The National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a National Heritage Fellowship. And he is credited with helping to keep alive an African-American musical tradition — the black string band — that predates the blues and influenced country music and bluegrass.

Yet until 1973, when he was in his mid 50s, not many people outside North Carolina had ever heard him play.

Mr. Thompson always said death would come when "the good Lord sends the morning train," and the train arrived on Feb. 20. He died at 93 in a nursing home in Burlington, N.C., said Larry Vellani, a musician and a friend of Mr. Thompson's.

He was born not far from there, in north-central North Carolina, and one of his earliest memories was of squirming on the floor as his father played the fiddle, according to an account given to the North Carolina Folk Heritage Award Program. His father had learned the instrument from his own father, a slave, and taught him in turn. Joe Thompson made the strings for his first fiddle from screen-door wires, and by the time he was 7, he was playing a real fiddle at dances while propped on a wooden chair, his feet not yet reaching the floor.

Later on he and his brother Nate and a first cousin, Odell Thompson, formed a string band, with Nate and Odell on banjos, and well into their teens they played their music — something like square dance music, only more rhythmic — all over North Carolina.

"People loved to see us come," Mr. Thompson said in an interview with American Legacy magazine in 2008. "Every year we would shuck corn and strip tobacco, then hoop it up with a big dance."

Then came World War II, and Mr. Thompson, entered the Army, serving in a segregated unit in Europe driving a bulldozer. After the war, fiddling became less and less a part of his life. By the postwar years, black string bands were, at most, a local hobby. Mr. Thompson bought a four-room house on an unpaved country road and began a 38-year stint working in a furniture factory.

That was where he was in 1973, Mr. Vellani said, running a rip saw, when Kip Lornell, then a graduate student in ethnomusicology, decided to check out rumors that some masters of the old-time string-band music were still around. Stopping by Mr. Thompson's house, he heard him and his cousin play — his brother had moved to Philadelphia by then — and urged them to look into performing at folk music festivals that were springing up.

They did, and soon they were invited to perform across the country, from Massachusetts to Washington State. They played in Australia. In 1989, they recorded "Old-Time Music from the North Carolina Piedmont" for the Global Village label. The musical folklorist Alan Lomax included the three Thompsons in his American Patchwork documentary film series. And in 1990 Joe and Odell Thompson were onstage at Carnegie Hall as part of its Folk Masters program.

Mr. Thompson was in fine fettle. "Holding his bow about five inches from the end, Joe Thompson draws a scratchy, rakish tone from his fiddle, full of higher overtones," Jon Pareles wrote of the performance in The New York Times. "He breaks melodies into short phrases and often adds double-stops that suggest modal harmonies."

After Odell Thompson died in car accident in 1994, Joe almost quit. But he went on to record a solo album, "Family Tradition," on the Rounder label in 1999. He received the National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in 2007 and performed that year at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington.

String-band music, which combines fiddle, banjo and sometimes other instruments, owes much to African-American traditions. Banjos originally came from Africa, and though violins are European in origin, slaves were taught to play them for their masters as early as the 17th century. Paul F. Wells a former president of the Society for American Music, wrote in the Black Music Research Journal that slaves were most likely the earliest musicians to combine violin and banjo.

In the 19th century, both whites and blacks — sometimes separately, sometimes together, as in Mr. Thompson's Piedmont region — created the exuberant music that both black and white string bands played, the white bands at square dances and the black bands at their own dances, called "frolics."

But there were differences. Black fiddlers played in a style that was more rhythmic, syncopated and African in character, and called the tunes "Negro jigs." As music became more commonly recorded in the 1920s, the black string-band tradition receded. Black music was veering toward the blues, while white string bands were categorized as "hillbilly," playing music that is acknowledged to be the precursor of today's bluegrass and country music. The influence of black string bands on white country musicians slipped from memory.

As if this slight wasn't enough, Mr. Thompson complained in a 2004 interview with a North Carolina newspaper that when Elvis Presley started singing the blues, "people thought that was white people's music, too."

"That messes black people up," he said.

Joseph Aquilla Thompson was born on Dec. 9, 1918, on a farm near Mebane, N.C., where he lived most of his life. Mr. Vellani said in an interview that a stroke Mr. Thompson had in 2001 had hurt his fiddling but not his strong singing voice.

Mr. Thompson's first wife, the former Hallie Evans, died in 1987. He is survived by his wife, the former Pauline McAdoo Mebane; his sons Arthur James Snead and Hassel McCoy Evans; four stepchildren; eight grandchildren; 14 great-grandchildren and five great-great-grandchildren.

The Thompsons may have been the last black string band still active, said Wayne Martin, folklife director for the North Carolina Arts Council. But Mr. Thompson planted a seed for the future. In 2005, three young musicians started coming to his house every Thursday to learn the old ways. They formed a band, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, "mostly as a tribute to Joe," they said. Their 2010 album, "Genuine Negro Jig," won a Grammy for best traditional folk album.

"He lived long enough for people to get what it was he had to share," Mr. Vellani said.


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Subject: RE: Obit: Joe Thompson, old-time fiddler 1918-2012
From: GUEST,Dani
Date: 05 Apr 12 - 05:30 PM

Thought you might enjoy this:

http://wunc.org/tsot/archive/Remembering_Joe_Thompson.mp3/view


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Subject: RE: Obit: Joe Thompson, old-time fiddler 1918-2012
From: Janie
Date: 05 Apr 12 - 10:07 PM

Thanks, Dani. The show "done him proud."


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