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JIM: Melvin White/The spirit of ministrelsy rises within me

'Bram is, also, an unterrified fiddler and can make a fife ring like a bare-legged highland Scotchsman, and toot a cornet with a German. He is likewise famed as a bass singer, and can warble on a bass drum.' - MELVIN WHITE


Adair County native Melvin White left home and hearth in the 1880s for the greener pastures of North Carolina, that place becoming his permanent residence and eventually, his final resting place. However, he spent parts of 1913 and 1914 teaching in Carroll County, Missouri, an area populated by several expatriated Adair County families--the Cabbels, Brownings, and Wilmores, to name a few. The Auld Sod contingent also included Melvin's brother Bram and Bram's wife and several children.

In the opening days of 1914, Melvin, as was his wont from time to time, penned a letter to the News that subsequently appeared in the paper. In speaking of his brother, Melvin noted, in his typical humorous fashion, that

"Bram is, also, an unterrified fiddler and can make a fife ring like a bare-legged highland Scotchsman, and toot a cornet with a German. He is likewise famed as a bass singer, and can warble on a bass drum."

As a segue to commentary concerning his own such talents, he stated, "This is quite a musical section, and fiddlers are as thick as Carroll County as tradition claims they are in the infernal regions." (Two years later, in another letter to the News, Mr. White rather more directly commented, "The old people were puritanical in their faith and practice. Dancing was interdicted, and the fiddle was regarded as an instrument of Satan...")

With that brief passage, Mr. White continued:

"In a modest way I am also numbered among the prophets. I have a fine violin, and the spirit of minstrelsy rises within me. "But at the first notes I evoke, people speak of binding me over to keep the peace. I am teaching school and board with Mr. W.A. Graham. Sometimes he and Miss Lois, his daughter, call for 'Old Black Joe,' 'Bonnie Blue Flag,' 'Red Wing,' and 'Juanita.'

"Straightway a burly constable appears, and quenches my aspirations for harmony."

In true Adair County fashion, however, Mr. White remained undaunted by the (alleged) naysayers by defiantly proclaiming,

"But when I close my here, I mean to hunt up Jim Cajer Yates and be a wandering minstrel in the old Kentucky home."

(In keeping with the humorously self-deprecating tone of the preceding paragraphs, Melvin closed the letter by describing himself thus: "I weight 200, am gray, and won a hat for being the ugliest man in North Carolina. Nobody here is disposed to question the Record, and Kentucky is unanimous.")

This story was posted on 2014-01-12 09:36:30
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