The Transylvania Times -

By Marcy Thompson
Picturing The Past 

Bill Chappell Part Of Fiddling Tradition


October 31, 2016

Fiddler Bill Chappell would sometimes play for three days straight.

Music is an integral part of our local culture. Appalachian mountain music derives from the traditions of the immigrants who came from England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales and settled in this region following the Revolutionary War.

The fiddle was typically the instrument of choice among the first settlers. The banjo was introduced to the South through African-American slaves in the 18th century and gained popularity in the mountains during the 19th century. The fretted or mountain dulcimer originated in the Appalachian Mountains. It has three or four strings and is traditionally played lying flat on the musicians lap. Other instruments commonly used included the autoharp, mandolin, bass and guitar.

The ballads and songs are often filled with emotion, telling of relationships, daily struggles and tragic events. Passed on from generation to generation with each individual performer adding their own unique style the same song may have several variations.

Transylvania County has been and continues to be home to many talented musicians. Fiddler Bill Chappell was well-known throughout the area. He got his start on a gourd fiddle but later bought a Stradivarius or a less expensive imitation. Chappell often played in, and won, fiddle contests. He was known to play up to three straight days at dances "with the help of a little moonshine and seldom a bite to eat" according to a July 29, 1999 Transylvania Times article by Tim Barton. Chappell knew enough tunes to play for hours without repeating the same song.

William Martin Chappell's obituary states that he passed away shortly after his 100th birthday on Jan. 23, 1949 but his death certificate and other information list his birth as Christmas Day, 1847 making him 101 at the time of his death.

(Photographs and information for this column are provided by the Rowell Bosse North Carolina Room, Transylvania County Library. Visit the NC Room during regular library hours (Monday-Friday) to learn more about our history and see additional photographs. For more information, comments or suggestions contact Marcy at or (828) 884-3151 ext. 242.)


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