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Exploring Old Time Recordings and Artists 


Charlie Acuff

Left Handed Fiddler


Charles Boyd “Charlie” Acuff (1919-2013) was born in Maynardville, Union County, TN just north of Knoxville. His unassuming ways, legendary story-telling ability, his fiddling skills, and a seemingly unlimited supply of old tunes made him a well known and very popular East Tennessee fiddler.

(Ed. note:) There must be something in the water, as Union county is also the birthplace of several other prominent country music musicians including Charlie’s second cousin Roy Acuff, Chet Atkins, Carl Smith, Lois Johnson, and Kenny Chesney

As a boy, Charlie suffered from allergies which were worsened by living in the country. As a result, he moved in with his grandparents, who lived in the Fountain City community. (Now a part of the City of Knoxville due to a controversial 1962 annexation) Charlie's grandfather, Charlie Boyd Acuff, for whom Charlie was named, was himself a fiddle player and is the person who taught Charlie how to play. Charlie was left-handed, and learned to play a right-handed fiddle left-handed. This reversing of the fiddle’s usual string order gave Charlie a distinct playing style and sound, along with him eventually being known as the “Left Handed Fiddler”. In the learning process, hundreds of his grandfather’s tunes were passed along, with some tunes pre-dating the Civil War.

In his teens, Charlie played anywhere he could, including local events and square dances. In 1938, Charlie and his brother became backing musicians for another Maynardville (Union County) hillbilly musician, Esco Hankins. Because Hankins had a car, this enabled them to travel and play almost daily on radio station WROL in Knoxville, often under the sponsorship of legendary supermarket owner and music promoter Cas Walker. Charlie and his brother were also known as “The Hub Spinners” during this time. Due to his fiddling skills and notoriety from the radio, Charlie became even more in demand for square dances and socials. His popularity was such that he had to eventually slow down his musical ambitions because playing was taking so much time that it affected his school work. Unfortunately, the start of WWII further hindered playing opportunities. Charlie was turned down for the draft due to back problems, but because everyone was expected to assist in the war effort, he moved to Blount County and took a job at the huge Alcoa aluminum plant, which was supplying war materials. He worked at Alcoa during the day, but fiddled at night, playing a fiddle made by his father, Evart. Charlie played this fiddle his entire life, just one of the 36 fiddles his father made. Over the course of the next 40 years of working at the factory and playing at night, Charlie honed his musical and performance skills.

Charlie Acuff played at the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville, appeared in several episodes of the TV series “Christy,” and played twice a week at the Museum of Appalachia for several years. Starting in 1989, he played with a band called “The Lantana Drifters” from Cumberland County (Crossville) TN. The Drifters won first place five times at the Smithville (TN) Fiddlers Jamboree. A teen fiddler named Joseph DeCosimo was a student of Charlie’s during that time, and sometimes played gigs with the Drifters. John Hartford also reportedly learned a large number of his Old Time fiddle tunes from Charlie. He and Hartford made a recording together in 1990 called “Left Handed Fiddler”, a privately issued cassette tape run of only 50 copies, which was sold in the Museum of Appalachia gift shop. (You can now listen to that recording HERE.) Currently, there is only one commercially available recording of Charlie’s tunes, called “Charlie Acuff-Better Times A Comin’”(2000). For more information on one of Charlie's signature tunes, "Bob Taylor's March," visit our TUNE HISTORY page.

In 2005, Charlie was honored with the Tennessee Governor's Folklife Heritage Award. (He played “Bob Taylor’s March” at the ceremony.) When asked about this award, Charlie said, “At first, I just sat on the couch, shocked. Then I got to thinking about all the friends that I have that said all those nice things about me to make this possible. I really think they should have this award, not me. They did the work, and all I did was just fiddle.” When Charlie passed away in 2013, his son Boyd said, "If you judge him by money or financial success, he was a failure - but if you look at how good of a fiddle player he was, the friends he had and all of the places he played, then he was a very successful man."

Charlie Acuff with The Lantana Drifters

"Old Molly Hare"

filmed early 1990's

Tennessee Folklore Society's "East Tennessee Fiddler Charlie Acuff"

(1997 DVD) Tunes in order: Old Yeller Dog, Down In Union County, Going To Chattanooga, Two o'clock, Goodbye Liza Jane, Leather Britches, Josie Girl, Jim & Me, Bob Taylor's March, Ruffled Drawers, Turkey Buzzard

Songs Of Appalachia:

Fiddler Charlie Acuff (2012)

Walking In The ParlorCharlie Acuff
00:00 / 02:10
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