More on Jehile Kirkhuffby Ed Berbaum
Jehile Kirkhuff was 1954 World Champion Old-Time Fiddler (Crockett, Texas contest) from Susquehanna County in Northeastern Pennsylvania. The tunes he played were not influenced by more modern forms such as bluegrass and swing. His style is from the "Old School" reflecting the early settlers to this region with interesting diversity and brilliant passion for the tunes he loved during his life.
Jehile Learned from many sources; mostly his Grandfather, Father and his Uncle Jehile, who he said was a REALLY good Old-Time Fiddler. These family members had many hundreds of tunes stored in their minds and hearts over many years and Jehile heard these since , well, being in his mother's womb.
By the time he was five or six years old and got his first fiddle, a tin model from Sears and Roebuck , and learned a few scales, he would recall these melodies and with a little coaching, learn to play them. Of course, over the years with more coaching and lessons from a local "Violinist" Prof. J. Wesley Gavitt from Montrose, Jehile improved his versions. He also was Secretary and/or President of the Susquehanna County Fiddle Club and learned and taught many tunes. Some of the members created their own tunes and Jehile learned these and played them as though they were from his own heart. Lakeside Dream is a three part Waltz created by Arthur R. Lewis from New Milford Pennsylvania, as good as any you are likely to have heard. There are others like the Brooklyn Stomp, (Brooklyn, Pennsylvania); Tiffany's Fancy, Elk Lake Stomp, Elk Lake Polka, George Graham's Cotillon, Charlie Anderson's Quadrille, Willie Gregory's Cotillion and more. Jehile created many including Mable Henry's Fling, the Mink Ranchers Waltz, Lenepe Park Jig, and Autumn Breeze. Creating and sharing was an important part of the above Fiddle Club.
Jehile played a lot for dances and other community events not to "show off" so much as to provide the tunes he knew they enjoyed the most that were appropriate for the event; at the right speed or tempo.
At the last public Concert at the Montrose high school December 21st 1979 Jehile was on stage with others; the curtain closed. I was watching the over capacity crowd of around 700. As the curtain opened and they saw Jehile, well, goose bumps raised, a standing ovation (BEFORE he played) I tell you now, Elvis would not have been more honored.
After the Concert there was a line of neighbors and friends, I'd say about 100 or so that waited until Jehile shook their hand and they spoke kind words. Jehile served his community well, they knew it and they loved him for it. After the concert I laid the money on the floor in front of him and said 'it's yours". Jehile had heard me speak about being a New Jersey Banker and enjoying the Trust Department. Jehile said "lets start a Trust Fund to Perpetuate and Disseminate this Old-Time Fiddle style" We paid expenses for the concert, Jehile took two hundred dollars and a pair of new Red Wing Boots, the rest, (about $700.00) went into a check book called The Jehile Kirkhuff Old-Time Music Fund with me and Geraldine as directors. Now, being on line some, I also have an on-line "Advisory Board" of several who give advice to me: Stacy Phillips, Donna Hebert, Alan Jabbour, Howard and Jodi Blumenthal, Joel Shimberg, Elan Chalford, Tom and Fay Staley (with the Willie Jones part of this project) and locally Todd Snover and Cynthia Gabriel, and my buddy Don Hartle. I talk with these friends about the Jehile project when ever we meet or e mail and I take all comments into decision making for the web site and other aspects of the project.
Jehile traveled some in Pennsylvania and the Southern tier of New York playing for dances and Concerts; he even had his own radio show for a while, like a smaller Don Messer show. But he served his community well. He could and would play for children, seniors, dances, funerals, on the Village Green, and the local county fair. This is a lesson for all of us; if you aim too high and move away in search of glory and prize money you could end up with out the company of your family and neighbors and somewhat alone in a far off urban area. Or, you stay around and learn what tunes and what events the families, and dancers in your area enjoy.
from Stacy Phillips -
Now check out musical notation of a redaction of Jehile's version of the jig, Lark of the Morning and, better yet, courtesy of Ed and Geraldine Berbaum, a recording of Jehile playing this piece towards the end of his life. Just as enjoyable, listen to his inimitable spoken introduction. You won't be able to resist searching for more of the treasure trove of fiddling by this unique artist.
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