Thursday, July 1, 2021
– Country Music Hall of Fame member Roy Acuff's fiddle has been added to the museum's permanent collection thanks to a donation by Vince Gill.
The fiddle was found and given to Acuff by American soldiers stationed in Germany at the end of World War II.
Then a major star of the Grand Ole Opry and a best-selling Columbia recording artist, Acuff enjoyed broad appeal in country music at the time, serving as an important bridge from the stringband era to the modern era of star singers backed by bands.
"Roy Acuff's prized fiddle is an important instrument with a remarkable story," said Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum CEO Kyle Young. "Because of Vince Gill's generosity, the museum is now the permanent steward of an instrument that illustrates Roy Acuff's cultural significance and the growth of country music during a period of great expansion for the genre. This instrument will be used to educate generations of fans and scholars about the music and career of Acuff, who served as an ambassador for country music as the face of the Grand Ole Opry and a regular USO performer, among many other accomplishments."
The fiddle was acquired this year by Gill, who became friends with Acuff when Gill began appearing on the Opry in the late 1980s.
"It felt important to me that the great Roy Acuff's fiddle join the ranks of other revered instruments in the museum's permanent collection, including Maybelle Carter's 1928 Gibson L-5 guitar and Bill Monroe's 1923 Gibson F-5 mandolin," said Gill. "The fiddle was given to Acuff by soldiers during a time of war because of how much he meant to them. He meant a lot to me, too."
The instrument was built in Germany around 1890 and is a copy of the highly prized violins constructed by Austrian luthier Jacobus Stainer in the 1600s. Discovered in a bombed-out music store in Frankfurt, Germany, by soldiers from the U.S. Army's 348th Engineer Combat Battalion in the waning days of World War II, the fiddle was sent to Acuff, their favorite country music performer, as a show of appreciation. Liking the tone, Acuff made it his primary fiddle for many years.
Acuff (1903-1992) was a singer, fiddle player, bandleader, songwriter, music executive and Grand Ole Opry favorite. He became famous as the host and headlining star of the "Prince Albert Show," the NBC radio network segment of the Grand Ole Opry that began airing in 1939, and he remained the face of the Grand Ole Opry until his death. Acuff's star power among U.S. servicemen and women was proven when he prevailed over pop crooner Frank Sinatra in a popularity contest held on Armed Forces Network's "Munich Morning Report" near the end of World War II.
Acuff was a co-founder of Nashville's Acuff-Rose Publications in 1942 and became the first living member of the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1962. Items displayed with the fiddle include correspondence from 1969 between Acuff and John E. Johnson Sr., one of the four servicemen who sent him the fiddle, and a letter signed by Acuff verifying this is the fiddle he personally carried and played on stages around the world and at the Grand Ole Opry.
The museum produced a video sharing the story of the fiddle and how it came into the museum's permanent collection. The segment includes interviews with Gill and museum staff plus archival materials.