Monday, April 07, 2014

Jim Shumate: Bluegrass Fiddler Supreme

They called him "Handsome'' Jim Shumate.  Writer Thomas Goldsmith called him the "Bluegrass Fiddler Supreme."  He's probably in his early 20s above.  The 1980 LP I have is actually titled, "Bluegrass Fiddler Supreme" and he's probably pushing 70.  Shumate is one of those names that keeps coming up in country music history. His story overlaps with Flatt and Scruggs and Bill Monroe and many others. So it's worth noting I have covered part of this story once before focusing on Flat and Scruggs. More here.

Shumates big break happened completely by chance. Bill Monroe heard him on the radio and later invited him to join his Blue Grass Boys to replace Howdy Forrester who had left the band to join the navy.  Shumate held that chair from 1943 through 1945. He returned to North Caolina and making furniture but also moonlighted with Dwight Barker and the Melody Boys on WSJS-TV. He also DJ'd a bit on WHKY.

In 1947 Flatt and Scruggs founded the Foggy Mountain boys and recruited Shumate to play with them. They started out on WDVA in Danville, VA.  They left for WHKY-AM that spring.  Later they added Mac Wiseman to the troupe and moved to WCYB-AM in Bristol, VA. Mac did double duty playing in the band and booking them gigs. There they were reputed to have sold 10,000 song books through the mail. They recorded a number of sides but disbanded not long afterward and Jim returned to selling furniture.

Shumate became musically active again in the 1980s recording with the with the Blue River Boys and in the 90s doing a Bill Monroe tribute album. In his life Shumate was honored with several awards:  the North Carolina Folk Heritage Award in 1995, his  induction into the in the Bluegrass Hall of Fame, and induction into the Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame in 2011. He died in 2013 at the age of 91.

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