Renowned Chattanooga-area fiddler Bob Douglas died Wednesday (May 2) at 101 years of age. He had been slated to receive a Governor’s Award in the Arts at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium on May 15 in a newly created Folklife Heritage category. He died at a hospital in Dayton, Tenn., of pneumonia contracted only a few days earlier.
Douglas had remained incredibly active even into the last week of his life, and he was a remarkable musician for many reasons other than his longevity. His performances on Prairie Home Companion and the Grand Ole Opry within the past few years had brought him considerable national attention, although he had been well-known in folk festival and old-time fiddle circuits for several decades and to Chattanooga radio and live music audiences for much longer.
“Uncle Bob” was raised by a fiddling father in the rugged Sequatchie Valley area. In the 1920s he was the first musician to perform live over the radio in Chattanooga, and he made recordings with the Allen Brothers and Jess Young’s groups. He played with (and in contests against) such fiddlers as Curly Fox and Clayton McMichen. He was for years a leading regional country bandleader, who gave the Louvin Brothers their first job. In the 70s he was a major figure in the revival of southeastern contest fiddling and won the 1975 national contest staged by the Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife. His career was first documented in 1990 on Sequatchie Valley: Seven Decades of Country Fiddling, a Tennessee Folklore Society LP produced by Bob Fulcher. In 1998 he was the subject of a video produced by Cedar Glades Productions, and recently Hot Planet Productions issued Fiddling Bob Douglas: 100 Years Old-Ain’t Done Yet, a video documentary focusing on his centenary year. An interactive CD-ROM on Douglas and his music is in the works.
“Fiddlin’ Bob” Douglas will be remembered not only for his smooth style and huge repertoire of traditional tunes but also for his professionalism and warm personality.
Visitation will be held Saturday from 4 to 7 p.m. (ET) at the West Chapel Chattanooga Funeral Home (1724 McCallie Ave., Chattanooga, 423-698-2541). Burial services are scheduled for Sunday, 2 p.m., but other details are not yet available.