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INSIDE MTSU: Strike up a tune, learn more about ‘Little House’

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Dr. Dale Cockrell, director of MTSU’s Center for Popular Music and co-producer of “Pa’s Fiddle: The Music of America,” poses for a photo before filming begins for the PBS special at the Loveless Barn. (MTSU Photo by Andy Heidt)
You heard Pa’s fiddle all through your childhood, whether on the TV version of “Little House on the Prairie” or in your head as you read Laura Ingalls Wilders’ classic tales – or they were read to you.

You’ve read about Pa’s fiddle in this very publication or online at MTSUNews.com. You may have watched the PBS special, “Pa’s Fiddle: The Music of America,” already this month on NPT, Nashville Public Television.

You can even hear more about it this Monday morning, June 18, on WGNS Radio’s “Action Line” program (www.1450wgns.com or AM 1450 or FM 101.5).

Why is everyone talking about one fellow’s fiddle all of a sudden?

Well, Dr. Dale Cockrell of MTSU’s Center for Popular Music can tell you that it’s not “all of a sudden”; he’s been working on cataloging, producing and sharing the music of Charles “Pa” Ingalls for decades.

His delight in America’s pioneer tunes is shared by many, most notably by one of the stars of the “Little House” series, the man who played Laura’s husband, Almanzo—Dean Butler.

Cockrell founded a label, Pa’s Fiddle Recordings, with the aim of putting all 127 songs mentioned in the “Little House” books on CD for everyone to enjoy.

In addition to his acting and writing tasks, Butler was producing bonus features on the “Little House” DVD collections as well as documentaries on Wilder and her husband.

The pair’s mutual love of the “Little House” music brought them together a few years ago in hopes of creating an even greater opportunity to share the tunes with others.

They found it with PBS, and the result was the “Pa’s Fiddle” special as well as a companion CD and a behind-the-scenes documentary by MTSU students and professors in the Department of Electronic Media Communication.

The special, which is airing on PBS stations nationwide through the month of June, is getting rave reviews.

It’s also prompting a renewed interest in the “Little House” books—as if the interest ever slows!—as listeners return to the books to find mentions of those 127 songs Pa played on his fiddle.

If you were fortunate enough to have heard these old-time songs in your childhood, then you knew that “Buffalo Gals” was popular long before Donna Reed sang it to Jimmy Stewart in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

You may have heard “Old Dan Tucker” before you heard Victor French sing it as Mr. Edwards on TV’s “Little House,” but you have to admit that few folks ever sang it better. Combed his beard with a wagon wheel, indeed.

And if you didn’t sing “Sweet By and By” at church, you wiped away tears as it was sung at someone’s funeral.

The music of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books, the music her Pa played on his fiddle, is indeed the music of America and an integral part of all of our lives. Everyone’s finally talking about it, again, and that’s a wonderful thing. MP

Gina E. Fann works in MTSU’s Office of News and Media Relations and manages content for the University’s news site, MTSUnews.com. She has lost count of the number of times she’s read the “Little House” books, and she’s grateful for reruns and DVDs.
Tagged under  Media History, MTSU, Music

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