(1907 - 1981)
Jehile Kirkhuff was a blind fiddler from Susquehanna Co., Pennsylvania. Born in 1907 to a long line of old-time fiddlers, he was said to have a repertoire of over 1,500 tunes, 400 of which are recorded in the Library of Congress. Jehile had heard good fiddle tunes from really good Fiddlers since he was first born. His father and grandfather played, as did his Uncle Jehile who was known as a very good player. When he got his first fiddle, a tin fiddle from a Sears catalog, and he was shown a scale, he started to pull melodies from his memory to his fingers and he was all set.
He was so good that when he was 9 years old and performing for the first time in public at a social event in the Grange Hall, the seats were all taken and the standing room was all taken because of his already blooming reputation as an above average player. Children’s heads could be seen in the windows as they jumped up to get a peek at the young legend. Over the years he refined his skills and visited other local Fiddle players. He said he learned from “those who loved this music the most and played it the best”.
The American Folk Life Center at the Library of Congress became interested in Jehile after he won the 1954 World Championship in Crockett, Texas. (Smokey Butler, a young Fiddler from Texas came in a very close second place. Smokey is a grand example of the Old-Time Texas style.) Alan Jabbour who started and manages the American Folk Life Center visited Jehile at his Pennsylvania home and recorded his tunes.
Jehile's influence was far reaching. WVIA public television (Scranton/Wilkes Barre) made a documentary on living off the land in Northeast Pennsylvania. "Journey to the Endless Mountain" included a segment on the lives of Ed and Geraldine Berbaum, a couple who gave up professional careers in New Jersey and moved to the hills to live off the land. Ed took fiddle lessons from Jehile and recorded and categorized many of his songs. Jehile's influence on the Berbaums inspired the producers of the documentary to dedicate the show "to the music and memory of 1954 World Champion Old-Time Fiddler Jehile Kirkhuff." The video is available through WVIA at http://www.wvia.org/television-92/original-documentaries
There is also a book on his life story: "Jehile: The Blind Fiddler from Lawton Pennsylvania" by Ken Oakley, which has an accompaning cd of his music. Here is a sample of Jehile's playing:
You can also download other MP3 recordings by Jehile, get sheet music, and learn about his life at the following websites: