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Michigan Heritage Awards

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Photo of Frank Mattison
Photo by Bill Mitchum

Frank Mattison
1985 awardee, Smyrna (Ionia County), fiddler

Frank Mattison (1893-86) and his wife, Irma, like his parents before him, were lifelong traditional musicians and supporters of traditional music. Frank vividly remembers the first time he played. "When I was a kid I lived in a neighborhood where there were fiddlers all around. They used to come to our house and bring their fiddles and dulcimers. That was about 1900. I would just sit and stare and watch their fingers. One night when they were playing cards, I picked up one of their fiddles and started to play. I have been playing ever since." (1) He played in homes, ballrooms, churches, community centers, and arenas and led a dance band that played in almost every community in the Lower Peninsula. In his eighties, he recorded one tape, "Fiddlin' Michigan Style," accompanied by Irma on saxophone and daughter Francis Geiger on the piano.

Known throughout Ionia County as a music teacher, he estimated he taught fiddle playing to more than 1,000 students and to members of his own family. Granddaughter Karlene Johnson has fond memories of Frank and appreciates her family's passion for music, "I remember when my mother used to take grandfather to the Grand Rapids Symphonette. Soon I started taking him, and I joined the group. The one-and-a-half hour drive there and back each week gave me the chance to learn about a very fascinating and special person." (2) Karlene eventually took fiddle lessons from her grandfather, learning some of the many tunes he had mastered in his lifetime. Even into his nineties, Frank was actively playing, sometimes several times a day and performing for others two or three times a week, including with the Senior Neighbors Orchestra at a Grand Rapids senior citizens center.

In Ionia County, the old Otisco Township Hall has been renamed the Mattison Lyceum Hall in honor of the Mattison family and the Lyceum Society headquartered there, which is dedicated to the promotion of traditional music and culture.

(1) Mattison, Frank. Cited in Manny Cristonomo, "The Fiddler," Detroit Free Press, 23 May 1986.
(2) Johnson, Karlene. Cited in Brenda Conrad, Ionia Standard, 3 February 1988.

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