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Photo by Bill Mitchum
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
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