Norman Edmonds (1889-1976) was born in Wythe County in southwestern Virginia, near Hillsville and Galax, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. He started playing the fiddle when he was seven or eight, learning from his father, who had learned from his own father.
The tunes Norman knew, which he estimated to be around one hundred, ranged from widely known old-time tunes to tunes rarely heard outside of the Galax area. He always held his fiddle against his chest rather than under his chin, and he could play in several different tunings, though he didn’t always bother trying to give those tunings “special names”—when pressed by an interviewer about what he called DDad, he half-jokingly answered, “Bonaparte’s Retreat tuning.” He might be best known for being an early source of the popular tunes “Train on the Island” and “Chinquapin Hunting.”
With his friend J.P. Nester, Norman crossed the mountains and went to Bristol, Tennessee in 1927 to record music. They recorded four tunes and were invited to record more, but J.P. didn’t want to travel anymore and turned the offer down. Norman continued playing music locally with friends and family and was recorded on several LPs. He became especially popular in the old-time music community of nearby Galax, where he performed at music conventions, and where he and several of his sons recorded a radio show that aired regularly for around fifteen years.
Norman remained an active fiddler his entire life, recording his final album a few years before his death in 1976. He also passed on his love of music to his family. Several of his sons became musicians, one son became a luthier, his granddaughter Barbara was recognized by Blue Ridge National Heritage for her bass and dulcimer playing, and his grandson Jimmy won his first of many fiddle contest victories at the age of ten.
“Music in the Blood” – an article about Norman Edmonds and his grandson Jimmy
Bios of Norman Edmonds and a bandmate – Traditional Tune Archive
Norman Edmonds and the Old Timers, volumes one and two – Field Recorders’ Collective
Brief interviews with Norman Edmonds when he was seventy – about his playing, about tunings, and about the tune “Bonaparte’s Retreat”
Recordings of several tunes played by Norman Edmonds – Association for Cultural Equity
More recordings of Norman Edmonds – Slippery Hill