Alanson Mellon Dunham was born on Crockett Ridge, Norway, Maine,
July 29, 1853.
In 1925, "Mellie" who had been playing fiddle for local dances all
his life, won a fiddle contest in Lewiston, ME. When Henry Ford heard about him
Dunham was invited to Dearborn, Michigan to play for him. According to a
Grand Ole Opry History Picture Book, Ford dubbed
him "King of the Fiddlers."
At this time, the WSM Barn Dance, predecessor of today's
Grand Ole Opry, was just getting started.
The Mellie Dunham Orchestra was made up of Mellie on violin, son-in-law
Nathan Noble on bass and daughter-in-law, Cherry (Cherrie) Noble on piano.
In January 1926 the Keith-Albee vaudeville shows produced a show around
Mellie in New York's Hippodrome Theater, at the time, the largest theater
in the world. It consisted of an old fashioned barn dance and was booked
to play one week. It was so popular, however, it was extended for
a second week.
During this time, he recorded for the Victor (later RCA Victor) Company
"Lady of the Lake", "Mountain Rangers", "Chorus Jig", "Hull's Victory",
"Boston Fancy" and "Rippling Waves Waltz" which was one of his
In early February the orchestra played a week in New Jersey and also
cut a 2-sided record titled "Medley of Reels" in Victor's Camden studios.
These were some of the first electrically produced recordings using
a microphone. Prior to 1926, an acoustical recording system had been used.
Mellie's orchestra then went on a tour around the country playing as
far west as Indiana and when he and the wife, who he called "Gram" were
returning home they were given a parade in Boston, Massachusetts and presented with
the Keys To The City.
In Maine they played shows and dances in Houlton, Van Buren, Augusta and other
locales as well as Montpelier, Vermont. They even did a broadcast from the Wiers
in New Hampshire.
Of course, he was popular in his home town of Norway, Maine and a paragraph
in the Norway Sesque-Centennial Booklet, published in 1936, states that
at the time, Mellie Dunham received more newspaper publicity than the
Governor of Maine.
His day job, according to the Maine Country Music Hall of Fame was as
a farmer and he also made snow shoes which were guaranteed not to
sag. Admiral Perry ordered sixty pairs of these as he planned his trip
to the North Pole. Perry brought Mellie many souvenirs of that trip, but these
were all destroyed by a fire which destroyed the family home.
About all that was saved from the fire's destruction were the five fiddles
that Mellie managed to rescue upon repeated trips into the blazing building.
Much of this information was extracted from a newspaper article in the
Lewiston Journal Magazine section published on August 28, 1965 and written
by Joe Quinn of Norway, Maine who is deceased but was a long-time friend of
this writer. In the story, Joe says, "If today's generation of
square dancers could hear the records, they would know why their grandparents
sigh so when Mellie Dunham's name is mentioned."
Mellie Dunham is the oldest of all Hall of Famers in New England, having
been inducted into the Maine CMA's Hall in 1986.
Timeline and Trivia Notes
- Mellie Dunham, fiddle, leader
- Nathan Noble, bass (son-in-law)
- Cherry (Cherrie) Noble (daughter-in-law), piano
Credits & Sources
- Hillbilly-Music.com wishes to thank Gordie Brown,
Founder, New England Country Music Historical Society and friend of this site
for contributing this article.