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Kessinger Brothers
WCHS Charleston, WV
WOBU Charleston, WV

About The Group

The Kessinger Brothers consisted of Uncle Clark (1896-1975) and nephew Luches "Luke" (1906-1944) who recorded some of the best old-time fiddle music ever produced between 1928 and 1930. They turned out 70 quality tunes on the Brunswick and Vocalion labels.

When the Depression ended their recording career, the Kessengers played music locally for decades. Twenty years after Luke's death, Clark, still playing locally, was rediscovered playing better than ever. He won national fiddle contests and recorded five quality albums in his remaining years.

Clark W. Kessinger was born in Kanawha County, West Virginia, across the river from Charleston and spent most of his life in the suburban towns of St. Albans and South Charleston. He learned his fiddle skills in childhood.

After World War I military service, he began entering and usually winning fiddle contests. It was told that many contestants would withdraw from contests rather than lose to Kessinger.

There were some early articles of Clark entertaining people at family gatherings or 'informal party.' one such occasion was at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Averill R. Childers in June 1922. Clark, did several selections on his guitar and Miss Mary Timlin provided an entertaining Hawaiian dance.

In February 1928, Brunswick Records announced field sessions in Ashland, Kentucky and the Kessingers were among those recorded. On their first four efforts, Ernest Legg called square dances, but thereafter it was just Clark with Luke providing rhythm on guitar.

Natchee v Clark Kessinger Fiddle Contest Promo - Charleston WV 1934 Over the next two years, they journeyed to New York for two sessions in 1929 and another one in 1930, placing 58 numbers on Brunswick and 12 on Vocalion. It was said that the Kessingers were among the best sellers on Brunswick's "Songs from Dixie" series.

In November 1932, Clark participated in a fiddler's contest at the Hooff's Opera House. It was reported that fiddlers from Ohio and West Virginia were entered in the contest sponsored by the American Legion as part of an Armistice Day celebration.

In 1934, Larry Sunbrock put on one of his known Fiddling Contests as part of a Radio Jamboree at the Charleston Armory. The big headline promoting the show was that Natchee, The Indiana, then touted as National Champion Fiddler would be facing Clark Kessinger, Charleston's Champion Fiddler.

In 1936, Clark won first place in the American Legion post's benefit fiddler's contest. Sid Fadeley of Racine took second place while O. M. Fisher of Crown City finished fourth and Morgan Roush of Mason City, fifth.

April 1936 saw a return match with Natchee and his band, the Arizona Indians as part of the West Virginia State Finals of the National Championship string band, fiddlers and yodelers championship. The Fiddling Contest was to be supervised by the National Fiddler's Association. The groups were competing for a chance to compete in the National Finals in Madison Square Garden in September.

Other competitors were to be Clayton McMichen's Georgia Wildcats, Clark Kessinger's band, Riley Puckett, the king of the Hillbillies and His Skillet Lickers, Al Hendershot's Gang with Zeke and Ruby, Grandpappy Jones Lonesome Hollow Folks, The Texas Drifters and Bernard Henson's Three Cornhuskers. First prize for the Fiddle contest was $200 while $500 would go to the winning band.

On the day after the contests, it was reported that Natchee and his Arizona Indians won the band contest, Clark Kessinger the fiddler's contest and Ruby Perky of Charleston the yodeling contest. It was reported the winners split a prize pot of $500, some contradicting previous reporting.

Another contest was held in November of 1936, but no report of the winners was seen in researching the event.

In October of 1947, Clark Kessinger was named the winner in the West Virginia fiddler's contest. A note with the accompanying picture indicated that Natchee the Indian did show up for the contest.

As depression conditions crippled the country music recording business, the Kessingers remained musically active in their home locale playing sometimes on WOBU (changed to WCHS in 1933) and for local dances.

With interest in old time music on the rise, a young enthusiast named Ken Davidson located Clark playing at a club in Hurricane, West Virginia and rejuvenated his career. Over the next seven years Clark won prestigious fiddle contests in Galax, Virginia, Union Grove, North Carolina, and Weiser, Idaho; he also recorded five quality long play fiddle albums.

In 1968, he played on the Grand Ole Opry. In 1971, Clark suffered a stroke which virtually ended his career and he died four years later.

Biographical Information:

Clark Kessinger — Born: July 27, 1896; Died: June 4, 1975

Luke (Luches) Kessinger — Born: August 21, 1907; Died: May 6, 1944

Credits & Sources

  • Hillbilly-Music.com would like to express its thanks to Ivan M. Tribe, author of Mountaineer Jamboree — Country Music in West Virginia and other books that can be found on Amazon.com and numerous articles in other publications for providing us with information about this artist.
  • Informal Party; June 16, 1922; The Charleston Daily Mail; Charleston, WV
  • Fiddlers From Ohio and West Virginia...; November 14, 1932; The Charleston Daily Mail; Charleston, WV
  • Clark Kessinger Won First Place...; January 29, 1936; The Charleston Daily Mail; Charleston, WV
  • Fiddlers' Contest Will Be On Sunday; April 22, 1936; The Charleston Daily Mail; Charleston, WV
  • Fiddlers Contest Won By Kessinger; April 27, 1936; The Charleston Daily Mail; Charleston, WV
  • Fiddle Champion; October 15, 1947; Beckley Post-Herald; Beckley, WV

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Recordings (78rpm/45rpm)

 
Brunswick
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  220 A Wednesday Night Waltz
  220 B Good Night Waltz
  235 A Hell Among The Yearlings
  235 B Turkey In The Straw
  238 A Garfield March
  238 B Kanawha March
  247 A Forked Deer
  247 B Arkansas Traveler
  256 A Chicken In The Barnyard
  256 B The Devil's Dream
  267 A Gal I Left Behind Me
  267 B Sixteen Days In Georgia
  308 A Sally Goodin
  308 B Sourwood Mountain
  309 A Mississippi Sawyer
  309 B Richmond Polka
  315 A Dill Pickles
  315 B Tugboat
  323 A Birdie
  323 B Old Jake Gillespie
  331 A Johnny, Bring The Jug Around The Hill
  331 B Wild Goose Chase
  341 A Soldier's Joy
  341 B Long Eared Mule
  344 A Blackhawk Waltz
  344 B Over The Waves Waltz
  352 A Midnight Serenade Waltz
  352 B Boarding House Bells Are Ringing
  364 A Durang Hornpipe
  364 B Gippy Get Your Haircut
  396 A Chinky Pin
  396 B Done Gone
  411 A Don't Let The Deal Go Down
  411 B Sopping The Gravy
  458 A Rat Cheese Under The Hill
  458 B Going Up The Brushy Fork
  468 A Little Brown Jug
  468 B Polka Four
  480 A Pop Goes The Weasel
  480 B Chicken Reel
  484 A Mary Jane Waltz
  484 B Wild Flower Waltz
  518 A Dixie
  518 B Marching Thru Georgia
  521 A Whistling Rufus
  521 B Liza Jane
  540 A Ragtime Annie
  540 B Lonesome Road Blues
  554 A Everybody To The Punching
  554 B Shoo Fly
  563 A Steamboat Bill
  563 B Neapolitan 2 Step
  567 A Mexican Waltz
  567 B Lauterbach Waltz
  580 A Mccloud's Reel
  580 B Little Betty Brown
  592 A Under The Double Eagle - March
  592 B Regal March
 
Vocalion
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  02565 A Josh And I
  02565 B Brownstone Girl
  02566 A West Virginia Special
  02566 B Kanawha County Rag
  05248 A Patty On The Turnpike
  05248 B Wild Horse
  05481 A Hot Foot
  05481 B Salt River


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