Journal of the Society for American Music

Research Article

Henry Ford's Dance Revival and Fiddle Contests: Myth and Reality




Henry Ford's interest in reviving the dances of his youth and publicizing old fiddlers was a major media phenomenon of the 1920s. The claims of one fiddler became the source of the often repeated, but erroneous, assertion that Ford sponsored a national fiddlers' contest, which in turn has become a part of country music lore. This article, based mostly on archival sources and newspapers, attempts to describe the particular musical and dance traditions that interested Ford, his personal activities and ambitions in this area, his motivations, and the larger popular interest in the subject itself.

Paul M. Gifford, born in Detroit and raised a few miles from Henry Ford's Highland Park plant, is a librarian and archivist at the University of Michigan–Flint. He is the author of The Hammered Dulcimer: A History (Scarecrow Press, 2001).


I would like to thank the staff of the Benson Ford Research Center, The Henry Ford, and its institutional predecessor, the Ford Archives, especially David Crippen, for help finding materials; Elmore Whipple, for use of the Volney Gunning diaries; Michael McKernan and David Sanderson; and the anonymous readers for JSAM.