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Fiddler David Frank ‘‘French’’ Carpenter (June 7, 1905-May 22, 1965) was a notable member of a famous musical family. He was born in Clay County and learned most of his music directly from his father, Tom, who was known as a fiddling preacher. Tom learned from French’s grandfather, the legendary Solly ‘‘Devil Sol’’ Carpenter, possibly the most influential fiddler in his part of West Virginia during the past 100 years.

Many played the Carpenter music after Sol, but French seemed to play it best. His playing was intricate and interestingly embellished. His timing was elusive and requires considerable attention to be appreciated. He used, to good advantage, the old West Virginia technique of lingering on a note, extending its duration for emphasis. His bowing was particularly fine, smooth, and subtle.

Carpenter’s music was also influenced by Webster County fiddler Lewis Johnson ‘‘Uncle Jack’’ McElwain. Some of Carpenter’s tunes were preserved on a recording released under two different titles: Elzic’s Farewell (Kanawha 301, about 1976) and Old-Time Songs and Tunes from Clay County, West Virginia (Folk Promotions, 1964). It features Carpenter’s music along with that of Jenes Cottrell, another well-known West Virginia musician. The Carpenter music continued to be played by Clay County fiddler Wilson Douglas, who died in 1999. He devoted years to learning French Carpenter’s music and probably knew more about Carpenter than anyone else alive at the time.

French Carpenter died several years before the old-time fiddling revival was in full swing. He was the nephew of Elk River outdoorsman ‘‘Squirrelly Bill’’ Carpenter and a first cousin, once-removed of fiddler Ernie Carpenter.

This Article was written by Michael Kline

Last Revised on October 19, 2023

Cite This Article

Kline, Michael "French Carpenter." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 19 October 2023. Web. 27 May 2024.


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