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Famous Fiddler

This slideshow contains 12 items
1
Mellie Dunham playing his fiddle, Norway, ca. 1927

Mellie Dunham playing his fiddle, Norway, ca. 1927

Item 79936 info
Norway Historical Society

Alanson Mellen "Mellie" Dunham started playing fiddle for local dances as early as age 17.

His wife, Emma Richardson Dunham, known as "Gram," played the piano. Music was a part of their family life as well as a part of their community life.

In the family's parlor was a pump organ, which their daughter, Pearl, learned to play as a child.

Pearl's husband, Nathan Noble, was also a musician; he started playing the fiddle when he was very young and was playing for local dances at age 16.

In 1907 the family quartet began playing for dances at the newly formed Heywood Club.

Pearl died in 1918 and in 1920, her daughter Cherry took her place in the orchestra.

The group played at many local venues, including the Grange and other dance halls.


2
Mellie Dunham's dance band, Norway, ca. 1925

Mellie Dunham's dance band, Norway, ca. 1925

Item 79931 info
Norway Historical Society

In 1925, shortly after Mellie and Gram celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, Mellie Dunham was encouraged to enter a fiddling contest.

The event, the Pageant of Progress, was held Oct. 13, 1925 at the Lewiston Armory.

Audience applause determined the winner; Mellie Dunham was easily the favorite.

Emboldened by this success, Dunham wrote to Henry Ford who was putting a great deal of energy and interest into reviving the traditional music and dance of his youth.

Ford had already located 38 old time fiddlers and had invited them to play in Dearborn, Michigan, where he had built a ballroom for dances, hired a dance teacher, and employed a dance orchestra.


3
The Dunhams depart for Michigan, Norway, 1925

The Dunhams depart for Michigan, Norway, 1925

Item 79933 info
Norway Historical Society

On November 11, Ford wrote back, inviting Mellie and Gram Dunham to visit.

On December 7, 1925, the Dunhams left for Michigan with a tremendous send off in Norway.

Word had spread far and fast and reporters from Boston and New York were on hand to cover the story.


4
Mellie and Gram Dunham board the train for Michigan, Norway, 1925

Mellie and Gram Dunham board the train for Michigan, Norway, 1925

Item 79962 info
Norway Historical Society

Schools and businesses were closed and townspeople lined Main Street and crowded at the train station for Governor Ralph Owen Brewster's farewell speech.


5
Mellie Dunham and Henry Ford, Dearborn, Michigan, 1925

Mellie Dunham and Henry Ford, Dearborn, Michigan, 1925

Item 79965 info
Norway Historical Society

Eight newspaper reporters, four photographers, three motion picture camera men, and Philip Shorey, Maine's Director of Publicity, accompanied the Dunhams on the train to Dearborn.

Mellie played for Ford's Friday night dance on December 11; he and Gram were the hit of the evening.

After World War I, when the cities and industry were expanding, bringing economic and social change, there was an interest in trying to balance change and traditional elements.

The Dunhams were popular everywhere they traveled as they represented the charm and appeal of old values and the rural way of life.


6
Mellie and Gram Dunham on tour, Cleveland, ca. 1926

Mellie and Gram Dunham on tour, Cleveland, ca. 1926

Item 79944 info
Norway Historical Society

The Dunhams left Michigan on December 13. They stopped in New York City to visit Alfred Masury, a friend from his summer visits to Lake Pennessewassee in Norway.

They were greeted with more reporters and a welcoming crowd carrying signs and balloons.

Masury had also arranged for them to meet New York Mayor John Hylan.

Back in Norway, Freeland Howe had contacted Harry Jordan, manager of Keith's Theatre in Philadelphia, who was originally from South Paris.

The Keith-Albee organization was an enormous theatrical empire with control over 450 theaters and booking control over 775 theaters.

Keith's signed the Dunhams for a tour and agreed to develop, manage, and present an act that would open in Boston on December 21.

From Boston, they went to the Hippodrome in New York City, and on to 19 cities in 10 states over the next four months ending in Portland on May 17.


7
'Rippling Waves Waltz' by Mellie Dunham, 1926

'Rippling Waves Waltz' by Mellie Dunham, 1926

Item 80008 info
Norway Historical Society

Dunham composed a waltz, "Rippling Waves," that became his most famous tune.

An image of Dunham, labeled "Maine's Champion Fiddler," is on the cover of the sheet music.

The music is the version Dunham performed on the Keith Circuit.

Listen to the song:


8
Flyer for Mellie Dunham's Hippodrome concert, New York, NY, 1926

Flyer for Mellie Dunham's Hippodrome concert, New York, NY, 1926

Item 79939 info
Norway Historical Society

Crowds of former Norway residents and summer visitors gathered everywhere the Dunhams performed.

In Boston, 135 members of the Norway Maine Club attended, at the Hippodrome 100 people went to the Maine night, and in Philadelphia 200 people greeted the couple at a Maine reception.

In Washington, D.C., they met President Calvin Coolidge. In addition Vivian Akers, a Norway friend, was on hand at the Hippodrome with a four-page advertising program he had created for the tour.

Also present was Don Sietz, who had grown up in Norway and was now the business manager for the New York World.


9
Mellie Dunham's homestead, Norway, ca. 1925

Mellie Dunham's homestead, Norway, ca. 1925

Item 79932 info
Norway Historical Society

While the Dunhams were touring the vaudeville circuit, Norway woodworkers and artists carved a large fiddle.

It was mounted over the door of the Dunham home as a surprise before their return to Norway.


10
Mellie Dunham's 'Fiddlin' Dance Tunes,' 1926

Mellie Dunham's 'Fiddlin' Dance Tunes,' 1926

Item 80014 info
Norway Historical Society

Listen to music from his "Fiddling Dance Tunes" collection:


11
Welcome home parade for Mellie and Gram Dunham, Norway, 1926

Welcome home parade for Mellie and Gram Dunham, Norway, 1926

Item 79963 info
Norway Historical Society

They returned to Norway on May 24, 1926 to an enormous reception.

Schools and businesses were closed and the street was filled with townspeople for the Welcome Home.


12
Celebrating fiddler Mellie Dunham's return, Norway, 1926

Celebrating fiddler Mellie Dunham's return, Norway, 1926

Item 79964 info
Norway Historical Society

Following the tour Dunham started to play for dances all over New England.

In the winter of 1930, he and Gram traveled to Florida for several bookings.


This slideshow contains 12 items