Hillbilly-Music.comThe People. The Music. The History.
About the Group
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.
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.
Clark Kessinger — Born: July 27, 1896; Died: June 4, 1975Luke (Luches) Kessinger — Born: August 21, 1907; Died: May 6, 1944
Credits & Sources