Fiddler Gayel Pitchford wins Huffman Award
April 27, 2019
California State Old Time Fiddlers Association awarded its prestigious Ross and Rae Huffman Award to the District 3 State Director, Gayel Pitchford, during the 53rd annual State Fiddle Contest, held at Lodi, Calif., on April 12 and 13.
The Huffman Award, a huge trophy which has all the winners' names going back to the award's inception in 1984, is presented annually to a member of the California State Old Time Fiddlers Association who has done a lot to preserve and perpetuate old time fiddling in California. The awardee gets to keep the trophy for a year.
Pitchford, who is the Tehachapi Symphony's Concertmaster and local strings teacher, became active in the fiddling world in 2001 when she played in her first fiddle contest. She placed second in the Senior Division, right behind national champion Hughie Smith. She began teaching all her strings students how to fiddle and having them play in both the District 3 contest and contests throughout the State. Not content with having just one local contest a year, she instituted an Amateur Contest at mid-year, so students would have an incentive to play fiddle music all year long.
In short order, she moved the moribund District 3 from Bakersfield to Tehachapi and got a full Board of Directors together to run it. She started having monthly fiddle jams, where lots of fiddlers and pickers came to just sit around and play music, eat and tell stories.
She has served as state director for District 3 of the CSOTFA from 2004 until now. She has worked at all the state fiddle contests, helping with managing the door, information, donations and the annual raffle. She has also played in most of the state contests and became the 2010 State Senior Fiddle Champion. Her students are also award-winning fiddlers; one of them won the PeeWee Division at state and came in third place at the National Fiddle Contest in Weiser, Idaho.
She became interested in the music of Howdy Forrester, Roy Acuff's fiddler in the Smoky Mountain Boys for 36 years. She began transcribing some of Howdy's tunes from old recordings so she could learn to play them. She gathered enough information about Howdy that she authored a book, "Fiddler of the Opry: the Howdy Forrester Story," so that others would have access to his life and work. The book was reviewed and strongly recommended by Fiddler Magazine, Sing Out! and Bluegrass Unlimited.
Last year her second Howdy Forrester book, "Howdy's Tunes," was published and is selling briskly. She recently had a great review in Bluegrass Magazine Unlimited. This second book contains 50 more tune transcriptions of Howdy's tunes and arrangements, most of which have never been written down before.
She established a scholarship through District 3 in Howdy's memory. Each year the District awards a $1,000 scholarship to a college-bound fiddler who exhibits the, "spirit of Big Howdy Forrester." Howdy's son, Bob, who lives in Nashville, Tenn., came out to give the award himself at the 2017 Fiddlin' Down the Tracks contest here in Tehachapi.
All of her efforts have inspired and encouraged a whole new generation of students to become fiddlers. For all of these accomplishments and many others, the State awarded her the 2019 Huffman Award.