The first Tucson Fiddle Contest was held February 20th, 1941 during rodeo week. From The Tucson Citizen, Thursday Night Edition, February 20th, 1941:
“Old Time Fiddlers Hold Contest Here. Old-time fiddlers competed in an open contest sponsored by the Radio Service Men’s Association and the Chamber of Commerce this afternoon. Taking part in the contest, held at the corner of Stone and Congress, were James A. Jackson, M.H. Cruise, Richard R. Smith, T.T. Martin, G.L. Kelley, Rex Thompson, T.G. Crawford, E.T. Mitchell, Sam Pottorff, and W. F. Crowley.”
The first place prize of $5 was won by Rex Thompson of Phoenix, the second place prize of two rodeo tickets by Wild Horse Shorty Hamby of Benson, and the third place prize of one rodeo ticket by M.H. Cruise of Tucson.
The second contest was held February 1st, 1942 at Armory Park in conjunction with the community sing program sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce and the city recreation department. First place was taken by A.A. Musgrave.
In the third contest on January 10th, 1943, a format was established where fiddlers were required to play two breakdowns and a waltz. In addition, a special award was given to the best rendition of “Arkansas Traveler”. V.W. Hamby won first place while Bill Skinner, age 13, won the “Arkansas Traveler” competition.
The contest continued through the next few years as an open contest. In 1948, the contest was recorded and sent to the Library of Congress for filing under American folklore. In 1952, over-60 and under-60 year old categories were established along with the “Arkansas Traveler” category. That year, Andy Olsen of Tucson won the over-60 group while Pug Scott won the under-60 division.
The contest continued with little change through to 1990 at Armory Park under the sponsorship of the city recreation department. In the 1990’s, the contest was moved to Reid Park where the City Park and Recreation Department sponsored the event. In addition, the contest was expanded to include several age categories and specialty divisions. Due to budget cuts, in 2010, sponsorship of the contest was placed solely in the hands of the Southern Arizona Old Time Fiddlers Association (SAOTFA) where it remained until 2021. The contest is now presented as a cultural heritage event of the Arizona Old Time Fiddlers Association (AOTFA).
Among notable participants over the years were Bill Bradley who first entered the contest in 1945 and won in 1948,1949, Pug Scott of Benson, the first woman champion (1952) and Don Johnson who won in the contest at least 7 times.
Source: Brief History of the Tucson Fiddle Contest, Tucson Citizen Archive
"Fiddlin' in the Park: One of the longest-running old-time fiddle contests in the country honors one of its own this weekend." (Tucson Weekly, February 14, 2002, Read More)
"Southern Arizona Fiddlers Interviewed and Perform at Tucson Meet Yourself"
(UA Through Our Parents' Eyes, October 8, 1993 Read More and Listen)
"Big Jim Griffith: Tucson Fiddle Contest Is Tomorrow"
(Arizona Daily Star, February 10, 2014, Read More)