Like the majority of rural old-time and bluegrass musicians, Whit Sizemore was born with musical bloodlines. In 1940, a banner year of potatoes enabled him to start playing music. When Whit was six years old his father, Robert, traded four bushels of spuds for a fiddle—a fiddle that lacked a bridge, strings, and bow. Doctor Whitfield Painter (Doc) Davis of Galax, for whom Whit had been named, was treating the boy’s grandmother at the home and noticed the fiddle. The next time Doc came around, he brought everything needed to make it playable. Doc Davis was a musician himself and was one of the principal leaders in starting the Old Fiddlers’ Convention in Galax during 1935.
The first tunes Whit learned to play were the old Baptist hymns his grandmother sang and hummed for him. Songs like “How Firm a Foundation,” “In the Sweet By and By,” and “Amazing Grace” remain some of his favorites today. Whit often heard string music at family gatherings. “My uncle Gordon Shinault was a good fiddler and thumb cock banjo player. Several of the tunes I play I learned from him,” Whit says. Other family musical influences included Galen and David Shinault, and Jimmy Hawks and Roscoe Parish were community musicians who sometimes played at the gatherings. He also heard recorded music. Whit’s father Robert purchased the family one of the community’s first phonographs, an Edison cylinder machine. Later he bought a wind up Victrola that played the newer 78 rpms. Among young Whit’s favorites were the recordings of the Skillet Lickers, G. B. Grayson and Henry Whitter, and Ernest (Pop) Stoneman with Kahle Brewer on fiddle. . . .