Final Notes, Smith McInnis

Fiddler Smith McInnis of Raeford, North Carolina, died on June 16 at the age of 96. Smith was a descendant of Scottish Highlanders who settled the Cape Fear River valley in southeastern North Carolina. His great-grandfather, Angus McInnis, immigrated from the Isle of Jura to America in 1820. He made his way to Fayetteville, an important inland port prior to the Civil War, where he worked on the wharves as a boatwright. Later the McInnis family moved to Rockfish Station in adjoining Hoke County, where they farmed.

Born and raised in the farmhouse built by Angus McInnis, Smith heard fiddle music as a child. His father knew several hornpipes on the fiddle, and three of Smith’s brothers could play. Equally influential was his grandmother’s brother, Maximillian “Mac” McFayden, who was born before the Civil War.

Smith took up the fiddle at age 16 and began playing for square dances held in neighbors’ homes and in tobacco pack houses. He fiddled breakdowns and hornpipes at a quick pace that, nonetheless, featured fully-developed melody lines. These qualities made his fiddling exciting and well suited for both dancing and listening. Smith was particularly adept at “pushing” the bow to add subtle rhythmic embellishments to a tune, all the while maintaining a driving pulse

Smith gave up music-making in the 1930s in order to devote time to his family. At the age of 70, he decided to take up fiddling once again and practiced regularly to regain his touch. He entered and won prizes at several fiddle contests and accepted invitations to perform at churches, rest homes, senior centers, parties, and festivals near his home in Raeford. During the 1990s he recorded with North Carolina banjo players Marvin Gaster and A. C. Overton and with guitarist and fiddler Wayne Martin. Some of these recordings are featured on the recent CD entitled Going Down to Raleigh issued by the Piedmont Council of Traditional Music. Smith McInnis received North Carolina’s Folk Heritage Award in 1996.

-Wayne Martin

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