John Watts, “Babe” Spangler was perhaps the most famous of these old time fiddlers. He was regularly featured as “The Old Virginia Fiddler” on WRVA radio and television in Richmond, Virginia in the late 1920’s until he died in 1970. Back in those days, their music wasn’t called bluegrass, but ” old-time” or mountain music, even “Spanglin!” Today I believe it would fit into the category of bluegrass, and those of you who enjoy bluegrass like I do will probably recognize this marvelous sound! Babe was an outstanding musician, even after losing his sight to a genetic disease, perhaps retinitis pigmentosa, which also stole the sight of his mother, his maternal grandfather, James Steptoe Langhorne, and several others in the family.
53 Jaybop writes on You Tube September 29, 2010,
“Babe Spangler was born on November 15, 1882 in Patrick County, Virginia. His father was a widely known fiddle player in the region. Babe moved to Richmond in 1906 and worked as a guard at the state penitentiary until 1920. It was around this time that Babe began to suffer from congenital glaucoma; he then ran a grocery store, and eventually got into the lumber business. He became more and more involved with his music, and by 1926 or ’27, he was known as “The Old Virginia Fiddler” on the Corn Cob Pipe Show on Richmond’s WRVA. His music reached much of the Eastern U.S. In 1927 he won the Virginia Fiddlers Contest. In 1929 Babe Spangler and Dave Pearson, who accompanied him on guitar on his radio broadcast, recorded 4 songs at the Richmond Sessions. Two of the songs were un-released. Spangler died in 1970 Note: Babe Spangler recorded some tunes at WPAQ,Mt Airy.NC in the 1940’s, which were later issued on County Records.”
Wallace Wolford Spangler, 1851- 1926, and his wife Frances (Fannie) Eunice Langhorne had six children together. Wallace had one child by his former marriage to Catherine Ellen Spangler, a son named Harry Hannibel Spangler. Wallace and Fannie’s children were:
John Watts, “Babe ” Spangler (1882-1970)
Charles Langhorne “Tump ” Spangler (1885-1983)
- Mary Josephine Spangler (1887-1970)
- Lila Ann Spangler (1889-1973)
- Elizabeth Lucretia Spangler (1892-)
- Virginia Empress Spangler (1894-1933)
Wallace Wolford Spangler was an accomplished musician himself, well-known, well respected and admired. He had his own special style some called “Spangling” instead of “fiddling!” Apparently he passed on this musical talent to many in his family, but his son John Watts, called “Babe”, and his son Charles Langhorne, called “Tump” were very accomplished. Their sister Mary Josephine married her second cousin Dudley Spangler who was also a musician!
Charles Langhorne Spangler, “Tump” loved to play with his brother Babe. In an interview with Nancy Lindsey in The Enterprise, the local newspaper of Stuart, Virginia, published June 19, 1974, Tump is quoted as recalling once when he and Babe were playing on WRVA radio, after it had increased its wattage to 50,000- reaching the whole country, when this Virginia legislator burst “into an impromtu rendition of a song he once played , “Black cat, yeller cat, riding on a rail, Black Cat stepped on the yeller cat’s tail…” They had so much fun together! (Thanks to Dr. Pat Spangler, Ph.D, Tump’s son, for sharing that newspaper article with this author! )
|Dudley Spangler was Tump and Babe’s second cousin as their grandfathers were brothers. This is the way it goes: John Spangler b. 1783 married Susan Susannah Hudnall, b.1788, Fauquier, Virginia, and they had six children including Richard, b.1813, and his brother Thomas born 1819. Richard married Lucretia Laura Scott and had son Wallace Wolford Spangler who married Fannie Langhorne then had Babe and Tump as told above. Thomas and his wife Mary Rose, had son George who married Sisley and had Dudley!|
Photo of Dudley Spangler from Images of America, Music Makers of the Blue Ridge Plateau, by the Music Makers Guild, p.113. –another gift from Tump’s son, Dr. Pat Spangler, PhD.
As you know from earlier posts, this author’s great great grandmother, Evalyna Langhorne was Fannie’s sister. Evalyna married Thomas Houchins and their son Harry, also blind from the family disease, played the banjo and sometimes played with Tump, Babe, and Dudley. As you may remember from earlier posts, I met Charles Langhorne Spangler’s children, Harvie Langhorne Spangler and Patrick Spangler, along with many of his grandchildren and great grandchildren! I also met Dudley Spangler’s children, Bernice, Margie, and Wallace Spangler! They are all wonderful, kind , smart and friendly people! Babe has only one living child left, Grace, age 98 at this writing, called Sweetie. In my post just referred to, there is a story Babe’s great grandson tells about Sweetie that is priceless! Pictures of many in this family can be found on the last blog post or two about the Spangler family reunion.
Published on Jul 10, 2012, Banjerholler on You Tube writes:
“These Virginia Fiddlers are John Watts “Babe” Spangler and his cousin, Dudley Spangler from Meadows of Dan, Virginia. The two learned their fiddling style from John Watts’ father, Wallace Spangler, a regarded fiddler from the area. This recording comes from a session of private recordings made by the boys to preserve their music. Let’s help to fulfill their wish!”
I’m all for preserving our musical heritage, and so very proud to be part of preserving some of my family’s talent!
- The Spangler Reunion, part 2, Charles Langhorne, “Tump” Spangler (heartofasouthernwoman.wordpress.com)
- Bluegrass vs. old-time music: A primer (newsobserver.com)