Scotch-Irish immigrants flocked to the foothills of North Carolina in the 1700’s bringing with them a love for fiddle music. Marci’s great grandfather Will McGee, a left handed fiddler of Irish ancestry, passed along his handed down melodies to his 16 children.
The McGee Family Band was often heard throughout the countryside in different configurations at local square dances. Furniture was pushed aside in one part of a house, and neighbors gathered for square dances, where they mingled and met sweethearts, many of whom would stay married for 50 years or more. Marci’s own grandparents met at one such square dance.
Before picking up the fiddle at age 16, Marci tinkered on the piano and was first chair clarinet in the junior high orchestra, at her rural NC school., where strings were not taught as part of band. She also played the french horn in the high school band. In her spare time, she could most likely be found hitting, kicking, or throwing some sort of ball - whether it be playing soccer, softball, basketball, or tennis. Marci’s first fiddle was given to her as a Christmas present from her grandfather. As a teenager, she learned to play her first fiddle tunes from these relatives – her mother’s uncles. She learned from them at local picking parlors, fairs, chicken stews, reunions, and at Christmas parties held in the rural area near Pilot Mountain, North Carolina.
Every Wednesday night at her Uncle Roy McGee’s garage, lawnmowers were pushed to the corner, tools put in their boxes, and the concrete floor swept to make room for music, hastily iced homemade cupcakes, apple turnovers, and a silver buffet-style coffee maker. The eldest McGee, Ralph ‘The Old Timer” was there most Wednesdays. Ralph was a contemporary of famed fiddle Tommy Jarrell in nearby Mt Airy, N.C. Ralph, who was a legendary local character, and often praised for his musical showmanship, was featured on Inside Edition in 1996, just prior to his death.
The youngest McGee, Cub McGee, showed up on occasion. Cub played with the likes of Mac Wiseman, Josh Graves, dobro player with Flatt and Scruggs, Clyde Moody, Blue Star Boys, Smilin' Jim Eanes and the Shenandoah Valley Boys, and many of the great old time/bluegrass players of the 40s and 50s.
Those McGees who didn’t fiddle, played banjo, acoustic or electric guitar, or piano. At family reunions once a year in May, the remaining siblings and their spouses, children and grandchildren gathered at a community building in Stokes County, N.C. to share food, family, and music.
While Tink pounded out chords and improvised fill ins on the piano, Alex played Chet Atkins style electric guitar, William plunked on the tenor banjo, Glenn(Marci’s grandfather) joined in for an occasional chord on the guitar, Roy joined in on guitar and electric bass, and Ralph, Gray, and Cub tried to outdo one another with their own versions of ‘Flop Eared Mule.’
Many of the arrangements of the fiddle tunes Marci plays today come directly from her uncles’ versions of the those tunes.
Twenty years later, only one of the 16 siblings(Tink) from this one in a million family is alive.
But music remains. It will always remain as along as we continue to play the melodies of our grandfathers, and as long as we continue to push aside the furniture to make way for neighbors to come over to listen, dance, eat, and meet future sweethearts.