In conjunction with next week’s Downtown Gallery Crawl in Monroe/West Monroe, and Louisiana Folklife Month:
On Thursday, October 5, Hilton Lytle, a renowned string instrument builder in Monroe, will be one of five tradition bearers across the state to be honored during Louisiana Folklife Month. The event will be held in conjunction with the Downtown Gallery Art Crawl, from 6-7 p.m. at The Palace, 220 Desiard Street in downtown Monroe. Event organizer, Dr. Susan Roach, folklorist and Director of the School of Literature and Language at Louisiana Tech, will interview Lytle about his vast experience in making over 900 musical instruments, including guitars, Dobros, mandolins, banjos, violas, cellos, and his specialty, the violin. This event also will include a presentation honoring him as a Louisiana tradition bearer and a proclamation from the City of Monroe declaring October 5, 2017, as Hilton Lytle Day.
According to Roach, vice-chair of the Louisiana Folklife Commission, “Lytle was selected for this honor because of his expertise in building violins and his generosity in donating instruments to young people interested in the art form. He has also taught the complex craft to many others, including some famous violinists and fiddlers.” Another Folklife Commission member, Brian Davis, executive director of the Louisiana Trust for Historic Preservation, will serve as co-ambassador for the event.
Hilton “Hil” Lytle grew up in Jena, where he learned the names of area trees, a knowledge that led eventually to his crafting toys and musical instruments. After serving overseas in World War II, he attended Texas A&M and completed a master’s degree, and pursued his doctorate. In his last work position, he served as career counselor with the vocational technical school for more than 20 years in Monroe, where he retired and focused on building stringed musical instruments.
As a child he had built his first cigar box fiddle with strings from a screen door, and in 1970 he built his first violin with help from Foxfire books. He learned more instrument-building techniques from Doc Savage of Monroe. His specialty is crafting violins with exceptionally beautiful tones using a special “tap-toning” technique that he developed. As a featured artist at the Ozark Folk Center in Mountain View, Arkansas, he demonstrated instrument building, taught apprentices, and helped establish the Music Roots Program, where he has donated more than 400 instruments. He frequently participated in stage shows there, performing his own “Geriatric Blues” with his harmonica and wash tub bass. As he approaches his 95th birthday in November, he continues his craft, now having built 743 violins. He gives most of them to young musicians who could not afford to purchase them. More information on Lytle and his art is in Delta Pieces: http://www.louisianafolklife.org/LT/Articles_Essays/Deltalytle.html
Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser proclaimed October 2017 the third-annual Louisiana Folklife Month, recognizing Louisiana’s rich living traditions and the people who sustain them. The activities showcase tradition bearers in a series of free public programs throughout Louisiana that highlight overlooked cultural communities and increase appreciation of the vital role folklorists play in sustaining the state’s distinct culture. All events will be introduced by folklife ambassadors and professional folklorists who will contribute contextual and historical information.
Other folklife month events across the state will honor the following tradition bearers: Kevin Dunn, second line ribbon worker and beader from New Orleans; Randy Falcon, accordion builder from Duson; Jim Oertling, rockabilly musician from Robert; and Hardrick Rivers, bluesman from Natchitoches.
Lt. Governor Nungesser emphasized the importance of the folklife program and what it means for Louisiana saying, “Folklife month is a perfect time for us to remember our traditions and honor our culture. Each of our traditions trace back to our ancestors and the people who colonized Louisiana, and without that, we would not have the identity we have today.”
Louisiana Folklife Month is a project of the governor-appointed Louisiana Folklife Commission in collaboration with the Louisiana Folklore Society and partner organizations in each of the host communities, and it is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities.