Road Scholars Speakers Bureau

Way Down in Alabam: Finding Old-Time Fiddlers and their Tunes

In the late 1970s Joyce and Jim Cauthen discovered old-time music, a fiddle-centered style of folk music that is the forerunner of bluegrass music. Jim took up the fiddle and Joyce learned to accompany him on guitar. At the time most fans of old-time of music looked to North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee, and other Appalachian states for fiddle music.  The Cauthens wanted to find how fiddles were played in Alabama and discover tunes that were played there in earlier days.

Joyce made it her mission to find fiddlers who had learned to play by ear from their kinfolks and neighbors, those who knew archaic tunes and had not had the opportunity or felt the need to become polished and improvisational as many did after World War II.  

Because such fiddlers seldom performed in public she looked for them in published histories of towns and counties in Alabama and vintage newspapers in archives and libraries across the state, and asked contemporary fiddlers if they knew of any older fiddlers who would fit the bill. When she got a lead she would either take off on her own to find that fiddler or wait until her husband could make the trip with her.  If they found a “bonafide” old-time fiddler, they were rewarded with good tunes and wonderful stories told by a person who was delighted to share them.  They encouraged fiddlers to go deep into their memories and pull out rare tunes that had been played within their families or in their communities but were now on the verge of extinction. These they recorded, first on inexpensive cassette recorders, later on professional equipment loaned by the Library of Congress.

In this program, Joyce will give a brief history of the fiddle in America (Alabama, in particular) and describe the development of Southern old-time music. From their front porch in Birmingham they will take the audience on virtual visits with some of the fiddlers, share their stories and play, on fiddle, guitar and banjo, unique tunes they learned from them. 

Alabama Humanities Road Scholars HeaderAlabama’s most illuminating and engaging university and independent scholars educate and entertain as part of AHF’s Road Scholars Speakers Bureau.

Hear public presentations and lectures on a variety of humanities topics. Browse the Road Scholars catalog by scholar name or presentation subject or book your presentation now!

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Organization Guidelines

–Speakers are available for the following groups: libraries, civic groups, historical societies, for-profit organizations, nonprofit organizations, and public or private secondary schools (for SUPER Teacher In-Service Professional Development).

–An organization may book an initial speaker in a calendar year for a nominal fee. There is only a $50.00 booking fee for the first speaker request. For subsequent requests (within the same program year) the organization is responsible for the full costs of travel (mileage of .54/mile) and honorarium ($175.00). These funds will be used to offset program expenses. In the event that the program is cancelled, a refund will be issued upon receipt of written request by the organization. The fees should be made payable to “Alabama Humanities Foundation” and mailed to Road Scholars Speakers Bureau, Alabama Humanities Foundation, 1100 Ireland Way, Suite #202, Birmingham, AL 35205. The contribution may also be invoiced upon request after the program.

–If your organization plans a business meeting at the same time, we expect that you schedule the Road Scholar presentation first and inform the speaker at the time of your request.

–For in-school presentations, please reserve a minimum of one hour for the speaker’s presentation and up to two hours for a teacher in-service.

–With the exception of teacher in-services, all Road Scholars programs must be open to and free of charge to the general public. School programs aimed primarily at students must be made available to school faculty and administrators, as well as students’ parents or other adult family.

Guidelines for Booking a Speaker

Step #1 Directly contact the speaker as early as possible to determine his/her availability and to make arrangements for time and place. Be sure to confirm audio/visual needs.

Step #2 At least 4 weeks prior to the determined program date, complete the online Road Scholars Request Form and mail your fee/contribution (payable to “Alabama Humanities Foundation”) to Road Scholars Speakers Bureau, Alabama Humanities Foundation, 1100 Ireland Way, Suite #202, Birmingham, AL 35205.

Step #3 AHF will contact you via e-mail to confirm your request. Please wait until you receive confirmation from AHF before you publicize your requested program! AHF will send promotional materials (via email ). Upon receiving your confirmation e-mail, please download and print the Audience and Program Coordinator’s Evaluation Form provided on the website.

Step #4 Promote the program using the materials AHF sends to your organization.

Step #5 At least one week before the program date, contact the speaker again to review event details.

Step #6 At the program, introduce the speaker, acknowledge the AHF, and distribute the audience evaluation forms. Collect audience evaluation forms after the conclusion of the program.

Step #7 Within two weeks after the program, complete the Program Coordinator’s evaluation form and return it along with audience evaluation forms to the AHF.

Request and Evaluation Forms

Speaker Request Form

The additional forms below are for Program Coordinators. Upon receiving your confirmation e-mail, please download and print the forms below.

Audience & Program Coordinator Evaluation Forms

The forms below are for Speakers only. Upon receiving confirmation of your event, please print and complete Travel Reimbursement & Evaluation Forms below.

Scholar Evaluation Form

Scholar Reimbursement Form

Become a Road Scholar

AHF is seeking new Road Scholars to make presentations throughout the state of Alabama on a selected topic, usually speaking for 50 minutes and then answering questions for 10 minutes. Road Scholars typically speak three times a year and receive a modest honorarium for each engagement.

Road Scholars speak on topics in the humanities, including history, philosophy, language, literature, law, art history, archaeology, or anthropology. AHF will consider any topic in their field, but demand is particularly strong for presentations on Alabama history, folklore and literature.

Anyone interested in becoming a Road Scholar should submit a proposal with the following:

Cover Letter: Include your name, home and office addresses, home and office phone numbers, fax number and e-mail address.

Lecture Description: Provide the title and a two-page summary (12 pt. font, double-spaced) of your presentation. Please also explain what humanities disciplines the presentation encompasses, why the topic is important and interesting to the general public and/or teachers, and how you will engage the audience in dialogue, for example, through thought-provoking questions, hand-outs, A/V materials, photographs, artifacts, suggested readings, etc.

Curriculum Vita: Provide a condensed CV (12 pt. font, two pages max). Include information about what qualifies you as an expert on your presentation topic as well as information about your public speaking experience outside the classroom.

References: Provide the names and phone numbers of at least two professional references who can attest to your speaking abilities.

Submit all required proposal content via mail, fax, or e-mail:

Alabama Humanities Foundation
1100 Ireland Way, Ste 202
Birmingham, AL 35205
(205) 558-3981 (fax)


The Alabama Humanities Foundation is the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. AHF funds and conducts programs that encourage dialogue on a variety of humanities topics from diverse points of view. The views and opinions expressed in Road Scholars programs do not necessarily represent those of the AHF or the National Endowment for the Humanities. AHF grants and AHF-conducted programs do not support direct social, political or religious advocacy. AHF is a private, nonprofit organization that receives funding from the NEH, the State of Alabama, foundations, corporations and individuals.


Scroll through the calendar below to find an upcoming Road Scholar presentation in your area.


For more information about the Road Scholar Speakers Bureau program, please contact Melanie Bouyer at (205) 558-3999 or