Emily Phillips, a junior majoring in Anthropology and Spanish at UA Little Rock, has received $2,000 from the Arkansas Department of Higher Education’s Student Undergraduate Research Fellowship for her project to transcribe the music and stylistic elements of “Fiddlin’ Banjo Billy Mathews.” Mathews, who has resided in Carroll County, Arkansas since 1975, is a world-renowned fiddle player known for his intricate and unique playing style. He has been performing for over 40 years and has greatly contributed to the American folk music catalog. Under the supervision of her mentor, Dr. Juliana Flinn of the UA Little Rock Department of Anthropology, Phillips will transcribe Mathews’ recordings and identify unique elements that highlight his signature style on paper.
Mathews began playing music on the banjo and later learned to play the fiddle. Due to the influence of his banjo playing, he was able to mimic banjo techniques on the fiddle, such as “pull-offs,” “hammer-ons,” and “slides.” By transcribing these recordings, she will be able to investigate how his style has been influenced by the traditions of other regions and players. She will also see how his playing style differed from those who previously played these tunes. Phillips will specifically transcribe the audio recordings on the album, 500 Fiddle Tunes: Old-Time Archive, using music transcription software. Her goal is to make Mathews’ songs and playing style more accessible for other players to emulate.