BY KINNEY RORRER—
Charley Washington LaPrade was born in Franklin County in 1888. His family moved to Spray (Eden), North Carolina around 1900 to work in the cotton mills there as had other families from Franklin, Floyd and Patrick counties during the same period. It is likely that he began playing fiddle, banjo and guitar while living in Spray. Around World War I he moved to Schoolfield, VA – near Danville – to work in the cotton mills there.
While working as a millhand he took violin lessons from a Swedish violinist who taught at Averett College, in Danville. This may have been the source of his very sophisticated long bow style of fiddling. His teacher may also have been the source of his rendition of the Austrian military march “Under the Double Eagle.” LaPrade’s recording of the tune was the first by a rural country fiddler – selling over 27,000 copies for Columbia Records when released in 1926.
The Shelor Family, who would later record at the Bristol sessions, lived across the street from LaPrade in the Schoolfield mill village for a while and the family often jammed with LaPrade in their mill house. Their version of “Sandy River Belle” may have been learned from LaPrade during their weekly jam sessions. LaPrade recorded it prior to their recording the same dance tune at Bristol. LaPrade recorded for Columbia in 1926 with his band The Blue Ridge Highballers, composed of LaPrade on fiddle, Lonnie Griffith on guitar and Arthur Wells on banjo with Danville music store owner Blind Luther Clarke on a few vocals.
LaPrade recorded again for Paramount in 1927 with a slightly different band. His recordings of “Green Mountain Polka (aka ‘Richmond’)” and “Under the Double Eagle” were highly influential on regional fiddlers. Prior to his passing in 1958 he played on the local country music station WDVA with his daughter backing him up on piano.