Henry Ford and Country Music
Henry Ford’s love of music started early in his life when he began attending dances back in the 1880s. At the time, dances were a popular social activity, and it was at a dance that Ford met his future bride, Clara Bryant.
In the early 1920’s the Fords renewed their interest in old-fashioned American dancing when they bought and then restored the Wayside Inn in Sudbury, Mass., paying special attention to the ballroom.
Ford then hired a dance instructor who lived in the area by the name of Benjamin Lovett. Lovett would give dance lessons to the music the Fords favored. It wasn’t long before they threw square dances and old-fashioned dances on a regular basis at the Way side Inn, inviting family and friends.
In 1928 the Fords invited Mr. & Mrs. Lovett to Dearborn, Mich., to teach dance lessons at several of their parties. Later that year, Ford asked the Lovetts to move to Dearborn to work full-time as dance instructors for the Ford’s dances.
Dances were later held in a specially-cleared space in a corner of the Ford Motor Company’s Engineering Laboratory. A small orchestra consisting of a violin, a sousaphone, a dulcimer and a cymbalum (Hungarian piano) provided the music.
When the dancing parties were still new, Henry Ford would often bring in fiddlers to provide music. He would hear of contest-winning fiddlers and ask them to play for one of his parties. He also started sponsoring country fiddling contests during the mid-1920’s, the most prestigious being the “Henry Ford Gold cup” contest in Dearborn. Fiddlers would compete for the title of “King of the Old-Time Fiddlers.” He also sponsored fiddling contests in hundreds of other communities, offering a loving cup trophy to many of the winners.
Ford’s fiddling contests help launch a country-fiddling and old-fashioned dance craze in the United States. Radio programs featured fiddle music and bookstores sold fiddle tune sheet music and instruction diagrams. Although the craze died out for the most part in the spring of 1926, Ford continued with his old-fashioned dances until the early 1940’s.
Henry Ford’s enjoyment of country music was not confined to his dances. He also pioneered the “Early American Dance Music” half-hour radio program. It was broadcast from the Ford Motor Company’s recording studio in the Engineering Laboratory. The show featured Benjamin Lovett calling the dances, which were played by the Ford Early American Orchestra. The radio program continued until the continuation of civilian vehicle production at the end of World War II in 1945.
Also, in an effort to educate the country’s youth in both old-fashioned dances and social graces, instructional classes were given to physical education teachers to teach the dances to their students. Schools that were in part funded by Henry Ford were expected to attend dancing classes. Several universities, including the University of Michigan, the University of North Carolina and Temple University had Early American dancing on their curriculum.
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