Harris wins 2022 Louisiana State Fiddle Championship


NATCHITOCHES – Mary Harris of Breaux Bridge was named Grand Champion of the 2022 Louisiana State Fiddle Championship held at Northwestern State University as part of the 42nd Annual Natchitoches-NSU Folk Festival.  Second place winner was Ben Robinson of Choudrant, with Joe Suchanek of Fields placing third.  The Championship was held on July 23 in the Magale Recital Hall on the NSU campus.

Robinson also took first in the 22-59 championship division.  Owen Meche of Arnauldville took second place in the 21 and under championship division.  Suchanek took first in the 60 and up championship division, with Ron Pace of Alexandria coming in second.  Caroline Meche of Arnaudville took first place in the 12 and under non-championship division.  Harris and Brazos Huval of Breaux Bridge took first place in the twin fiddles competition, with Pace and Suchanek taking second.

Dr. Shane Rasmussen, director of the Championship and the Natchitoches-NSU Folk Festival, remarked that “the level of talent of the players in this year’s Championship was phenomenal.  Each of this year’s contestants is an extraordinary player who is helping keep this important tradition alive.”

Harris, 17, has played the fiddle since she was six years old. Huval has been her music instructor for all 11 years. He said that Mary is an uncommon student for many reasons, including the fact that she is a gifted singer as well as a fiddle player.

“Mary was always a really good singer, right away. She was naturally musically gifted at an early age,” Huval said. But natural talent hasn’t lessened her drive to improve as a musician. Despite growing up on a working farm, she has always found time to practice. “She still comes in every morning to practice, and as soon as she finishes her lesson, she has to go feed the cows and the chickens,” Huval said.

Harris said that she was surprised to win the title of Grand Champion, which she won by the narrowest of margins—only one point separated her from the second-place winner, Ben Robinson. She said that events like the Louisiana State Fiddle Championship are important to the preservation of Louisiana folk music.

“The Fiddle Championship matters because we’re trying really hard to keep folklife alive,” Harris said. “It’s kind of dying out, but we’re trying to bring it back.”

Harris, who also shows cattle and is an active member of her local 4-H program, encouraged fiddle players at any skill level to sign up for the competition. Citing the friendly spirit among competitors at Saturday’s event, she said that the Championship gave her much-needed experience performing onstage.

“Every time I go onstage, it gets easier,” Harris said. “I want to be in a band, so getting that experience of performing onstage was really good for me.”

Harris would like to thank Mr. Huval as well as her mother and grandmother for their support.

2022 Fiddle Championship judges included Clancey Ferguson, Phillip Mayo, Beau Thomas, and Yvette Landry. Stewart was the 2018 Louisiana State Fiddle Champion. NSU Professor of English Dr. Lisa Abney managed the Fiddle Championship, with Dr. Susan Roach of Louisiana Tech University emceeing. As the new Grand Champion, Harris also performed on the festival main stage in Prather Coliseum and will serve as a judge for next year’s Championship, to be held on July 22, 2023.

Support for the Louisiana State Fiddle Championship and the Natchitoches-NSU Folk Festival was provided by grants from the Cane River National Heritage Area, Inc., the Louisiana Division of the Arts, the Louisiana Office of Tourism, the Natchitoches Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Natchitoches Historic District Development Commission, the National Endowment for the Arts, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation, and the Shreveport Regional Arts Council.

Much needed support also came from generous sponsorships from Aaron’s Rent to Own, Bank of Montgomery, C&H Precision Machining, Chili’s, City Bank & Trust, the City of Natchitoches, Cleco, John Clifton Conine, Atty; Domino’s Pizza, Exchange Bank, Georgia’s Gift Shop, Grayson’s Barbecue, the Harrington Law Firm, Jeanne’s Country Garden, Little Caesars, the Natchitoches Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, Nicky’s Mexican Restaurant, Piggly Wiggly, Raising Cane’s, Ronnie’s Collision Center, Shea’s Kreative Kakes, Natchitoches Super 1 Foods 604 and 613, Trailboss, UniFirst, Walmart, Waste Connections, and Weaver Brothers Land & Timber.