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Jim "Texas Shorty" Chancellor

March 13, 1943

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United States Map Highlighting Texas
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Jim “Texas Shorty” Chancellor is widely acknowledged as a master of modern Texas-style fiddling, characterized by long bow strokes and endless variations on a core repertoire based largely on traditional tunes. Bethesda, Maryland, 2010, photograph by Alan Govenar
Jim Chancellor and his brother Robert Chancellor, 2010 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, photograph by Michael G. Stewart
Jim Chancellor and his brother Robert Chancellor, 2010 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, photograph by Michael G. Stewart
Jim Chancellor and his brother Robert Chancellor, 2010 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, photograph by Michael G. Stewart
Jim Chancellor and his brother Robert Chancellor, 2010 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, photograph by Alan Hatchett
Jim Chancellor, 2010 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, photograph by Alan Hatchett
Jim Chancellor, accompanied by his wife, Ruth Chancellor, and his brother Robert Chancellor, 2010 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, photograph by Alan Hatchett
Jim Chancellor, The Old Fiddlers Contest and Reunion, Athens, Texas, 2010, photograph by Alan Govenar
Jim Chancellor, The Old Fiddlers Contest and Reunion, Athens, Texas, 2010, photograph by Alan Govenar
Jim Chancellor, The Old Fiddlers Contest and Reunion, Athens, Texas, 2010, photograph by Alan Govenar
Jim Chancellor, The Old Fiddlers Contest and Reunion, Athens, Texas, 2010, photograph by Alan Govenar

Jim “Texas Shorty” Chancellor grew up in Dallas County, Texas. When he was 7, his father brought home a mandolin and invited Jim and his older brother, Allen, to pick an instrument. Allen had already begun plunking on a guitar his dad owned, so he chose that instrument and Jim took the mandolin. Within a couple of years, the boys were the stars of the Texas Al and Shorty Show on radio station KTER in Terrell, Texas, near their home. Allen went his own way the show ended, but Jim continued to perform as Texas Shorty, accompanied by his dad on guitar. He also took part in picking and singing sessions with his musical family.

Chancellor switched instruments when he was 13, after his father met world champion fiddler Benny Thomasson, who also lived in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Inspired by Thomasson’s playing, Chancellor set down his mandolin and began studying with him. His mentors also included Eck Robertson of Amarillo, who is believed to have made the first commercial recordings of country fiddling. Within a year, Chancellor had won his first contest. When he was 16, he won the world championship, which led to an appearance on the television show To Tell the Truth. He became the second fiddler to be retired undefeated from the world championship competition, held in Crockett, Texas, by winning it three years in a row. Thomasson was the first. After the rule barring him from further competition was lifted years later, Chancellor repeated his feat of three consecutive victories. He also won the state championship five times and is a member of the Texas Fiddlers’ Hall of Fame.

After serving in the Army Reserve and working at various jobs, Chancellor worked for more than twenty years as customer relations director for Southwest Airlines. He continued to play and often entertained at company functions. Chancellor is retired now and no longer competes but continues to play and to teach aspiring fiddlers. “Not all are young,” he said. “Some adults want to learn, too. I’m like the last connection to the Texas music greats, the Texas champions, and so they ask me to do that, and I like it, it’s fine.” He knows hundreds, perhaps thousands, of tunes and likes to teach his students to play by ear, as he does.

Chancellor credits Thomasson and other fiddlers, including Major Franklin, Bryant Houston and the Solomon brothers, with creating the modern Texas style of fiddling, characterized by long bow strokes and embellishments that make the simple, repetitive traditional dance tunes in their repertoire interesting to people who are listening rather than dancing. Thomasson sometimes artfully created the impression of long bow strokes by diminishing the pressure of the bow or changing the note he was playing as he changed the direction of the bow. “He should have some of the credit for [the modern style] because he was so capable of taking a simple tune and making it a little fancy,” Chancellor said.

Discography
Chancellor, Jim. Texas Shorty, Live in Concert at Randy Elmore’s Fiddle Camp. Ten Oaks Productions.
_____________. Texas Shorty, Coming Down From Denver. Ten Oaks Productions.
_____________. Texas Style Fiddling. Documentary Arts DA 107.
Hartford, John, & Texas Shorty. Old Sport: Texas and John Hartford. Small Dog a-Barkin 2011.

Filmography
Texas Style. Directed by Alan Govenar and Pacho Lane. DVD Documentary Arts 2006.

Watch

Jim Chancellor, accompanied by his wife, Ruth Chancellor, and his brother Robert Chancellor, 2010 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Jim Chancellor, accompanied by his wife, Ruth Chancellor, and his brother Robert Chancellor, 2010 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts


Jim Chancellor, accompanied by his wife, Ruth Chancellor, and his brother Robert Chancellor, 2010 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Excerpt from Texas Style, directed by Alan Govenar and Pacho Lane, Documentary Arts DVD, 2012


Excerpt from Texas Style, directed by Alan Govenar and Pacho Lane, Documentary Arts DVD, 2012

Excerpt from Texas Style, directed by Alan Govenar and Pacho Lane, Documentary Arts DVD, 2012


Listen

Jim Chancellor, 'Coming Down From Denver,' Coming Down From Denver, produced by Jim Chancellor and Gerald Jones, Ten Oaks Productions

Jim Chancellor, 'Bonaparte Crossing,' Coming Down From Denver, produced by Jim Chancellor and Gerald Jones, Ten Oaks Productions

Jim Chancellor, 'Red Apple Rag,' Texas Shorty Live in Concert at Randy Elmore's Fiddle Camp, July 19, 2002, Ten Oaks Productions

Jim Chancellor, 'Midnight on the Water,' Texas Shorty Live in Concert at Randy Elmore's Fiddle Camp, July 19, 2002, Ten Oaks Productions

Jim Chancellor talks about his upbringing, interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 22, 2010

Jim Chancellor answers the question 'Where did you grow up?' Interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 22, 2010

Jim Chancellor talks about Benny Thomasson, interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 22, 2010

Jim Chancellor answers the question 'When did you start taking lessons from Benny Thomasson?' Interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 22, 2010

Jim Chancellor talks about his first fiddle contest, interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 22, 2010

Jim Chancellor answers the question 'How often did you go to fiddle contests?' Interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 22, 2010

Jim Chancellor talks about the story Larry McMurtry wrote about him in his book In a Narrow Grave, interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 22, 2010

Jim Chancellor talks about the style of fiddling he played growing up, interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 22, 2010

Jim Chancellor talks about his career as a fiddler, interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 22, 2010

Jim Chancellor discusses the development of the Texas style of fiddling, interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 22, 2010

Jim Chancellor talks about how Texas fiddling changed from one generation to the next, interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 22, 2010

Jim Chancellor talks about Western swing fiddler Bob Wills, interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 22, 2010

Jim Chancellor talks about the evolution of Texas style fiddling and the importance of Johnny Gimble, interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 22, 2010

Jim Chancellor demonstrates the Texas fiddling style, interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 22, 2010

Jim Chancellor demonstrates the influence of Major Franklin and Bryant Houston in the Texas fiddling style, interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 22, 2010

Jim Chancellor talks about the Solomon brothers and their importance in the development of a Texas style of fiddling, interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 22, 2010

Jim Chancellor talks about Mark O'Connor, interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 22, 2010

Jim Chancellor talks about Benny Thomasson's move to the state of Washington, interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 22, 2010

Jim Chancellor answers the question 'What keeps you going?' Interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 22, 2010

Jim Chancellor talks about fiddle camp, interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 22, 2010