April 29, 2010 - Ervin Fortenberry carries on fiddling tradition in Blairsville, Georgia
By the time Ervin Fortenberry turned ten years old, he was already following several family traditions. Taking up the fiddle, playing old time claw hammer style on banjo, picking the guitar, writing songs, scrimshaw, and wood carving are just a few of the talents passed on from Daddy Clint and Grandpa "Fiddling Tom" Fortenberry to young Ervin.
Ervin sings like a pro although he never had any formal training. He prefers sacred songs that he hears in church to what's on the radio. He also prefers acoustical old time instruments over electric. And he doesn't play by the book. Ervin just hears a song and remembers it. When asked how he does it, Mr. Fortenberry replies, "If I hear a song three or four times, I can remember the tune and the lyrics. I don't know how I do it."
It is a rare talent. Ervin Fortenberry has many talents including creating miniature wooden instruments that really work. His tiny guitars, fiddles, mandolins, and banjos are handcrafted with unbelievable detail. Each collectable piece carries a patch with number, date, and signature. He also does scrimshaw and has created some beautiful powder horns, knives, and other pieces of artwork.
Ervin was born and raised in the Owltown area of Union County. After residing in Illinois for over 40 years, he recently moved home to the mountains. Ervin says, "Like John Denver, it's good to be back home again. While I was living up north, I always kept a subscription to the North Georgia News. That's how I kept up with all the stuff happening back home."
Ervin is filling up his retirement years with things he loves - good friends, music, the church, and art. He is a tall man at six foot five with sparkling blue eyes that remind people of Clint Eastwood. He looks like a hero but talks and moves with a gentle, quiet humility as he shares his musical techniques and life experiences.
Ervin plays and sings at the Blairsville Christian Center on most Sundays - sometimes alone but usually with others. He also gives lessons and repairs musical instruments. Ervin says, "I couldn't find parts so I learned to make my own." If you need a repair or would like to purchase a miniature instrument, scrimshaw powder horn, or other artwork, Mr. Fortenberry can be contacted at (309) 737-0877. Ervin says he might even consider playing at some of our local festivals so keep a lookout for this tall mountain man with a fiddle in his hand. Welcome back to Blairsville, Georgia!