The Four Virginians

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This group was one of several important string bands that were based out of the Danville, VA, area in the '20s. Another was Charley LaPrade and Blue Ridge Highballers. Two brothers made up the Bigger…
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This group was one of several important string bands that were based out of the Danville, VA, area in the '20s. Another was Charley LaPrade and Blue Ridge Highballers. Two brothers made up the Bigger half of the Four Virginians. Richard Bigger was born in 1908 Pittsylvania County. One could say he was born into an orchestra rather than a musical family as there were some 11 siblings that all played instruments. Richard took up the mandolin at 14, then switched to the fiddle a few years later because he thought it was easier. Most of his music he learned on his own playing by ear, and through other players such as LaPrade. With brother Elvin Bigger on lead guitar, the group was originally formed as a nameless entity in the mid-'20s. By day the players were all employed at the local cotton mill. Available for gigging was a steady round of local dances and theatre programs. In 1927 ambition suddenly struck. Without much planning and still without a name the combo set off for New York with a goal to cut some records. First stop was the Victor studio in Camden, NJ, where they were greeted with disinterest. A warmer reception was theirs to be had at the rival Okeh label, but with it came the news that the band could have saved some gas money and tire tread and gotten in on some sessions to be held in Winston Salem, NC, less than 100 miles from Danville. The band played a couple of songs to formally okay their invite to the Winston sessions, then got in the car and turned around and drove back home. And it was actually on this drive back that the band finally picked up its name. The story goes that a stranger noticed their instrument cases while they were crossing the Hudson River, and asked what the name of their band was. When told they didn't have one yet, he said "Why don't you call it the Four Virginians?" Complete with this new name the band cut a half-dozen sides at the Winston sessions, four of them instrumentals and two with Elvin singing. The numbers recorded mostly originated as square dance numbers but were given new names for copyright reasons. The Four Virginians continued playing together through the mid-'30s, but this was their only recording session. Elvin Bigger recorded in 1936 with Danville county artist Troy Martin for the American Record Company. His songwriting activities led to a few home runs, most notably a bluegrass gospel song entitled "Give Me My Flowers While I'm Living" that was recorded in the '50s by Flatt & Scruggs. Elvin died in 1969. Richard lived into the '80s and liked to bring his fiddle down to the country store, or over to a neighbor's house. Bandmember Fred Richards also recorded sides in the late '20s for ARC and Columbia, including versions of "Danville Blues" and "Carolina Sunshine."