Charles Melvin Stripling was born August 8, 1896 to Newt and Sarah Robertson Stripling in a rural part of northern Pickens County, Alabama, called Ashcraft Corner, about ten miles southeast of the Lamar County town of Kennedy. Charlie's brother, Ira, was born June 5, 1898. Their parents ran a small country store
As a late teen, Charlie bought his first fiddle from a neighbor for one dollar. Although never able to read or write music, Charlie mostly taught himself to play and was able to pick up tunes easily. His brother, Ira, learned to play the guitar and the two of them began practicing their music. Only a year later, accompanied by Ira on the guitar, Charlie won his first fiddle contest in Kennedy.
The Stripling brother's area of Northwest Alabama was home to a lively fiddling community. And because of its rural isolation, gave rise to fiddling styles and methods particular to that region. Charlie's style wasn't unique, but he was the best of its practitioners.
Charlie entered many fiddle contests, first local and then further and further away; sometimes playing with Ira and sometimes solo, as some contests didn't allow guitar accompaniment.
Charlie married Tellie Sullivan in 1919 and moved to Kennedy, Alabama in 1926. Ira moved to Kennedy, also, and both had farms and Ira ran a business in town.
In 1928, Charlie and Ira took the train from Kennedy, Alabama to Birmingham to audition for the Brunswick Company which had set up a temporary studio in a local hotel. The brothers recorded two songs, and not too impressed with their own performances, returned home and waited to hear from the recording company. They didn't hear back from the Brunswick Company, but Charlie, entering a store in Fayette, heard his own recording and eventually contacted the company in Chicago to see why they hadn't been paid for their music. The agent vowed to correct the mistake and sent them travel money to make the trip to Chicago for a second recording session. So in 1929, the Stripling brothers recorded sixteen more songs, including "Kennedy Rag," Charlie's own composition, named after his hometown.
As the Great Depression neared, a relative who owed Charlie a large sum of money defaulted on the loan. Charlie had no choice but to sell all he owned and became a sharecropper on someone elses land. The money the brothers earned from playing dances and gatherings was an important way to supplement their income during the hard times of the depression.
When their contract with Brunswick expired, the brothers signed on with Decca of New York. So in 1934, the country boys took the train again, this time all the way to New York City, where they recorded another 14 songs, 10 of which were issued. Their last recording session was in 1936 in New Orleans where they recorded another 14 tunes.
Given the choice between $25 per tune or a royalty, the brothers, not completely trusting the record companies since they were never paid for their Birmingham recordings, choose the flat fee. They didn't get rich off the recordings, but it did give them fame and recognition which led to larger audiences and better paying performances.
In the late '30s, Ira found that music took too much time away from his farm and business, so for financial reasons, he quit performing publicly. But Charlie continued entering (and winning) fiddle contests and continued performing accompanied by his children, and later by hired musicians.
Charlie's wife, Tellie, died in 1934, leaving Charlie with six children. He married Myrtle Wheeler and the two of them had three more children. Their son, Lee (born April 30, 1921) performed first with his father and then on his own. After a time in the Service, Lee moved to Seattle and stopped performing professionally. But after 50 years, he resumed his musical career, inspiring new generations and becoming the center of a booming resurgence of interest in old fiddle music in the Seattle area. Lee passed away in 2009.
As Charlie entered his 60's, his health took and turn for the worse. Arthritis also took hold and developed to the point Charlie quit playing altogether.
Charlie passed away January 19, 1966. He and Ira are both buried at Mt. Zion Primitive Baptist Church Cemetery in Pickens County, near where the two of them were born. ( J.Redus)