Florida Folklife Program
Folk Heritage Awards Recipient: GEORGE CUSTER
GEORGE CUSTERFlorida Folklife Program/Florida Department of State. Photo by Tina Bucuvalas
GEORGE CUSTER - 1990 Florida Folk Heritage Award
A descendant of five generations of Irish and English fiddlers, George Custer (Salt Springs) started playing the fiddle and studying music at age eight. He recalls that as a young boy growing up on a farm in Tifton, Georgia, “fiddling and singing were a vital part of rural life and entertainment.” After a long day of chores, Custer used to relax on the front porch and listen to his uncle Bob Rutland, known professionally as “Georgia Slim,” play the fiddle. Rutland was also Custer’s first fiddle teacher. During his early years, Custer’s music was heavily influenced by his uncle, “Georgia Slim” Rutland; Howard Forrester, a fiddler for Roy Acuff; plus the recordings of fiddlers Clayton McMichen and Hugh Farr and violinists Fritz Kreisler and Joe Venuti.
After Custer finished military service in World War II and graduated from college, he began his fiddle career by playing with Rutland and his band, Georgia Slim and the Texas Round-Up, in Dallas. While in Texas, Custer performed with such legends as Ray Price, Hank Thompson, and Grand Ole Opry singer Billy Walker and recorded on the Columbia, Capital, and Mercury labels. He also a member of one of Bob Wills’ western swing bands.
Recognized as one of the South’s finest fiddlers, Custer was invited to Nashville annually since 1976 to participate in the Opryland Fan Fair and the Grand Master Fiddlers Contest—where he was featured with Roy Acuff, Marty Robbins, Porter Wagner and other Grand Ole Opry stars. Custer and his cousin, Henry Rutland—billed as the Twin Fiddles at the 1982 World’s Fair, were the nation’s only twin fiddle team so honored. Custer also opened shows for singers Johnny Cash and Tanya Tucker in the 1980s.
In recent years Custer has served as a judge at the Grand Masters Fiddling Championship in Nashville. He also has been a mentor to many outstanding Florida fiddlers, including Wayne Martin. He served as a master artist in the 1989-1990 Florida Folklife Apprenticeship Program and received the 1990 Florida Folk Heritage Award.