Violet Hensley has been called the “Stradivarius of the Ozarks,” a “fiddle queen” and a living legend. At 99 years old, the Yellville, Ark. native has spent nearly 50 years performing at the Silver Dollar City theme park in Branson, Mo., where she still entertains crowds by playing the fiddles she’s crafted by hand. But on Aug. 6, Hensley’s lifelong dream came true when she stepped inside the hallowed circle on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry.
The video below captures Hensley’s Opry debut, in which she wows the crowd with her rendition of the bluegrass standard “Angelina Baker.” Opry star Mike Snider warns the audience that Hensley plays “her way,” a fact that becomes clear as the stellar band races to keep up with her rapid-fire fiddling.
Hensley is no stranger to attention. In the 2007 CBS News video below, she showed off her clogging skills. She learned the dance after doctors ordered her to stop breaking horses and bareback riding. The bluegrass folk hero combines her talents by clogging while playing with a fiddle balanced atop her head.
To say handcrafting fiddles is a daunting task is an understatement. In the video below, Hensley works on her 74th fiddle and explains that it takes about 260 hours to build the instrument.
In 2014, Hensley added author to her long list of accomplishments. Her book “Whittlin’ and Fiddlin’ My Own Way” traces her legacy from childhood to her rise to local celebrity.
The whittlin’ fiddler will turn 100 years old on Oct. 21. She’ll celebrate with a party at Silver Dollar City, where she’ll do some fiddling, some clogging and lots of entertaining. Whatever else she decides to do, she’s sure to do it her way.