Music from Little House on the Prairie

Kerry Dexter's picture

Little House on the Prairie: even if you’ve never been to the American midwest, these words bring up images -- images which seem like memories, really -- of life at the edge of pioneer times in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the Dakotas a century and a half ago.

Perhaps you had Laura Ingalls Wilder’s stories read to you when you were young. Maybe you’ve read them to your own children or grandchildren or students. Perhaps you remember the long-running television series with Michael Landon, Melissa Gilbert, Karen Grassle, and a host of other talented folk, or maybe you are catching the shows in syndication these days, remembering old favorites or meeting new episodes.

Music from Little House on the Prairie

The stories, which were based loosely on Ingalls Wilder’s real life, tell of family, hardship, heartbreak, celebration, growing up, and learning lessons about life which resonate through the years and across generations, whether told on page or on screen. One thread that runs through all these changes and stories is music. That is a thread that has intrigued Dean Butler, who played Almanzo Wilder, Laura’s husband on the television series, and musicologist Dr. Dale Cockrell.

Charles ‘Pa’ Ingalls, Laura Wilder’s father both in real life and in her stories, was a gifted fiddler. He was a man whose repertoire of fiddle tunes included a wide range of the sort of music that went along with life on the great prairie of the United States at the last part of the nineteenth century: story songs, songs and tunes that had come over with immigrants from Ireland, Scotland, Germany, and other countries, songs from the then within living memory War Between the States, hymns, dance tunes -- all the sorts of songs that went along with and enhanced daily life.

This is the homestead permit that Charles Ingalls, Laura Ingalls Wilder's father, was given to establish their homestead.

This is the homestead permit that Charles Ingalls, Laura Ingalls Wilder's father, was given to establish their homestead. 

They still do. Pa's Fiddle: The Music Of America is the title of a dvd that finds award-winning musicians including Randy Travis, Rodney Atkins, Ashton Shepherd, The Roys, Natalie Grant, and Committed, along with an all star backing band including Randy Scruggs, Dennis Crouch, and Hoot Hester trading songs and stories at a concert filmed at the Loveless Barn near Nashville, Tennessee.

It is a concert, true enough, and it was filmed for television broadcast, but you’ll find it more like a gathering of friends and family sharing stories and songs -- songs much like the Ingalls family and their friends knew and shared all those years ago, and songs which might be familiar to you, too. Ashton Shepherd evokes the pioneer spirit in Oh California, the lively tune Arkansas Traveler dances forth from the band, Committed brings in faith and invites you to join their harmonies on Roll the Old Chariot Along, Natalie Grant calls on memories of My Old Kentucky Home. These are just a few of the songs offered here. There is material not included in the original broadcast, too: bonus tracks of music as well as notes on the music from Dr. Dale Cockrell and a bit about the legacy of Little House on the Prairie and Laura Ingalls Wilder. The dvd is available here, at Compass Records.

There is a CD, also called Pa’s Fiddle, which is not a soundtrack to the dvd but instead contains instrumental versions of some of the songs from it as well as other tunes, along with notes on the music and their connections to life at the time of Little House on the Prairie.



Kerry Dexter is  Music Editor for Wandering Educators. You may find more  of Kerry's  work at Strings, Perceptive Travel, The Encyclopedia of Ireland and the Americas, Music Road, and other places. You may reach her at music at wanderingeducators dot com

All photos flickr cc. Word photo, adapted by Wandering Educators. Deed photo: