April 2, 2017
Recently I was given dulcimer #95, made by Paul Pyle, through a circuitous route. This dulcimer was owned by Richard Parsons of Oden Ridge, Alabama, until his death January 27, 2017. Richard had other instruments, including those that he made, besides this Paul Pyle dulcimer. Richard’s son, Sterling Parsons, gave the Paul Pyle dulcimer to Janet Henderson to find a permanent home for it. Janet, knowing my interest in dulcimer history and lore, passed it on to me. Let me say what an honor and a privilege it is that Sterling Parsons and Janet Henderson have entrusted Richard’s Paul Pyle dulcimer to me.
Before I give the history on Paul Pyle and his place in mountain dulcimer tradition in south central Tennessee and north Alabama, I want to provide some background on Richard Parsons. For the information on Richard I am indebted once again to Janet Henderson.
Richard L. Parsons Jr. was born August 12, 1933 in Ipswich, Massachusetts and died January 27, 2017 in Falkville, Alabama, at age 83. He and his wife Dottie lived in Oden Ridge, Alabama.
Richard was a veteran of the U.S. Navy and retired with the Coast Guard Reserves after over 20 years of service. He was an engineer, a systems analyst, for several companies.
Among his many interests, Richard was a fine woodworker making pens, Adirondack chairs… and dulcimers, making his first dulcimer in May 2003. He also made cigar box dulcimer and little Tennessee Music Boxes. Richard was a charter member of the Morgan County Dulcimers (2000), and served as their treasurer for several years.
His obituary in the Decatur Daily stated in part, “We that are still remaining will continue to live, love and laugh, knowing he is strumming away on one of his very own “hand crafted dulcimers” for all the saints above.”
(Paul Pyle article continues below photos)
Paul Pyle was born on April 15, 1913 in Tullahoma, Tennessee and died September 12, 1991 also in Tullahoma.
In 1941 Paul married Martha Louella Martin (July 14, 1917- ). Mrs. Pyle helped her husband with their photography studio and later his dulcimer business, in addition to their various civic activities in and around Tullahoma, Tennessee.
Paul served as Seaman First Class during World War II. Later he was an award-winning professional photographer in Tullahoma operating a photography studio for more than 30 years. Paul was also very civic minded having served as a Tullahoma Housing Authority director, a City Councilman, and mayor pro-temp for Tullahoma.
In 2014 the city of Tullahoma named a bridge after both Paul and Louella Pyle because the Pyles had made a significant contribution to the city’s betterment. The resolution stated that Mr. Pyle, “through his community activism, photography and writings, made a contribution in preserving Tullahoma’s rich cultural heritage over his lifetime,” and Mrs. Pyle “supported and assisted Paul in the development of many community projects.”
Paul was interested in old time crafts and history and was author of books on local history, wood carver, collector of old musical instruments, old guns, Indian lore, civil war history, clocks, old photographs and documents. In addition, he was chairman of the civil war centennial commission as well as a member of the Tennessee Arts and Crafts Association.
Paul taught himself to play the Appalachian dulcimer as well as build them. The Pyles made more than 1,600 dulcimers, selling them at craft fairs. The local Tullahoma dulcimer club was named for him, the Paul Pyle Dulcimer Association. Mr. and Mrs. Pyle were at the heart of the dulcimer association’s Dulcimer Daze festival in Tullahoma for 20 years.
Paul published several books on playing and making dulcimers:
• How to Tune and Play the Dulcimer (1973).
• To Build a Dulcimer: A Simplified, Economical Demonstration in the Construction, Tuning and Playing of the Dulcimer (1976).
• The Appalachian Mountain Dulcimer Book (1976).
In 2016, the Tullahoma News wrote a story about how 99-year-old Louella Pyle had cast first ballot in 1940 and was still voting. She first voted in the presidential election in 1940; that year, Mrs. Pyle supported Wendell L. Willkie who was running against Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Down In The Valley on Paul Pyle dulcimer #95