Roy “Speedy” Tolliver, an Arlington-based bluegrass fiddler who performed at local folk festivals for 65 years and was an inaugural recipient of the Virginia Heritage Award in 2009, died Sept. 18 at an assisted living center in Arlington, Va. He was 99.
The cause was prostate cancer, said a son, Dennis Tolliver.
Mr. Tolliver won regional fiddling competitions and was featured at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival and other events. The Speedy Tolliver Fiddler and Banjo Fest, celebrating traditional American roots music, was held in his honor for several years in Arlington County.
Mr. Tolliver, a self-described “professional hillbilly,” was equally skilled on the fiddle, banjo and guitar. He formed multiple bands throughout his career, including the Lee Highway Boys, which began in the 1940s and performed on WTTG-TV (Channel 5) and on the Saturday morning WGAY radio program “Rural Round-Up.”
“Speedy sounds like a place,” says Joe Wilson, director of the National Council for the Traditional Arts, told The Washington Post in 2003. “He has that sound, and you can still hear that little corner of east Tennessee and western North Carolina and southwestern Virginia — that Blue Ridge quality — it’s there. There’s only two or three counties that sound like that.”
Roy Odell Tolliver was born in the Appalachian highland town of Green Cove, Va., on April 12, 1918. He got his nickname because of his prominent drawl.
Mr. Tolliver taught himself to play music by accompanying songs on the family radio. At 20, he was competing in fiddle contests throughout southwestern Virginia, including the White Top Folk Festival, which was presided over one year by first lady Eleanor Roosevelt.
In 1939, Mr. Tolliver moved to the Washington area with little more than a cardboard box of clothing and a Gibson Mastertone banjo. He quit performing full time in the early 1950s and worked as a facilities supervisor with the General Services Administration to support his family. After retiring from the GSA in 1980, he returned to performing.
He recorded his first bluegrass album, “Now & Then,” in 2005. The release included new material and also three digitally remastered songs that Mr. Tolliver had recorded on acetate disk in the 1940s.
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