Ozarks Life: H.K. Silvey, out of this world fiddler

H.K.’s name is known from McClurg to the moon.
Published: Nov. 11, 2022 at 9:39 AM CST
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THEODOSIA, Mo. (KY3) - In Ozark County, when people think of Theodosia they think of big bass in Bull Shoals.

But a mile from the bridge sits a small, white house. It’s home to a fiddle player.

“I’ve never been this old,” H.K. Silvey joked.

H.K. has played the fiddle longer than most of us have been alive. He taught himself how to play as a kid on his Uncle Jesse’s treasured fiddle. He got his Aunt Beulah’s blessing. Uncle Jesse didn’t know about it.

“She said, ‘you be sure and put it back just like you found it.’ And well, that’d be our little secret,” H.K. said. “So that went on for about three years.”

In the three years of secret rendezvous, H.K. learned to play really well. But also in that time, his Uncle Jesse got wise and called out H.K. in a room full of people at a music party. He gave him the fiddle and said, “play a tune.”

“And I see him standing in the door with a big smile on his face,” H.K. said while he was playing. “And so after that, every time at a music party, somewhere during the night he’d hand the fiddle over to me to play.”

One night, H.K.’s mom was there... his fiddle playing was also a secret kept from her.

“She was very religious,” H.K. said about his mother. “Back then the fiddle was considered an instrument of the devil. And she wasn’t going to help her son play that thing.”

But after hearing what H.K. could do she saved up money and bought him a fiddle for his 18th birthday. Soon, he was entering competitions all over the United States.

You could say, his fiddle playing was out of this world.

H.K. entered all of those competitions thanks to being transferred so many times while working for Boeing and Martin & Marietta. On the weekdays he was an inspector. He helped create the Titan and Saturn rockets the United States used to go to space and later to the moon.

“I was the go-between for the contractor, Boeing, and NASA,” H.K. said. “I had to convince NASA that, ‘hey, this (rocket) is alright. It’s gonna work.’”

Then on the weekends, he’d enter a fiddle-playing contest and leave with a prize.

Thanks to his dedication to the space program H.K. got a little surprise.

“All the people who worked on that (project),” H.K. said, “their name is on microfilm and buried up there on the moon. So I tell people if you ever get up there, my name’s up there somewhere!”

Years ago he left the moon behind for the mooing of dairy cows. But H.K. never quit playing that fiddle. Whether it was in McClurg or the 19 years he was the featured entertainment at Hootin and Hollerin in Gainesville.

This past fall, the 89-year-old received a huge, hootin award. H.K. was named the Parade Marshal.

But he didn’t play that night. Today in his small, white home his fiddle sits quietly.

H.K. believes a stroke a few years ago robbed him of the dexterity he needed to play.

“It affected my talking,” H.K. said. “But it wasn’t bad. I must have had it in my sleep. But I’m not able to ever play anymore.”

Today, his music lives on through the many students he mentored. Marshfield’s Brett Dudenhoeffer is one of them.

“When it comes to Missouri music especially,” Dudenhoeffer said, “(H.K.’s) just an absolute legend. (He) really helped shape it and really helped inspire so many other young, fiddle players to keep the music going.”

You might notice Brett at some Missouri State University games. He’s been asked to play the National Anthem more than once. So, he is carrying on H.K.’s legacy and so is NASA. Its Artemis 1 rocket is scheduled to launch next week; hoping to send Americans once again to the moon.

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