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Remembering David Schnaufer

Many years ago I was watching the Johnny Carson show. David Schnaufer was introduced by in rather a "tongue-in-cheek" kind of manner stating that David would be playing a mountain dulcimer. Little did Johnny know who he was introducing. Out stepped David who began to play despite that giggling of the audience not knowing what they were to about to experience. When he finished playing, everyone loved him including Johnny Carson.

Schnaufer was born in Hearne, Texas, and grew up in La Marque, Texas. As a child, he experimented with a mouth harp and harmonica. As a young man, he came across a display of dulcimers in Austin, Texas, and bought one for $40.

David lists Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons as his main inspiration for pursuing a career in music, but among dulcimer players, it was probably Jean Jennings (formerly Jean Simmons) who had the greatest impact early in his playing career. "I used to spend a lot of time at the Dulcimer Shoppe in Mountain View, Arkansas. She'd teach me tunes, she was always real encouraging, and she taught me a lot about tone -- she's still the smoothest dulcimer player I've ever heard."

Schnaufer won the first National Mountain Dulcimer Competition in 1976 as well as winning seven additional local, state and regional contests.

Schnaufer soon moved to Nashville in the 1980s. He progressed from playing in restaurants for tips to backing The Judds and other country music acts. He recorded and released solo dulcimer records and collaborations with other artists. For several years he was a member of the country-rock band The Cactus Brothers.

Schnaufer's Nashville projects included award-winning videos of "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" and "Fisher's Hornpipe" and special musical projects with Emmylou Harris and Johnny Cash. His session credits included work with The Judds, Kathy Mattea, Holly Dunn, Dan Seals, and Hank Williams, Jr. He toured as opening act with the Everly Brothers and appeared on Mark O'Connor's "New Nashville Cats."

Schnaufer's solo recordings included collaborations with several of the world's most respected pickers including Chet Atkins, Mark O'Connor, Mark Knopfler, and Albert Lee. He also developed learning materials including "Swing Nine Yards of Calico," a book and tape set, and "Learning Mountain Dulcimer," an instructional video.

Schnaufer became an adjunct associate professor of dulcimer at Vanderbilt University's Blair School of Music in 1995.

"David was one of the first teachers in the Blair School's folk music program, along with Mark O'Connor and Butch Baldassari," said Mark Wait, dean of Blair School of Music. He was a wonderful artist and teacher, one whose influence will be felt for many, many years.

Wait recruited Schnaufer to the Blair staff after hearing him perform at a dinner party. Singer Cyndi Lauper, Joni Mitchell, and many others were some of his students.

David Schnaufer is certainly one of the most legendary dulcimer players that has ever been known. Many people have said, "He was one of the nicest people I will ever know." We lost a legend way too soon!

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