Fiddler Bill Hensley was born in Happy Valley, near Johnson City, Tennessee. When he was a child, the family moved to North Carolina. He told an interviewer that he “walked 85 miles across the mountains to their new home with a rooster under one arm, and leading his little dog on a string behind him.”
Hensley grew up to be an accomplished fiddler. He had several influences and mentors, including his father, grandfather, and uncles Mac and Rube Hensley, fiddle makers George and Hugh Bell, Blind Wiley Laws, and fiddling Governor Bob Taylor of Tennessee. His fiddle, which he referred to as Old Calico, was obtained from Governor Taylor. Hensley grew up playing for log raisings, corn huskings, quilting parties, hog killings, and many other community events of which music was an integral part.
Hensley was a frequent performer at Asheville’s Mountain Dance and Folk Festival, organized by Bascom Lamar Lunsford. Twice in the early 1940s Hensley went to Hollywood, where he fiddled in movies. He and fiddler Osey Helton, with whom he often performed at the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival, played together on the radio in New York, and at the National Folk Festival in the late 1930s and early 1940s. He made many field recordings for music collectors David Parker Bennett, Jan Phillip Schinhan, Jerry Wisner, and Artus Moser. Bill Hensley died in Canton in 1960.