When Dave Sturgill was young, he would visit his grandfather’s cousin, Fid Sturgill, a fiddler in his late sixties at the time. “He showed us some of our first tunes,” Dave recalled in an interview with Paula Hathaway Anderson-Green. Later, when Fid, Dave, and most of the family were living in Maryland, Dave would visit Fid regularly. Dave also learned fiddle tunes from Fid’s grandson Ivan.
Sturgill’s mother’s family was also musical. “My mother could play anything,” he recalled. “She played the organ in the home.” The family got a radio when he was about eight years old, and they listened to the Grand Ole Opry regularly. Sturgill’s mother got him started on the banjo when he was still young. He spent a summer camped out in the granary behind their house learning to play a banjo he borrowed from a cousin. When the cousin wanted his instrument back, Sturgill decided to make his own banjo, a craft that he continued throughout the rest of his life.
He learned to play fiddle too, and he was an active participant in community jams and local fiddling contests. During one of those contests Art Wooten, a local fiddler who played with Bill Monroe, gave him the nickname “Uncle Dave,” named after Uncle Dave Macon. The name stuck in the community, and he was known in Ashe County as “Uncle Dave” for the rest of his life.
Sturgill spent some time on the road during the Depression, after high school, before ending up in Maryland, where many of his relatives had moved. He spent time with an older cousin, Herman Weaver, who made violins and lived in the Washington, D.C., area. Sturgill spent time honing his woodworking skills, learning to make fiddles and other stringed instruments.
After living in Maryland for three decades, Sturgill returned to Alleghany County to live near his old home place and start an instrument-building business with his sons, John and Danny. “My heart never left these hills,” he said. “This was where I always wanted to be.” He lived for the rest of his life in Alleghany County, making instruments, performing, and training young musicians interested in learning to make instruments. Dozens of people apprenticed with him and his sons, learning to make banjos, fiddles, and dulcimers, and play in his string band.
Dave Sturgill received the North Carolina Folklore Society’s Brown-Hudson Award in 1990 for his contributions to folk music and craft.