Leonard Finseth Collection, 1942-1979


Leonard Finseth (1911-1991) was a Norwegian-American folk fiddler, farmer, and factory worker who was born on February 11, 1911. His parents emigrated to the United States from Norway in about 1900, and settled in western Wisconsin. Finseth's first musical training was from one of his two sisters who taught him the organ at a young age. He began to play the fiddle at age 17 after his Uncle, Ed Quall, himself a fiddler of some renown, helped him get a fiddle through mail order and started to give him lessons. Much of his musical training came from “Uncle Ed” and later his neighbor Ingvald Syverson. Finseth could and did read music, but his folk fiddling was more of an oral tradition learned from “Uncle Ed,” Syverson, and Otto Rindlisbacher (from Rice Lake, Wisconsin and of Swiss descent).

Before World War II Finseth started working at what was to become the Uniroyal plant in Eau Claire until he enlisted in the Navy and served in the war. After service, he returned to the Uniroyal factory and continued to work there for the next 35 years until his retirement about 1980. In addition to working at the Uniroyal plant, Finseth also maintained the family farm in Mondovi, Wisconsin where he lived all his life. Despite a shortage of time, Finseth continued to play and participated in folk festivals including the Fiddler's Fest in Yankton, South Dakota, the Nordic Fest in Decorah, Iowa, the Snoose Boulevard Festival in Minneapolis and the Festival of American Folklife held by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. in both 1974 and 1976. He was invited to the Smithsonian after being heard by scouts at the Snoose Boulevard Festival in Minneapolis.

His music is identified by some as being similar to that of Gudbrandsdalen, a region north of Oslo. Finseth also played organ, harmonica, guitar, and a Norwegian violin variant, the Hardanger fiddle or Hardingfele, a fiddle with four added sympathetic strings.

Finseth recorded two albums of Norwegian folk music, The Hills of Old Wisconsin (Minneapolis, Minn.: Banjar Records 1942, 1983) and Scandinavian Old Time: Folk Fiddle from Wisconsin (Minneapolis, Minn.: Banjar Records 1834, 1979). He was also featured in Scandinavian-American Folk Dance Music Vol. 2 (Banjar Records 1974, 1976) and Across the Fields: Fiddle Tunes and Button Accordion Melodies (Madison: Wisconsin Old Time Fiddle Project, c1982). Finseth died on June 16th, 1991.