George Portz donates family fiddle to O’Fallon Historical Society

George Portz (right) donates one of his grandfather’s fiddles to the O’Fallon Historical Society. Portz is pictured with OHS member Greg Zelinski (left).
(O’Fallon Weekly Photo by Angela Simmons)

O’FALLON – Shiloh resident and renowned fiddle player George Portz has donated one of his grandfather’s fiddles to the O’Fallon Historical Society. Portz, a five time Illinois Sate Fiddle champion and a National Open Fiddle champion, is heading into the 38th year of his annual fiddle contest in O’Fallon and wanted to leave a lasting piece of musical history with the town.

The fiddle, which Portz said was carved in Illinois in the 1920s has a lion head carved into the end of the neck. His grandfather, Perry Briggs of Brownstown, was the head of the four generational fiddle group consisting of Briggs and his daughter Kathleen Portz, George Portz and his son Jason Portz, now the Boys Varsity Baseball Coach at OTHS. The group toured and played in numerous states winning over 400 championships. “I don’t think we ever played that we didn’t get a standing ovation,” Portz said. A picture of the foursome is on an informational poster that Portz donated with the fiddle.

The poster talks about the origins of fiddle playing in the early settler days and it’s stemming from Irish and Scottish roots, then talks about the Portz family, their beginnings with fiddle playing and their accomplishments.

Portz, a 1970 OTHS graduate, got his start playing at events in the Shiloh and O’Fallon area and became the Illinois State Champion Fiddler at 16 years old, the youngest that had ever won. Portz left the area after a few years after graduating to be part of the Goins Brothers, a renowned bluegrass band in Kentucky. He has played at the White House, the Smithsonian Institution Music Festival and the WSM Grand Ole Opry. He has performed with artists such as Bill Monroe, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson.

Upon his return to Shiloh, Portz began teaching and coaching wrestling at Collinsville High School. He retired from competing, but began organizing fiddle contests in O’Fallon, Murphysboro, Patoka and many more. He continues to play music with the Friends of Bluegrass band and his sons Jason and Justin and daughter Kaitlin.

Portz has also received a Legacy Award from the state of Illinois for his work, is an honorary Kentucky Colonel, is in the National Fiddlers Hall of Fame, the Kentucky Country Music Hall of Fame and is in the Library of Congress.

“I’m very proud. I love the O’Fallon and Shiloh area, and being able to donate this is great. Being in this historic building is wonderful,” he said.

For more on Portz, or to purchase his discography, visit www.georgeportzbluegrass.com. To see him in action and hear many more musicians, come to the 38th Annual George Portz KC Fiddle Contest at the O’Fallon Knights of Columbus Hall at 5:00 p.m. on April 8th.

“I’m very proud. I love the O’Fallon and Shiloh area, and being able to donate this is great. Being in this historic building is wonderful,” he said.

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