Hayley King fiddles her way to college

Hayley King took fiddling seriously and it’s now taking her places. | Amanda Coco

BLYTHEWOOD – At 16, Hayley King is focused on more important things than driving, fashions and boys.

As the reigning South Carolina state champion of fiddlers, age 16 and under, Hayley’s passion lies with Ole Time fiddling – a focus that has earned her many accolades, rekindled an ancestral fire for fiddling and, more importantly, secured a full ride to Morehead State University in Kentucky, one of only two U.S. schools that have a fiddling program.

“It’s amazing and exciting, and I can’t help but smile every time I think about it,” Hayley told The Voice. “I am truly just so thrilled about it.”

The eldest of six children – all homeschooled by parents Shelley and Drew King – Hayley lives with her family in a rural area that almost straddles the county line between Blythewood and Fairfield.

The Kings say they knew their daughter had a special musical talent from a young age. At four years old, she was enamored with a violin performance.

“From that day forward,” her mother said, “Hayley was hooked. She just fell in love with the violin that day and, for years, she begged for one. Finally, we decided to give her a chance with it,” Shelley King recalls.

At seven years old, Hayley began taking classical violin lessons and for the next three years she continued to train classically. Through those lessons, Hayley would eventually find her way to the instrument she says she was truly meant to play – the fiddle.

“My teacher began to notice that I liked to speed up the songs, so she introduced me to the fiddle at the end of my classical lessons sort of as a musical outlet for me. I learned a very short simple song called ‘Cripple Creek,’ and I absolutely loved it. That’s really how it all began,” she stated.

From there, Hayley began to learn the different dialects of fiddle music, and soon embraced the Ole Time style – a genre derived from American Folk music and one that she learned had long been embraced by her ancestors. With both sides of her family tracing their roots to the mountains near Hendersonville, NC, Shelly King said her daughter is carrying on a family tradition.

“It seemed like [fiddling] was starting to fade away in our family’s more recent generations. I think if Haley had not come along, it might have been lost forever to our families,” Shelley King stated.

Haley went on to study fiddling under Cedar Creek bluegrass fiddler Jim Graddick who was recently nominated for Fiddler of the Year and Musician of the Year by the Carolina Country Music Association. Hayley has also honed her Ole Time skills under the instruction of South Carolina fiddling champion Kristen Harris. Both teachers, her mother said, allowed Haley to really learn where her heart is in fiddling.

“She’s always danced to the tune of her own fiddle, I think you could say,” she stated. “Hayley has learned from some greats and this just furthered her ability to learn exactly where she wants to be.”

On Feb. 15, Haley will perform at Morehead for placement in the university’s orchestra. Her performance will determine her current skill level, such as beginner, intermediate or advanced, and will secure her scholarship. She has already secured an academic scholarship at the school, thanks partly to her high ACT and SAT test scores.

In December, Hayley was also awarded the Bill Wells Memorial Scholarship, which funds her participation in area fiddle camps.

All of her accomplishments, however, pale in comparison to the joy of being able to carry on her family’s fiddling legacy, Hayley said.

“It’s really an indescribable feeling, when I play. I think it’s important to continue this because it’s part of my heritage, plus there’s a connection that I feel when I play this music. It’s like I feel it in my soul; it just feels right when I play.”