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Otto and Marguerite Wood
By Glenn Hendrix
Otto Wood was a well known fiddler and caller from Grand Rapids and Marguerite, his wife, played piano and accordion. They traveled throughout Michigan, Florida, North Carolina and Massachusetts during the 1940s through the mid 1970s. Otto fiddled and called singing squares and Marguerite accompanied him on piano or accordion. They composed many singing squares that are still popular.
Otto was a very small man, so small folks often thought he was playing a viola. Marguerite was even smaller. They were born and lived in Grand Rapids area for many years, where Otto owned the first full service gas station in town. They had no children and in their mid-forties decided it was time for a change. Otto said people live their lives in two ways: they can either buy things or do things! They sold the gas station and spent the rest of their lives doing things.
They became traveling musicians. They played in resorts along Lake Michigan in the summer and in Florida in the winter. Otto would drive down the highway while Marguerite would sit in the back seat playing one of her instruments, including a harpsichord. They did not need a radio. About 1950 they sold their Grand Rapids home and built a home in the mountains of North Carolina. They continued to play for dances in Florida and North Carolina. They charged $10.00 a night. They became regulars at the John Campbell folk school in Brasstown, NC and also at the Country Song and Dance Society’s Pinewoods Camp in Massachusetts.
Callers never had to wait for Otto and Marguerite, for they were always ready to play as soon as the dancers were ready to dance. Marguerite said a good piano player never complains about the piano. “Everyone knows the old piano is no good. It is your job to play it, not to fuss about it.” Otto would play his fiddle except when calling. Marguerite played piano while Otto sang the singing calls for square dances.
They lived very cheaply, even saving money on their social security income. Marguerite bought groceries every day. When asked why she didn’t buy groceries weekly she replied “oh no…that wouldn’t do at all! As old as we are, we might die during the night and not get to eat it all.”
One spring they returned to Brasstown and Marguerite announced that Otto had cancer. They slowed down, but continued to play for dances once a week. Sometimes he seemed to be feeling better. His friends learned that he saved his pain medication all week and then took it all just before the dance so he could play (this was a very unwise of him, but shows his dedication). Then he would collapse for another week. He died a few days after his last dance.
Marguerite sold the home in Brasstown for $2,700, the same amount it had cost to build it in 1950, twenty years earlier. She felt it would not be fair to sell it for more than she’d paid. Marguerite continued to play for dances. Sometimes an unfortunate fiddler would try to play along without her permission. The music would start, but the fiddler would find him or herself totally lost because Marguerite was playing in a strange key like D flat. That got rid of the unwanted replacement for Otto.
About three months after Otto died Marguerite announced she also had cancer. She refused to die until her grave marker was delivered so she could be sure her name was spelled correctly before she paid the bill. She paid the bill and died shortly after. Otto and Marguerite are buried at the John Campbell Folk School in Brasstown.
They spent their lives doing, not buying.
Otto and Marguerite wrote many of the singing calls we dance today. Some of their dance compositions are:
Too Old to Cut the Mustard
If You Knew Susie
Trail of the Lonesome Pine
You Call Everybody Darling
Hurry Hurry Hurry
Fond memories of dancing at John Campbell Folk School. The Woods’ dances are really fun!
Personal communication with Don Davis, a storyteller, musician and caller who knew the Woods.
Smoke on the Water. Square Dance Classics. By Bob Dalsemer, Traditional Caller Productions, Baltimore, MD (undated).
When the Work’s All Done. A Square Dance Party for Beginners and Old Hands. By Bob Dalsemer, Traditional Caller Productions, Baltimore, MD (undated).
Party People. An audio Cassette by Don Davis. August House Publishers, Inc. 1993