American Routes Shortcuts: The Quebe Sisters

Dec 13, 2019

The Quebe Sisters
Credit American Routes

The Quebe Sisters grew up in Burleson, Texas near Dallas-Fort Worth. Grace, Sophia, and Hulda were homeschooled and largely sheltered from the outside world. At a young age, their attention moved from violin lessons to fiddle contests, immersing themselves in traditional Texas swing. While the 1940s fiddle music was little known to their peers, it was the Quebe Sisters’ ticket to ride. They have since shared the stage with country legends Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, and Ricky Skaggs. Here’s Sophia Quebe:

Sophia Quebe: We were homeschooled from kind of the very beginning, so obviously that gave us a different slant on life, you know, just didn’t have the typical experiences so to speak, for better or for worse.

Hulda Quebe: This is Hulda speaking. We didn’t have a ton of money growing up, so there wasn’t a lot of opportunity to buy a lot of music. Some of the time we didn’t even have a TV because we couldn’t afford to buy one. So there were limitations in some of our exposure to culture.

Grace Quebe: This is Grace, I think because we grew up with such a sheltered, intensely isolated listening experience, I feel like we do really have that music really in us.

SQ: Our mom always loved the violin, and she actually picked it up as an adult and started to play and just enjoyed it, but she got us started taking some violin lessons, and there was a fiddle contest that we heard about at the North Texas State Fair in Denton, and we didn’t really know anything about fiddling. The only fiddling we had been exposed to prior to that was Johnny Gimble tape. And we listened to that all the time.

Nick Spitzer: Great Western swing.

SQ: Oh yeah! We were listening to stuff, but we didn’t know it was Western swing. We didn’t understand the concept of fiddling, it was just, you put on this tape and we were like, “This is cool,” and we would dance around.

HQ: When we went to the contest, all of a sudden there was this whole world of Texas-style fiddling. And there were kids our age, I remember seeing a girl–I was about 7 at the time–there was a girl, she was my age, and she was scalding it and I-

NS: Did you say she was scalding it?

HQ: She was playing very well. I just remember looking at her and I was like, “Whoa, that’s really cool.”

NS: She was scalding it.

HQ: She was scalding. Yes.

GQ: We were just competing as individuals in the contests. And then-

NS: Was there any friction between sisters who were competing?

GQ: We never felt competitive against each other; we always were like, encouraging-

HQ: We definitely did push each other.

GQ: I think having each other practicing in the same house, we always–no one wanted to be behind because we were always going to take lessons, and we were always learning the same songs, so it’s like you don’t want to be the one that can’t play it, so we kept each other going.

HQ: Just to add to what Grace said, in Texas-style fiddling it is very much emphasized to be hardcore. Our teacher was like well if you’re going to play the fiddle you gotta drink black coffee. You gotta be able to eat jalapeños straight, you know. That always has stuck with us.

NS: I’ve got a bowl of jalapeños over here; let’s go take the test!

NS: What does it take to keep sisters together playing music like this?

SQ: To sum it up in one word: traveling. Our parents never traveled with us. We traveled with our teachers; Joey McKenzie was in our band for a long time but I mean he wasn’t, you know, our dad or anything, so it was just the three of us, so we really kind of grew up and in a way kind of raised each other. In 2005 is when our band really kind of started taking off because we started actually singing on our shows. That’s really when we started seeing the world I guess.

To hear the full program, tune in Saturdays at 5 and Sundays at 6 on WWNO, or listen at americanroutes.org.