Appalachia Music

Herman Davenport, A Champion Patter

Today’s guest post was written by Ethelene Dyer Jones.

HermanDavenport Patter by Ethelene Dyer Jones


Herman Davenport, A Champion Patter written by Ethelene Dyer Jones

I’m not sure if the old mountain art of hand-patting to music is vanishing from our hills. Herman Davenport (March 10, 1881- November 5, 1964), sixth of eleven children of Adam and Margaret Ashworth Davenport, was a “patter,” and was named Georgia’s Champion Patter in 1924. I am grateful to the late Susie Hunt Davenport, a wonderful friend and a daughter of the Champion Patter, who shared the story of her father’s award and techniques in “patting” in our Facets of Fannin history book. I give you some highlights of his techniques here, and the story of how his talent earned him fame.

The Atlanta Journal newspaper of October 19, 1924 published a feature article written by G. G. Ward on Herman Davenport and his abilities as a Patter. The article tells of how Ward and others went to the farm home of Herman Davenport in the fall of 1924 where “his little house overlooked a dim gulf of cornfields and woods rolling away to great distant mountians.” The guests waited, picked up ripe red plums, and then when Davenport had cleaned up, shaved and dressed to go to the “big auditorium in the city” they took him where he was to pat for quite a large audience, and join in competition with other patters. There many heard and saw this unusual and talented man.

Mr. Ward described Herman Davenport as “preparing to pat.” He sat on the stage through some other music, in a straight chair, “knees straight forward, legs parallel, looking soberly ahead, sleeves rolled up, collar off”. Then when it was his time to perform, there were about four rhythmic pops, as hands hit knees, over his head, anywhere, and he had caught this rhythm. Then he proceeded to pat, on his head, his hands, his knees, his feet, all in very rhythmic syncopation, not missing a beat.

He was a sensation to watch, even more so to hear as he kept up the pace and rhythm of the song. His skill was described partly as gift, for he came through a long line of musicians. His father wrote words and composed music for hymns and songs. His brothers played guitar and fiddle and his brother Sebastian was known as a good dancer. When Herman was a child, he saw an old neighbor, Thad Herron, pat, and the lad yearned to learn from him the rhythm of “patting” so that he could make music with it. Then began the hard part: the constant practicing to perfect his art. He had long slender fingers, supple and bendable, that were described by Mr. Ward as “fluttering about like string banners on a mast.”

Mr. Davenport, in explaining his art to the writer, told him: “I concentrate. But I can’t follow all the separate licks I make. I just flow from one kind of stroke to another. I am conscious of the change only.” It was said of him that “his fingers in their flying never closed awkwardly, but slapped together precisely all the time. He sometimes held his left palm out front and beat it rhythmically with his right. Or he swept one hand across his thigh as if strumming a banjo, while patting his knee with the other hand. With all this talent, he never agreed to become a stage professional, nor did he take any remuneration for his “patting” concerts.

He could make the sound of a galloping horse, and in “The Battle of Manilla” he sounded out the rattle of small arms in battle as well as the roar of cannon. He often patted to the music of the mountain fiddle as “Turkey in the Straw,” “Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain” or other familiar tunes were played. Of this old skill of patting, Herman Davenport was a master.

His daughter, Susie Davenport Hunt, wrote of him: “He kept up his rhythmical patting entertaining young and old with the gift, until his death.”

This sixth child of Adam Davenport spent his entire life in Fannin County. He married Minnie Lee Daves, of another early-settlers Fannin family, on September 6, 1915, with J. A. Ammons, justice of the peace, performing their marriage. Their children were Frank, Luther Reid, twins Joe and Jim, and daughter Susie. Both he and his wife were teachers until Minnie Daves Davenport stopped teaching after marriage. They had a farm and raised most of their food on the farm.

Is there anyone in the reading audience who can do the Herman Davenport style of rhythmical patting? Or do you know if the art is still carried on? If so, please let me know. I fear this skill may be passing from our Appalachian lifestyle.


Ethelene’s article made me think of folks I’ve seen perform Hambone acts-it also made me think of the style of folk dancing-Kentucky Running Set-that the girls learned at the Mountain Folk Festival.

I hope you enjoyed Ethelene’s interesting guest post as much as I did-and please share any information you may have about patters with me and Ethelene!






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  • Reply
    RB Redmond
    May 18, 2013 at 11:10 pm

    I’ve never heard of this before. I bet it’s so interesting to watch.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    May 17, 2013 at 8:18 pm

    Never saw it done except the 2 guys on the Hee Haw show. Interesting.

  • Reply
    May 17, 2013 at 3:11 pm

    This link is for Bradley to enjoy some Hew Haw eefing (“Appalachian beat-box”)

  • Reply
    May 17, 2013 at 6:36 pm

    I enjoyed that Hee Haw eefing video Tamela. You know it’s futile to describe something like that to another; you just got to see it!

  • Reply
    May 17, 2013 at 12:39 pm

    This was a fascinating piece of history. I am glad I got to read it and learn more about various styles of dancing/music.

  • Reply
    May 17, 2013 at 12:20 pm

    I’d like to thank Ethelene for
    sharing a story of Susie’s dad.
    “Patting” is a rhythmic trait that
    only a few of Appalachia’s finist
    knew. As someone commented, those
    two guys on Hee Haw really had
    their stuff together.
    I can remember my daddy acting
    kinda silly when he played a rhythmic sound on mama’s dishpan
    many years ago…Ken

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    May 17, 2013 at 11:22 am

    My father used to do something like Mr. Davenport but not to that extent. He also played the spoons. Sometimes after dark he would drum his fingers on the table to make galloping horse sounds and recite:
    “Whenever the moon and stars are set,
    Whenever the wind is high,
    All night long in the dark and wet,
    A man goes riding by.
    Late in the night when the fires are out,
    Why does he gallop and gallop about?
    Whenever the trees are crying aloud,
    And ships are tossed at sea,
    By, on the highway, low and loud,
    By at the gallop goes he.
    By at the gallop he goes, and then
    By he comes back at the gallop again.”

  • Reply
    SS in the Blue Ridge
    May 17, 2013 at 9:26 am

    are you familiar with the work of Sandy Silva? There is a youtube of a solo body percussion performance that is amazing. And Steve Hickman of the Smithsonian, in DC is another, more traditionally based. also some youtubes about him. I learned some from Matt Olwell, who I will tag in my facebook share.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    May 17, 2013 at 8:58 am

    Wouldn’t it be great if we had a movie of Mr Davenport or even an audio. I’m thinking it would have to be a movie to get the full effect. I do love rhythm, it is so soothing.
    I have a cat, Yoda, that I can pat rhythmically and he just zones out. He will stand frozen till I stop patting. I have another cat, Two Toes, if I pat him he bites me. He doesn’t like to be patted. Rhythm must be the fractals of sound as repeating patterns are the fractals in nature.
    Thanks Ethelene, for the post. I’ll be thinking about Mr Davenport all day!

  • Reply
    Carol Stuart
    May 17, 2013 at 8:57 am

    The people in my family did the “hambone” – you can see it on youtube demonstrated by various people.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    May 17, 2013 at 8:18 am

    My great grand uncle Jacob Allen Ammons was born in Macon County NC in an area that later became Swain County. He married Martha Crisp and had 8 children. Then, for reasons presently unknown to me, he and Martha divorced and he and 4 of the younger children moved to Fannin County GA. He lived out the rest of his life, died and was buried there. Could he be the same J A Ammons mentioned in Ethelene’s article?

  • Reply
    May 17, 2013 at 5:52 am

    There used to be these two guys – Jimmie Riddle and Jackie Phelps – that were on The Hee Haw Show that used to do a routine called “Eefing.” I called it a knee slapping routine. When I read Ethelene’s story it made me wonder if this was the same. They were great! I wonder if Mr. Davenport’s hand tapping was about the same?

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