Fiddler George Portz leaves mark on Illinois bluegrass music


At 16, George Portes (left) became the youngest winner of the state open fiddle championship in 1969. He passed away on January 9 after playing bluegrass music for over 50 years of his life.


For more than 50 years in southern Illinois and eastern Missouri, George Portes was known for his old-fashioned fiddle playing, corny jokes, friendly handshakes, and constant promotion of bluegrass music.

His death from a heart attack last week at the age of 70 shocked and saddened fans who attended his band’s performances, the festivals he hosted and the fiddle contests he hosted. .

According to Keith Dudding, a 30-year deejay on St. Louis’ KDHX-FM radio and host of the Saturday morning show Down Yonder, Portz are best described as bluegrass “ambassadors.” .

“George was as important to bluegrass in the region as anyone could have been,” Dudding said. “I can’t imagine anyone else doing as much as he did to give the general public the opportunity to hear and see bluegrass music.

“He was always positive, always upbeat, always engaging. He always created opportunities for people to listen to bluegrass and tap into it. They gave me.”

Edwardsville’s 64-year-old Dudding also noted that Ports had taught dozens of children to play the fiddle over the years. I recently learned that Dudding is offering lessons for free.

One of Portz’s students was 18-year-old Caitlyn Richards of Dahlgren. He helped her gain her stage experience by allowing her to play and sing in his band, George Portes and the Friends of Bluegrass. rice field.

“He taught me everything I knew. He didn’t take a penny for it,” Richards said. “I tried to pay him a million times, but he wouldn’t let me. I wanted it, and that’s what he wanted to do.”

Richards plays several instruments, including the fiddle, and sings songs and gospel songs by Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton. She is currently majoring in Music Education at the University of Evansville, Indiana.

Richards and two other Portes students will perform the old classic “Angelina Baker” at his funeral on Friday.

“We all loved him,” said Richards. “He was like another grandpa to me.

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At the 1969 Illinois Open Fiddle Championships, 16-year-old George Portes (center left) takes the stage with his grandfather Perry Biggs (center right) and other musicians. offered

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George Portes, top right in the photo to the right, is shown with four generations of fiddlers, including grandfather Perry Biggs, clockwise from bottom right, son Jason Portes, and mother Katherine Ports. offered

State fiddle champion at age 16

Ports was born in Granite City to Harold and Katherine Ports in 1952 and moved to Shiloh in the 1960s. He followed in the footsteps of his mother and his grandfather, Perry Biggs.

At age 16, George won the Illinois Open Fiddle Championship in 1969, becoming the youngest U.S. state champion and winning the national title 12 years later. Also in 1969, Biggs won the Senior Division of the Illinois Contest.

Ports graduated from O’Fallon Township High School in 1970 after captaining a wrestling team and playing violin in the Belleville Philharmonic Youth Orchestra.

Ports then toured with the Kentucky-based Goins Brothers Band, performed with the late Bill Monroe, known as the “Father of Bluegrass,” and performed at the Grand Ole Opry, the Washington Monument, and the White House for President Richard Nixon. was under the government.

Ports’ mother, grandfather, and son Jason began playing fiddle at the age of six and often joined him on stage.

“When I was little, we were the only four generations of violinists known in the United States,” said O’Fallon’s 48-year-old Jason Portes. “We traveled and played three or four of his songs at my dad’s shows. Our family song was ‘Faded Love’ by Bob Wills.” “

George Portes formed his own traditional bluegrass band in 1978.

George Portes and Friends of Bluegrass are Krauss, John Hartford, Charlie Daniels, Johnny Gimble, Riders in the Sky, “Puppy” Wade Ray, Michael Martin Murphy, Patsy We performed with national artists such as Montana and Rhonda Vincent, and opened the show.

Perhaps the band’s most notable audience was President Ronald Reagan at the 1986 Illinois State Fair.

The band was very busy, playing an average of 75 shows a year at traditional music festivals, fiddle contests, town picnics, park concerts, country fairs, tractor and threshing shows, and private parties.

Dave Montgomery, the band’s guitarist of 44 years, finished an afternoon show at the Bluegrass Festival in Hillsboro, drove over 30 miles for a fiddle contest in another town, and then drove to the festival for the night’s set. I remember going back.

“(George) was the most diligent person I ever met when it came to promoting bluegrass in the area,” said Montgomery, 65, of Fenton, Missouri. Liked.”

George Portes hosted many events, wearing his trademark plaid western shirt and telling jokes he thought were “clean” enough for family-friendly audiences. Jason Portes recalls writing them down on a yellow legal pad while watching “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.”

George Portes led the band George Portes and the Friends of Bluegrass for 44 years. The members in this recent photo include, left to right, lead his singer David Dalton, Portes, banjo player Zach Hardesty, bassist Cathy Poleman, and guitarist Dave Montgomery. offered

George Portes is pictured with young fiddle students at the Puppy Wade Ray Fiddle Contest and Bluegrass Show in Sparta in the mid-2010s. offered

landlord and wrestling coach

George Portes is survived by sons Jason and Justin Ports and daughter Caitlin Huelsman. His grandchildren Mason Portes and Trey Hulsman. A significant other Deanna “Dee” Hardgrave. 3 siblings and other family members.

Many thought George Portes was playing music for a living, but he wasn’t.

He earned a Kinesiology degree from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville and was head wrestling coach at Collinsville High School from 1981-1998. According to his obituary, the team’s accomplishments included a 1991 regional title, four wrestlers making state appearances, and 242 tournament victories. .

In 1988, Portz took over the Shiloh Mobile Home Park and other East Subway rental properties that his parents had owned and operated since the 1960s.

It is here that George Portes developed a high work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit, according to Jason Portes, who works in the finance and insurance industry.

“He managed about 80 rentals,” said his son. “He did all the maintenance and handled all the bills. The family is proud of it.”

George Portes suffered a heart attack while working in one of the rental units on Jan. 9. Although the family was aware of his heart problems, his death was unexpected.

George Portes and the remaining members of Friends of Bluegrass have announced that they will honor all of their commitments to perform at festivals and other events in 2023.

It was unclear what would happen after that, Montgomery said, saying the band members were still “processing” Ports’ death.

“It hurts to think that Dad isn’t here today and won’t be here tomorrow, but we know his legacy lives on,” said Jason Portes. “His influence on bluegrass music and old-time fiddle…will be passed down from generation to generation, thanks to my father’s efforts.”

The public is invited to visit George Portes on Thursdays from 4:00 pm to 8:00 pm at the Schildknecht Funeral Home in O’Fallon. His funeral will be held on Friday at 1:00 pm at his Methodist Church in Shiloh, with his second visit starting an hour before the service.

Memorial donations may be made to the Bank of O’Fallon, c/o George Portz Memorial Scholarship Fund, 901 S. Lincoln Ave., O’Fallon, IL 62269. Condolences can be sent online to the family at

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George Portes, second from right, plays bass with legendary “Father of Bluegrass” Bill Monroe (second from left) at the Washington Monument in Washington, DC in the 1970s. offered
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Backstage at the Sheldon Concert Hall in St. Louis, George Portes (middle) and his beloved companion Deanna “Dee” Hardgrave (right) pose with bluegrass and country singer and musician Alison Krauss. I’m here. offered

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George Portes, fourth from left, last year with son Jason Portes (holding grandson Mason), nephew Todd Sain, daughter Caitlin Huelsman, and dear other Deanna “Dee” Hurd Grave celebrated his 70th birthday last year with his son-in-law RJ. Huelsman, holding his grandson Trae. offered

George Portes doubles as a wrestling coach at Collinsville High School, as shown in news clippings from the early 1990s, and is also a musician who learned to play the fiddle from his grandfather, Perry Biggs. offered

Teri Maddox joined the Belleville News-Democrat in 1990 and has been a reporter for 37 years. She also teaches journalism at her Community College in St. Louis in Forrest She Park. She holds degrees from Southern Illinois University Carbondale and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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