Dennis Stroughmatt

Dennis Stroughmatt 2022 cropped Sq

For our Road Scholars Speakers Bureau, this scholar is fully booked through 2024. 
However, you may book them outside of any Illinois Humanities affiliation using the contact information in the “Booking Information” section below.

Dennis Stroughmatt is a cultural preservationist, educator, speaker, folk musician, and long-time Road Scholar. 

He has entertained, educated, and captivated countless diverse audiences throughout Illinois with his live-music presentations on subjects ranging from Illinois French Creole music and culture and Old-Time Western Swing.

Presentation 1 of 2
Fully Booked

French Creoles of The Illinois Country: Fiddle Jigs, Creole Folktales and Haunting Ballads

New France once stretched from the St. Lawrence River of Canada to New Orleans, and within its territory lived a vast population of French colonists almost as diverse as they were strong. The Illinois French, who first arrived in southern Illinois in the late 1600s, witnessed the coming of new borders and the formation of new countries like Canada and The United States. Eventually, these French founders would find themselves divided and even isolated. But their culture has remained, still existing after two centuries of isolation in rural pockets along the Wabash River and Mississippi River in southern Illinois.

This program will take audiences on a journey of discovery where they will hear the history of this group’s arrival, the French dialects still spoken, and the unique music still performed in the old “Illinois Country.” Perhaps most importantly, through story and song, including a performance of local French “fiddling” on violin and sing-a-longs, audiences will have fun learning how the Illinois French serves as a time capsule for their cousins to the north and south—those in Canada and Louisiana.

Program Logistics

The presentation takes approximately 60 minutes, including a Q and A with the audience. No equipment is required.

Presentation 2 of 2
Fully Booked

Play That Hot Fiddle: Old Time Radio, Rural Music, and the Life of Southern Illinois Swing Fiddler “Pappy” Wade Ray

Born in 1916 from a southeastern Illinois family, the child prodigy fiddler and singer Wade Ray developed into one of the most endearing entertainers in country and western swing music. Through the medium of radio on shows such as “The Pappy Cheshire Show” on KMOX in St. Louis and the “National Barn Dance” on WLS in Chicago, Wade Ray gained national prestige alongside performers such as Patsy Montana and Rex Allen.

Presenting the fast-swing fiddling and humorous stories of his mentor Wade Ray, Dennis Stroughmatt will lead audiences through the early years of Old Time Radio, its growth because of farming families, and share how music brought America through The Great Depression, WWII, and beyond. This presentation will also be accompanied by rare video of Wade Ray and personal memorabilia from the Wade Ray collection. Stroughmatt will explore the history of Old Time Radio in Illinois, the effect of hillbilly stereotypes on country music, and the influence that Jazz and Dixieland music had on the country music scene of Illinois via the journeys of Wade Ray.

Program Logistics

The presentation takes approximately 60 minutes, including a Q and A with the audience. No equipment is required.


From the Wabash River region of southeastern Illinois, Dennis Stroughmatt was taught to play fiddle by a mixture of tradition-bearing stylists, including southeast Missouri French Creole fiddlers Roy Boyer and Charlie Pashia in the tradition of their fathers and the southern Illinois Western Swing fiddle legend Wade Ray. He became an adopted son of the French Midwest Creoles who settled near St. Louis and Cahokia by playing at weekly house parties or “bouillons,” and he later made journeys that have included studies in Louisiana, Quebec, and Tennessee.

Dennis finds himself in a unique position as one who can speak knowledgeably of and play in a variety of French Creole and Old-time Western musical styles. With an MA in history from SIU-Carbondale and a Certificate of French Quebecois Studies from the University of Quebec, Dennis is not only a musician but a passionate educator who entertains and teaches his audiences at the same time. Speaking engagements, residencies, and performances include The Smithsonian Folklife Festival, The Library of Congress, The Kennedy Center, The Missouri Folklore Society, and Festival Acadian in Lafayette, LA.

Book this Road Scholar

Follow the steps below to book a presentation.
  1. Contact Dennis to schedule a date and time via email at or phone at (618) 713-3260.
  2. Once you and Dennis have agreed upon a date and time, complete the online Road Scholars Host Organization application.
Contact Us

Fairouz AbuGhazaleh
Director of Statewide Programs
(312) 374-1553