Born to swing
Growing up with Texas fiddle trio The Quebe Sisters
Now in her mid-20s, Hulda Quebe is the youngest of three sisters, and, by her own estimation, has always been the quirkiest. When she was in the second grade, while her classmates were off doing regular kid stuff, Hulda was holed up in her outdoor playhouse teaching herself how to play Texas fiddle music.
“I was an insane child,” she said of her early obsession in a recent interview. “Evidently, I had talked about having a playhouse since I was super little, so my mom got me one, and I set up my practice area out there. And it was literally year round that I would practice, even in the wintertime. I would cut the fingers out of gloves, and go sit out there and practice. I don’t know what was wrong with me, but I thought it was a cool idea at the time.”
Meanwhile, Hulda’s older sisters and future bandmates, Grace and Sophia, would provide a playful mix of encouragement and criticism.
“Grace would go get a piece of paper and she would tape it to the window, and it’d be like, ‘Your bowing is wrong in that song, you need to fix that,’” Hulda said. “When I took a break, I would stand up and I would see it and be like, ‘Oh, they’re listening.’”
It wasn’t long before others were listening, too. Growing up in Krum, Texas—a 2.5-square-mile town with a population at the time of less than 2,000—the home-schooled Quebe (pronounced “kway-bee”) sisters entered a nearby fiddle contest in 1998 and, within a few years, went on to win regional and national competitions.
Hulda says she was 15 when, at the suggestion of Ricky Skaggs, the trio added vocals to their act, a move that set the stage for the success that would soon follow.
“We have very similar speaking voices and we enunciate our words the same way, so when we sing together—or even when we’re talking on the phone—people often can’t tell us apart,” Hulda said. “But of course, as we’ve gotten older, we do each have our own voice and our own kind of rhythmic style.”
With exquisite close harmonies added to their act, the sisters went on to record three albums (with a fourth, featuring more emphasis on original songs, on the way), tour extensively and make appearances at the Grand Ole Opry and on the Prairie Home Companion radio show.
The Quebe Sisters have also frequently been compared to the Andrews Sisters, the swing-era trio best known for their 1941 signature song, “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.”
“We always appreciate the comparison,” said Hulda, who says she’s rarely done an interview where the name hasn’t come up. “It’s kind of ironic, because we’re actually not influenced by them in any way.”
The Quebe siblings’ earliest inspirations were nevertheless of similar vintage. “Growing up, we were very influenced by the Sons of the Pioneers’ western music and the straight-up swing of the Mills Brothers,” Hulda said. “And we’ve always lived in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, so we’ve been very influenced by Texas music. … [O]ur first introduction to fiddling was Texas-style fiddling, and we really fell in love with it when we first heard it at fiddle contests, which are a very Texas thing.”
Asked whose version of “It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie” inspired their own rendition on 2014’s Every Which-a-Way, Hulda spoke enthusiastically about Jimmie Rivers, a virtually unknown western swing guitarist who left behind just a few recordings, which set her off on a music-geek tangent on the band’s influences, including Tennessee Ernie Ford’s backing musicians.
“They called themselves the Flamin’ Guitars—Jimmy Bryant and Speedy West—and their recordings are very iconic, although there weren’t a ton of them,” Hulda said before apologizing about her musical obsessions getting the best of her. “I’m sorry, that was very obnoxious,” she said. “I’m getting really nerdy.”