Five Famous Fifes

Featured Article, Trivia
on July 1, 2013
Don Knotts as Barney Fife

The fife—the instrument, that is—has played an important role in history for many centuries. But the fife’s influence reaches far beyond that of military tradition. Here are five other famous “fifes” who have risen to fame over the years:

Barney Fife – Iconic American television character Barney Fife, played by actor Don Knotts, was the deputy sheriff of the sleepy town of Mayberry, N.C., on “The Andy Griffith Show.” Legend has it that this hilarious, blustery character was given the surname “Fife” because he, much like the instrument for which he was named, was small, thin, loud and shrill, and could be heard all across town.

Fife the Piccolo – Ironically named for the wrong instrument, Fife is an enchanted piccolo in Beast’s castle from the animated Disney classic “Beauty and the Beast.” Though he does not make a speaking appearance until the 1997 follow-up “Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas,” there is a man closely resembling Fife seen in Beast’s castle in the original movie. Fife’s dream is to have a music solo of his own, and in an attempt to achieve his goal, he does the bidding of the evil, brooding pipe organ Forte. When Forte’s promises of Mozart’s “Piano Concerto No. 15 in B-flat” turn out to be lies, Forte supports Belle and Beast and ultimately becomes the musical conductor of the castle.

Dane Fife – Assistant coach to Tom Izzo’s Michigan State University men’s basketball team, Dane Fife has been a prominent member of the basketball world since high school. In 1998, after his senior year, he was named Mr. Basketball of the state of Michigan over future NFL tight end Antonio Gates. He went on to play college basketball at Indiana University under legendary coach Bob Knight, where as a starter he helped lead the team to a national runner-up title. Fife currently holds the Indiana University all-time record for steals (180).

Duncan Phyfe – This cabinetmaker, born Duncan Fife in 1770, came to America from Scotland and first served as a cabinetmaker’s apprentice. As his career grew, his style became very recognizable across New York, his home state. Known best for reviving the neoclassical style in his simple, elegant furniture, Phyfe’s furniture became wildly popular across the U.S. in the 19th century due to his fine craftsmanship and relatively low prices. He is widely recognized as America’s finest cabinetmaker.

“The Fifer” – This 1866 oil painting by Édouard Manet depicts a teenage fife player in the Spanish Imperial Guard. His distinct uniform and decoration are true to the military dress of the time, and though many critics initially rejected the painting, it is now housed in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, France, and is considered one of Manet’s most recognizable paintings. The work also made an appearance on the episode “Art for Hogan’s Sake” of the classic American TV show, “Hogan’s Heroes.”

BONUS FIFE: Kingdom of Fife – Formerly a major kingdom of ancient Scotland, the council area of Fife is now the third largest county in Scotland by population. It is perhaps best known for its historic, world-famous golf destinations, with the legendary St. Andrews course resting on its northeast coast. Scotland’s first university, the University of St. Andrews (founded in the year 1413), also calls Fife home.