By Earle Hitchner
Of more than 260 recipients since 1982, fiddler Kevin Burke becomes only the ninth Irish performer to be selected for a National Heritage Fellowship, the United States’ highest honor in folk and traditional arts.
Previous Irish honorees were sean-n=s singer Joe Heaney in 1982, uilleann piper Joe Shannon in 1983, fiddler/teacher Martin Mulvihill in 1984, stepdancer Michael Flatley in 1988, flutist Jack Coen in 1991, fiddler Liz Carroll in 1994, stepdancer/instructor Donny Golden in 1995, and singer/multi-instrumentalist Mick Moloney in 1999.
All honorees must be citizens or permanent residents of the United States. In 2002, Burke joins 14 other artists whose “artistic excellence, authenticity, and contributions to their field” will earn each a one-time award of $10,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts at a September ceremony in Washington, D.C.
This year’s recipients include old-time fiddler Ralph Blizard, blues singer-guitarist David “Honeyboy” Edwards, contradance musician Bob McQuillen, and Appalachian singer-composer Jean Ritchie, whose song “One, I Love” has undergone a mini-revival since Waterford-born vocalist Karan Casey covered it in 1997.
Follow us on social media
Keep up to date with the latest news with The Irish Echo
A resident of Portland, Ore., for the last 21 years, Kevin Burke was born on June 9, 1950, in Hackney, an East End area of London. Both his parents emigrated from Sligo: his father, Mfche_l, a London policeman, came from Dromore West, while his mother, Irene, was from Castlerock.
In the early 1970s, Kevin Burke played fiddle in Christy Moore’s band, and from May 1976 to 1979 he took over the fiddle spot vacated by Tommy Peoples in the Bothy Band, with whom he recorded two studio and two live albums. The influence of this group on Irish traditional music and musicians, especially the younger generation coming up during the late 1970s, runs so wide and deep that it may be impossible to fully fathom.
After the Bothy Band called a “hiatus” (23 years later, it’s still in effect), Burke and Bothy Band singer-guitarist Mfche_l + Domhnaill moved to the U.S., settling in Portland. Burke has toured and recorded as a soloist and also with + Domhnaill, button accordionist Jackie Daly, Patrick Street, the Celtic Fiddle Festival, and Open House. Burke has recorded with many non-Irish musicians as well, including Arlo Guthrie and former Hot Rize leader Tim O’Brien.
“Live From Patrick Street” (1999), the solo “In Concert” (1999), and the Celtic Fiddle Festival’s “Rendezvous” (2001), all on Green Linnet, are among the albums Burke has released in recent years. Also in 2001, Smithsonian Folkways issued a CD of “Sweeney’s Dream,” Burke’s 1973 solo LP, recorded in New York City.