“The most impressive instrumentalist I’ve ever heard.”
— Johnny Cash
“He has an uncanny ability to breathe new life into the familiar. His storytelling has the richness of fine literature.”
— Washington Post
John McCutcheon is one of our most respected and loved folksingers. As an instrumentalist, he is a master of a dozen traditional instruments, including the hammer dulcimer, guitar, banjo, autoharp, mountain dulcimer, fiddle and Jew’s harp.
His 30 recordings have garnered every honor imaginable, including six Grammy nominations. His commitment to grassroots political organizations has put him on the frontlines of many issues important to communities and workers.
When McCutcheon became a father in the early 1980s, he found most children’s music “unmusical and condescending.” He set out to change the situation by releasing a children’s album called Howjadoo in 1983. He had intended release only one children’s record, but the popularity of the first led to the production of others.
Even so, most of McCutcheon’s musical efforts focus on writing politically and socially conscious songs for adult audiences. One of his most well-known songs, “Christmas in the Trenches” (from his 1984 album Winter Solstice) tells the story of the Christmas truce of 1914. He also wrote a song called Hail to the Chief consisting entirely of malapropisms made by George W. Bush.
Even before graduating summa cum laude from Minnesota’s St. John’s University, this Wisconsin native literally “headed for the hills,” forgoing a college lecture hall for the classroom of the eastern Kentucky coal camps, union halls, country churches and square dance halls. His apprenticeship to many of the legendary figures of Appalachian music imbedded a love of not only home-made music, but a sense of community and rootedness. The result is music — whether traditional or from his huge catalog of original songs — with the profound mark of place, family and strength. It also created a storytelling style that has been compared to Will Rogers and Garrison Keillor.
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