Traditional Song Week Staff - July 9-15, 2017
Dublin-born Ciarán Sheehan is an acclaimed actor, singer and voice healer whose performances have been said to warm the heart and touch the soul. He has many professional accomplishments to his credit, most notably playing the role of the Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera for over 1,000 performances on Broadway and in Toronto. He has performed for four sold-out performances at Carnegie Hall, The National Concert Hall in Dublin, Ireland, performed the National Anthem at New York State Governor George Pataki’s inauguration as well as at various professional sporting arenas including Giants Stadium, the dedication of the Irish Hunger Memorial in NYC, been a featured soloist at the internationally-televised memorial mass for John and Carolyn Kennedy Jr., and been a soloist at the funeral service for Beau Biden, son of Vice President Joe Biden. Television appearances include Law and Order, One Life To Live, Another World, Late Night with David Letterman, and numerous appearances on PBS Stations nationally. But perhaps of more importance than his accomplishments is his sincere desire to use his talents to inspire others to look within themselves to discover their own inner beauty. As a voice healer Ciarán has taught with his friend, world renowned spiritual medium James Van Praagh at the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies. In his program Awaken, Ciarán uses the power of music, meditation, and his own life story to help transform the lives of all who hear him.
Steeped in the tradition of African American spirituals, folk, gospel, rock and the music of civil and human rights, Reggie Harris is a musician, storyteller and educator who has been a vibrant force in musical, educational and historical circles for over 35 years. In the spirit of his mentors Pete Seeger, Harry Belafonte and Bernice Johnson Reagon, he brings singing and smiles to the lips and hearts of those who listen. A songwriter of great depth and passion, Reggie writes from a personal sense of mission that merges a world-wise point of view with a singularly hopeful stance that life, though often challenging, is filled with possibility for good. As a founding artist in the John F. Kennedy Center’s Changing Education Through the Arts program Reggie is a committed teacher and advocate for lifelong learning. He currently serves as Musical Education Director and is a board member of the UU Living Legacy Project, an organization committed to increasing the knowledge of the Modern Civil Right movement working to pass on relevant lessons in keeping with the present day struggle for human rights. Reggie is an engaging lecturer with a remarkable gift for creating good “session energy” with diverse groups, with a particular skill for leading effective and inspirational educational exchanges. Reggie also serves on the board of the Northeast Folk and Dance Alliance and continues to write, tour and record new music in a career dedicated to the mission of education, inspiration and justice
Broadcasting each week for three and a half decades, Fiona Ritchie’s radio program, The Thistle & Shamrock has become one of NPR’s most widely heard and best-loved music programs, with millions of listeners across the US. Born in Greenock, Scotland, in 1960, Fiona spent her childhood in Gourock, a coastal town on the banks of the busy River Clyde on Scotland’s west coast. In a household where the strains of the BBC’s Home Service soundtracked her early memories, she developed an appreciation for music and a love of radio. In 1977, she entered the University of Stirling and later, a six-month position in the U.S. as a teaching assistant in the psychology department of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte introduced her to the university’s new NPR member station, WFAE-FM. The earliest version of The Thistle & Shamrock aired on WFAE in 1981, and in 1983, The Thistle & Shamrock began national distribution. Ritchie became full-time producer and host of the show in 1986. Four years later, she moved program production back to her native Scotland. Fiona has presented numerous programs for BBC Radio Scotland and BBC Radio 2, and has produced and presented many live concert performances and broadcasts, including a musical event for HRH Prince Charles at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh. She has acted in an advisory capacity for U.S. and U.K. arts organizations, including the Scottish Advisory Committee for the British Council, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, and the Smithsonian Institution Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. In 2015, her book, Wayfaring Strangers, the New York Times best-seller co-written with WWC President Emeritus Doug Orr, won the Thomas Wolfe Memorial Literary Award. Her awards include four World Medals from the NY Festivals’ International Competition for Radio Programming, a Flora Macdonald Award and honorary doctorate from St. Andrew’s College, an MBE from the Queen and the Gathering’s Master Music Maker Award for lifetime achievement.
County Antrim’s Len Graham has been a full-time professional traditional singer since 1982. After he won the All-Ireland Traditional Singing competion in 1971, his passion for the songs of his native Ulster began to grow with his reputation. Len sought out and recorded older singers, and published a book, Here I Am Amongst You, on the songs, dance music and traditions of Joe Holmes. He was a founding member of the group Skylark, with whom he toured extensively for ten years and recorded four albums. In 1993, he released his book and field recording collection, It’s Of My Rambles. Over the years, Len has collaborated and worked with numerous musicians, poets and storytellers. His association with the late John Campbell brought storytelling and song to a world audience, and their work together over twenty years made a significant contribution toward creating a deeper cross-community understanding of shared cultural traditions during many years of conflict in the north of Ireland. Len has recorded numerous albums, performed at many Irish and international folk, literary and storytelling festivals, and appeared on many radio and television programs. In 1992, he received the Seán O’Boyle Cultural Traditions Award in recognition of his work in Ireland as a song collector and singer. In 2002, he was honoured as the first recipient of the Irish television TG4 National Music Award for “Traditional Singer Of the Year.” In 2008, he was awarded “Keeper of the Tradition” from the Tommy Makem Festival of Traditional Song and the US Irish Music Award in the “Sean-Nós Singing” category, and in 2011 he was awarded the Gradam na mBard CCÉ (CCÉ Bardic Award) at the All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann.
Julee Glaub Weems, the Coordinator of Traditional Song Week, is a North Carolina native who studied literature and music at Wake Forest University before following her longstanding interest in Irish culture to work with the poor in Dublin. For nearly seven years, she continued her work in Dublin while sitting at the feet of master players and singers, absorbing all she could. She credits the combination of material from older singers and from the Traditional Music Archive, and her experiences in working with poor and working people in Dublin as the major inspirations for her ballad singing. Upon returning home, she became involved in the Irish music scene here in the states and has become recognized as a leading interpreter of Irish songs in America. She lived in the northeast for seven years in order to be closer to the heartbeat of Irish music in the major Irish-American enclaves in Boston and New York, and performed with the band Séad (Brian Conway, Brendan Dolan, and Jerry O’Sullivan) with whom she still performs from time to time, as well as with Pete Sutherland, Dáithí Sproule, and Tony Ellis. Her latest solo release, Blue Waltz, explores her interest in the connections between Irish and Appalachian song and has been featured on NPR’s Thistle and Shamrock. Now based in Durham, NC, she and her husband, Mark Weems, tour as a duo called Little Windows, which blends Irish, Appalachian, and old-time gospel with a focus on tight harmonies in unaccompanied singing. Julee has been on staff at the Irish Arts Week in N.Y., Alaska Fiddle Camp, Schloss Mittersill Arts Conference in Austria, the Swannanoa Gathering’s Celtic Week, Camp Little Windows and various camps and festivals throughout the US. Julee’s approach to music goes beyond its entertainment aspect to focus on the spiritual and emotional wealth that traditional music has to offer to the world. For her, Traditional Song Week is a long-awaited dream come true.
County Roscommon-born Cathy Jordan has been a professional singer with the Irish traditional group Dervish for over 22 years now. She is also a self-taught guitar, bouzouki, bodhrán and bones player. She has led Dervish as front-woman through thousands of concerts in hundreds of cities in nearly 40 countries. The most notable perhaps were performances at the Great Wall of China and the biggest rock music festival in the world – Rock in Rio to over 250,000 people. Cathy is also a successful songwriter and has co-written with the likes of Brendan Graham, best known for the smash hit “You Raise Me Up.” Recently Cathy has taken up the role of TV presenter and has presented the award-winning Fleadh TV for the last 3 years.
Mark Weems is a multi-instrumental music teacher and professional performer of traditional music. He hails from Alabama, but currently lives in Durham, NC. A well-known figure on the North Carolina traditional country and old-time scene, he has been singing and studying the nuances of all types of country music for twenty-five years as a veteran of the The Stillhouse Bottom Band, and his own honky-tonk band, the Cave Dwellers. Sing Out! magazine called him “an exceptionally talented interpreter of old-time vocal and instrumental tunes” and “a gifted composer of timeless music.” Since 2005, he has toured with his wife, Julee Glaub Weems, as the duo Little Windows, which performs a mix of Irish, Old-Time, Country, and Gospel. In 2009, he created the North Carolina School of Traditional Music, which facilitates the local dissemination of the Celtic, Piedmont, and Appalachian musical traditions of the state. In 2013, he co-founded the Old Jonny Booker Band which re-creates Early American music popular between 1820 and 1865 on period instruments and in period dress. His music has been heard at Merlefest and highlighted on NPR’s The Thistle & Shamrock, and The State of Things. He has performed with former Bluegrass Boy Tony Ellis, Daithi Sproule (Altan), Pete Sutherland (Metamora), Alice Gerrard (Hazel and Alice), and Ranger Doug (Riders in the Sky).
There are few that can boast a first-name-basis relationship with almost all of the major folk musicians on the North American continent, as well as a comprehensive grasp of the folk music genre both past and present. One who can is teacher, writer and performer, Matt Watroba. His love of folk, roots and traditional music led him to his position as the host of the Folks Like Us program on Detroit Public Radio, a position he held for over 22 years. In 2007, he partnered with Sing Out! magazine to create the Sing Out! Radio Magazine, an hour-long syndicated radio show heard across the country and on XM Satellite Radio. He was awarded “Best Overall Folk Performer” by the Detroit Music Awards for the year 2000, and his long list of appearances include the prestigious Ann Arbor Folk Festival, The Old Songs Festival, the New Jersey Folk Weekend, Louisville’s Kentucky Music Weekend, The Fox Valley Festival and hundreds of school and community presentations throughout the Great Lakes Region. He has interviewed and performed with hundreds of performers including Pete Seeger, Odetta, Charlie Louvin, and Jean Ritchie. In addition, Matt’s musical partnership with the Rev. Robert Jones has created one of the most sought-after and unique educational experiences available today.
Dr. Kathy Bullock is a professor of music at Berea College, in Berea, KY where she has worked for the past twenty-three years. She earned a Ph.D. and M.A. in Music Theory from Washington University in St. Louis, MO, and a B.A. in Music from Brandeis University, MA. She teaches Music Theory, African-American Music, Ethnomusicology, General Studies courses, directs the Black Music Ensemble, (an eighty-voice choir that specializes in performance of African-American sacred music) and has designed and completed new study abroad programs for Berea College students traveling to Zimbabwe, Ghana and Jamaica. She gives numerous presentations, performances, lectures and workshops on such subjects as “Singing in the Spirit,” “From Negro Spirituals to Jamaican Revival Songs,” “African-American Sacred Music” and “African-American and Appalachian Musical Connections.” She also conducts workshops and other music programs in gospel music and gospel piano at schools, camps, churches and civic organizations in the United States, Europe and Africa.
Josh learned to play fiddle from legendary fiddlers Gordon and Arvil Freeman in his native Madison County, NC. A highly accomplished oldtime, bluegrass, and swing musician, he attended East Tennessee State University to study music education, and to be a part of ETSU’s famous Bluegrass & Country Music Program. His fiddling was featured in the movie Songcatcher, both onscreen and on the soundtrack, and he has toured extensively with a variety of ensembles, including the ETSU bluegrass band, with David Holt and Laura Boosinger, and with several bluegrass bands including Appalachian Trail, the Josh Goforth Trio, and Josh Goforth and the New Direction. He has shared stages with Ricky Skaggs, Bryan Sutton, The Yonder Mountain String Band, Open Road, and The Steep Canyon Rangers, performed throughout the US, Europe, and in Japan. In 2000, 2003, and 2005, he was named Fiddler of the Festival at Fiddler’s Grove and, after winning his third title, was designated “Master Fiddler” and retired from that competition. He was nominated for a Grammy for his 2009 release with David Holt, entitled Cutting Loose.
Robert B. Jones has more than twenty years of experience as a performer, musician, storyteller, radio producer/host and music educator. He has shared the stage with some of the finest musicians in the world, including BB King, Bonnie Raitt, Pinetop Perkins, Willie Dixon, John Hammond, Keb Mo’, Jorma Kaukonen, Howard Armstrong, Chris Smither, Guy Davis and many more. Born in Detroit of a father from West Pointe, MS and a mother from Conecuh County, AL, Robert grew up in a very Southern household. By age 17, he had begun to teach himself guitar and harmonica, and by his mid-twenties Robert was hosting an award-winning radio show on WDET-FM, Detroit called Blues From The Lowlands. Influenced by legendary bluesman Willie Dixon, Robert developed an educational program called Blues For Schools, which took him into classrooms all over the country for the next 15 years. Answering a call to the ministry, Robert began to study under Rev. James Robinson, Sr. at the Sweet Kingdom Missionary Baptist Church in Detroit, and upon Robinson’s death, Robert became its next pastor. He reshaped his Blues For Schools program into American Roots Music In Education (ARMIE), a program that could encompass a wider variety of music, including spirituals, gospel and folk songs, and returned to performing in 2006. Especially influenced by sacred musicians such as Rev. Gary Davis, Blind Willie Johnson, Rev. Dan Smith, Joshua White, Blind Connie Williams and Rev. Robert Wilkins, Rev. Jones now performs solo, with his good friend Matt Watroba, or with his wife of twenty years, Sister Bernice Jones, presenting “Holy Blues” to new audiences. Rev. Jones has also returned to radio as the host and producer of Deep River, a program of spirituals and gospel, which airs Sundays on WDET in Detroit. www. revrobertjones.com
Sheila Kay Adams | www.sheilakayadams.com
A seventh-generation ballad singer, storyteller, and musician, Sheila Kay Adams was born and raised in the Sodom Laurel community of Madison County, North Carolina, an area renowned for its unbroken tradition of unaccompanied ballad singing dating back to the early Scottish, Scots/Irish and English settlers in the mid-17th century. In September, 2013, she received the nation’s highest award for the arts, The National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship Award which recognizes folk and traditional artists for their artistic excellence and efforts to conserve America’s culture for future generations. In 2016, Sheila received the North Carolina Heritage Award, the state’s highest award for the arts.
Brian comes from a long line of fiddlers and musicians in his native Minnesota. He started fiddling at age eight in a family band and won many fiddle contests across the state. In 2000, Brian relocated to Nashville, TN to work as a luthier and musician. Since moving there, he has performed with many great artists including The Nashville Bluegrass Band, Tim O’Brien, Roland White, Cathy Chiavola, Ricky Skaggs, The Nashville Mandolin Ensemble, Del McCoury and many others. Brian has also played on many recordings including his own self-titled album, Brian Christianson and Friends. In 2013, Brian won the Alabama State Old-Time Fiddler Championship and in 2016 took first place in Traditional Fiddle at the Grand Masters Fiddle Championship in Nashville, TN. Lately Brian has been performing with his talented wife Nicole around Nashville and also on a regular basis with the Mike Snider String Band on the Grand Ole Opry, The Roland White Band and touring on occasion with The Nashville Bluegrass Band.
Flatpicking guitarist Tim May has been working in the Nashville area for over 20 years as a sideman, session player, band member and performer. He has toured with Patty Loveless and John Cowan, and regularly performs with Mike Snider on the Grand Ole Opry. Tim was the solo guitarist on Charlie Daniels’ recording of “I’ll Fly Away,” which was nominated for the Best Country Instrumental Performance Grammy in 2005, the same year he was session leader on the critically-acclaimed recording that featured bluegrass treatments of the music of the Moody Blues, entitled Moody Bluegrass. He later played on the followup recording Moody Bluegrass II, as well. The Nashville Scene selected Tim as Best Instrumentalist in their 2012 Reader’s Choice Poll. He is co-author of the eight-volume book/CD course, Flatpicking Essentials, The Flatpicker’s Guide to Old-Time Music and The Flatpicker’s Guide to Irish Music. www.timmaymusic.net
Nicole’s love for singing began in her church’s choir growing up in Minnesota. She sang in various choirs throughout high school and college where one of her professors opened her eyes and her passion for the world of roots music. She and her husband, Brian, started a bluegrass band, The Minnesota Vikings, that toured the southeast. Upon moving to Nashville, TN, Nicole has sung on many projects, backed up artists and has sung many demos. She has given singing lessons at the Musical Heritage Center of Middle Tennessee and has taught in years past at Swannanoa’s Traditional Song Week. She currently has been performing with her husband in an Appalachian/Irish trio, Grandpa’s Hat, where she sings and plays fiddle and most recently, in her duo, The Parted Ways with a friend and fellow songstress.
Children’s Program coordinator Melissa Hyman is involved with kids and music in all the many facets of her working life. She has taught music to elementary-aged students at Asheville charter schools and coordinated children’s programming at regional music conferences. Her main gig is as a musician on the folk/indie circuit, working full-time as a touring and recording artist, cellist, singer and songwriter. When not on the road she works on the pediatric unit at Mission Hospital in Asheville as a Music Teacher for Arts for Life (www.aflnc.org), a non-profit organization providing art and music programming for patients in NC’s major children’s hospitals. This year Melissa spearheaded the launch of an exciting new endeavor at AFL called the Heartbeat Project, in collaboration with Echo Mountain Studios and many talented members of the Asheville music community. Melissa looks forward to many more unforgettable summers in Swannanoa, leading a ragtag crew of amazing kids and counselors on adventures through space and time. She feels right at home in this world of messy games, silly songs, amazing crafts and fast friendships.