North Carolina Musicians Making National Headlines


Two North Carolina musicians are making national headlines this month: Sheila Kay Adams, one of North Carolina's best-known ballad singers, has been named a 2013 National Heritage Fellow. And Jens Kruger, banjo player in Swiss-turned-North-Carolinian band The Kruger Brothers, was named the recipient of the 2013 Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass.

Sheila Kay Adams Receives National Heritage Fellowship

Adams will be honored in a live awards presentation of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) fellowship concert on Friday, Sept. 27 at 8 p.m. The program will include a performance by the Madison County native. The free, public program will be broadcast live online at; it will also be archived and available to view on demand (for folks attending Wide Open Bluegrass that night, or who otherwise cannot see the program live). Get a sneak preview by listening to a two-part interview podcast of Adams.

Adams is one of nine National Heritage recipients named by the NEA this year, and the 12th North Carolinian to receive the national award. Each fellow receives a $25,000 award.

"Sheila made it her mission to absorb old love songs from her elders and she became a bridge that has enabled young people to learn, and to love, ballad singing," Executive Director Wayne Martin, N.C. Arts Council, observed. "That venerated 17th century tradition had been in danger of becoming irrelevant."

Ballad singing flourished when rural communities didn't have access to newspapers, magazines and books, and provided a way to discuss events and ponder the human condition. Adams learned to sing from her great-aunt Dillie Chandler and the Wallin family (including National Heritage Award winner Doug Wallin). In addition to ballad singing, Adams is an accomplished clawhammer-style banjo player and storyteller. She began performing in her teens and has performed at festivals, music camps and workshops in the United States and the United Kingdom.

"Arts, in addition to enriching our lives, has also sparked an economic renaissance in many of our towns and cities in North Carolina attracting new business, downtown redevelopment and historic preservation,' says Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources Susan Kluttz. "We are thrilled that the NEA has recognized one our uniquely North Carolinian musicians."

A new travel guidebook, Blue Ridge Music Trails of North Carolina, features a profile of Adams and other traditional musicians in the mountains and foothills of the state. Published in partnership with UNC Press, it is a guide for citizens and visitors to experience living Blue Ridge music traditions, including ballad singing.

Adams is the author of two books: Come Go Home With Me, a collection of stories published by UNC Press, and winner of the North Carolina Historical Society's award for historical fiction in 1997; and My Old True Love, a novel published by Algonquin Books in 2004. She has recorded several albums of ballads, songs and stories. Learn more about Sheila Kay Adams

Watch the 2013 NEA National Heritage Fellowships Concert

Jens Kruger Receives Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo & Bluegrass

Jens Kruger with banjo; fourth recipient of the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and BluegrassJens Kruger has been named as the fourth recipient of the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass Music. Kruger is known for his innovative banjo composition and performance that integrates folk music with European classical music. Kruger is the first North Carolina resident and first winner born outside the of the United States.

Kruger is known for his inventive, hard to categorize musical style of composition and performance, which can be described as thoughtful and lyrical. His virtuosic playing style ranges from the very complex, to the simple and profound. Jens Kruger and The Kruger Brothers have raised awareness about bluegrass music by writing and performing classical pieces that incorporate the instrumentation of banjo, guitar and bass. The Kruger Brothers consist of Jens Kruger (banjo, harmony vocals), Uwe Kruger (guitar, lead and harmony vocals) and Joel Landsberg (bass, harmony vocals).

Born in Switzerland, Kruger and his brother Uwe left home to become street musicians. As adults they were billed as the Kruger Brothers, adding the third "brother," Joel Landsberg, from New York City. Their interest in the music of Doc Watson motivated them to relocate near where Doc lived, in North Wilkesboro, NC in 2003. They became friends of Doc, and had the honor to play music with him.

The Steve Martin Prize, created and endowed by Martin, includes a $50,000 honorarium and recognizes an individual or group for "outstanding accomplishments in the field of five-string banjo or bluegrass music". Each year's winner is selected by a committee of noted banjo players, including Martin, Pete Wernick, Béla Fleck, Alison Brown, J.D. Crowe and others.

Regarding the award, Kruger said, "Coming to this country as an immigrant and to be accepted so warmly is amazing, and quite humbling."

You can see The Kruger Brothers perform in Raleigh as part of the Wide Open Bluegrass Festival - Sept. 27-28. They are scheduled to perform in the Raleigh Convention Center Ballroom (ticket required) on Saturday, Sept. 28, and Friday, Sept. 27 on the City Plaza Stage (free and open to the public). Learn more about The Kruger Brothers

The Kruger Brothers perform "Jack of the Wood" with Steve Martin on Late Night with David Letterman

Jens Kruger performing with NC Heritage Award Winning Fiddler Bobby Hicks

Read more about Jens Kruger in the NY Times