John McCutcheon will perform in Port Royal on Saturday, June 6th.
John McCutcheon sings of the nation’s heritage. He writes about subjects small and great, from a child’s haircut to freedom and human dignity. He's recorded 31 albums, won six Grammy nominations and multiple Parent’s Choice and American Library Association awards. His first album, How Can I Keep from Singing, came out in 1974.
Born in Wisconsin, he enrolled at St. John’s University in Minnesota and almost immediately felt the call to seek a broader curriculum beyond the classroom walls. “I had discovered these old Folkways records of people like Roscoe Holcomb and Clarence Ashley,” he remembers, noting just two of the many American folk artists who piqued his imagination. “And when I realized that they were still alive, I decided I wanted to learn all I could about them. From them. I thought I was going off on a three-month, independent study to find banjo players. But you learn about this music by going into people’s homes and going with them when they play at dances, in churches or on the picket line. And the more I did this, the more I understood that this music isn’t just about putting your finger on the right part of your instrument, singing the right note or writing the right word.” That three-month independent study project is still underway.
Since his childhood mail-order guitar, he has achieved a matchless command of hammered dulcimer and exceptional facility on multiple instruments. His intellectual curiosity grew, kindled initially by Woody Guthrie and John Steinbeck and set aflame through songs that ranged from “Christmas in the Trenches,” a profound antiwar mini-documentary, to the tender “Simple Man,” the uplifting “Hope Dies Last,” and the hilarious “Oprah Seat,” all three featured on his recent CD, "This Fire: Politics, Love and Other Small Miracles". With each year, his horizons stretched further, leading McCutcheon to write acclaimed children’s books, publish songbook compilations, record spoken-word albums to benefit the Grassroots Leadership community-building organization, appear repeatedly at the National Storytelling Festival, collaborate with some of our greatest literary artists on his 2006 release "Mightier Than the Sword", and dedicate CDs to themes as varied as the seasons of the year and the magic of baseball.
Perhaps the greatest among McCutcheon’s gifts is to bring his listeners together, including those who might not otherwise share common generational or political ground. “Some of them know me through my albums for children,” he explains. “Some know me as a hammered dulcimer player. Some know me for writing topical songs. Yet all of these people find themselves sitting next to one another at my shows. They laugh and cry. They get nostalgic and they think about the future. They think about their kids and their ancestors. They get inspired and energized. And this inspires and energizes me too." McCutcheon lives in Georgia but keeps moving, toward wherever he senses there’s still a story yet to be told.
McCutcheon's performance on June 6th at 6:30 is part of the free Street Music on Paris Avenue series, presented by the Town of Port Royal and produced by the Arts Council of Beaufort County. Bring your chairs and dancing shoes.