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Homegrown Plus: Iona Fyfe

In this photo of Iona Fyfe, Fyfe sits behind an electronic keyboard and a microphone. Photo is accompanied by the Homegrown 2020 logo, which includes the words "Library of Congress American Folklife Center Homegrown 2020 Concert Series, "Homegrown at Home."

Iona Fyfe. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Welcome to another post in our Homegrown Plus series, in which we present Homegrown concerts that also had accompanying oral history interviews, placing both videos together in an easy-to-find blog post. (Find the whole series here!) We’re continuing the series with  Iona Fyfe, who is a folksinger from Aberdeenshire in the North East of Scotland. Iona is recognized as one of Scotland’s finest young ballad singers, rooted deeply in the singing traditions of the North East. Winner of Scots Singer of the Year at the MG ALBA Scots Trad Music Awards 2018, Iona has been described by Global Music Magazine as “one of the best Scotland has to offer.”  Iona has performed extensively in the UK, Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, France, Poland, Australia and Canada. Iona was a finalist in the BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year and was nominated for Folk Band of the Year at the MG ALBA Scots Trad Music Awards in 2019. In 2018, Iona performed at Interceltique Festival De Lorient where she was described by Rolling Stone France as “a Scottish folksinger, magical and charismatic.”

In her Homegrown concert, Iona sang a variety of traditional ballads associated with her part of Scotland. She also honored the American Folklife Center by taking what we call the “Archive Challenge”: learning a song from one of our archival recordings. In Iona’s case, the song was “The White Fisher,” as sung by Bell Duncan in the James Madison Carpenter collection.  You can find that collection online at the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library at this link. You can find that particular recording of Bell Duncan at this link. Iona was also influenced by the singing of her teacher, Ian Russell, an old friend of the American Folklife Center, who likewise learned the song from Bell Duncan’s recording. Ian points out that while the Scottish collector Gavin Grieg had found a text, it was not until Carpenter recorded Bell Duncan that we got a tune for the ballad. It’s a haunting melody closely related to the one commonly used for “The House Carpenter” here in North America. You can find a video of Ian singing the song at this link.

I’ll bet by now, you just want to watch Iona Fyfe’s concert–and I don’t blame you!  See it in the player below!

In our conversation, Iona and I talked about a lot of topics, including the influence of great archival collections on Scottish folksinging; the importance of regional identity in Scottish music; the relationship of Scottish songs to the Scots language; the experience of getting a traditional music degree from a conservatory; the influence of teachers like Rod Paterson, Margaret Bennett, and Ian Russell; and Iona’s plans to draw further on AFC’s James Madison Carpenter collection in the future. Watch it in the player below!

We hope you’ve enjoyed both the concert and the conversation. You can find both of these videos with more bibliographic information on the Library of Congress website, with the concert here at this link and the oral history at this link.

Thanks for watching, listening, and reading! The American Folklife Center’s Homegrown Concert Series brings music, dance, and spoken arts from across the country, and some from further afield, to the Library of Congress. For information on current concerts, visit the Folklife Concerts page at Concerts from the Library of Congress. For past concerts, including links to webcasts and other information, visit the Homegrown Concerts Online Archive.

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