Thursday, February 5, 2009

In Praise of Ken

A while ago I said I would tell you more about my friend Ken Whiteley, who was recently inducted into the Mariposa Folk Festival Hall of Fame.

For those who don't know Ken, he is one of the most talented musicians and performers you will ever come across. He's also an award-winning producer, children's music pioneer, and some-time side-man to many other wonderful musicians. He plays dozens of instruments, and he's a walking encyclopedia of blues, gospel, r&b, folk, swing, and other roots music. He basically oozes music from every pore. He's been performing professionally since he was a teenager, in many different configurations, and along the way he has been an integral part of the roots music scene in Canada and beyond.

I met Ken shortly after moving to Toronto, at the tender age of fourteen. Ken came to my high school to teach a music class. And what a class! In no time, he had about twenty of us organized into a very large and unwieldy band that played songs by musicians like the Coasters and Sam Cooke. It was a pretty unorthodox music class, but we ate it up. My friends and I became Ken Whiteley groupies, showing up everywhere and anywhere that Ken and/or his equally talented brother Chris were performing around Toronto. It was a musical education that has had a huge influence on me.

Over the years, I stayed in touch with Ken. When I was in Grade 13, I asked him if he might be able to help me with a project I was doing on African American music history. He invited me over, suggested some books to read, and lent me a treasure trove of record albums. A few years later, I called Ken because I was doing a similar project on Women's Blues for a university class, and again, he invited me over, generously suggested people to talk to and, true to form, lent me some albums that changed my musical life forever.

As I got into performing, Ken was a natural person for me to work with. He has produced a few of my albums, we've written songs together, and we have shared the stage many times since he first backed me up at the Eaglewood Folk Festival in the 1990's. Whenever we work together, I'm grateful to bask in the reflected glow of his musical talent. Even more though, I appreciate the spirit of generosity, community, and support that he brings to the table each and every time. And I know I'm not alone in that. Ken has been a friend and mentor to many of us in the roots music scene. He may be a musical monster, but I think it is this spirit of generosity that is really the hallmark of Ken's contribution to the music community over the years.

So, thank you, Ken, and congratulations on being inducted into Mariposa's Hall of Fame.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Eve - nice comments and a bit of history between the two of you that I didn't know. He is one of the most amazing musicians and one of the nicest people I have come across in the music business.

February 6, 2009 at 9:35 AM  

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