Representing the worlds of bluegrass, jazz, country and more, here are the 2016 lifetime achievement awards recipients being honored at this year’s Lexington Music Awards.
J.D. Crowe: As far as bluegrass music is concerned, J.D. Crowe defined a generation. The product of pure tradition under the tutelage of Jimmy Martin, Crowe established a series of bands that, by 1975, became the heralded New South. One could go on about the star players that emerged from their ranks. But what was key was Crowe’s remarkable dexterity on the banjo, his innovations in linking bluegrass to what was then progressive country influences and his eventual return to a traditionally rooted sound. He remains, in and outside of Kentucky, properly revered.
Vince DiMartino: For many Kentuckians, myself included, Vince DiMartino was an introduction to the possibilities of live jazz. During the ‘70s and ‘80s, DiMartino led a series of student bands at the University of Kentucky known for their stylistic daring and incomparable tightness and swing. When Miles Osland took over to continue that tradition, DiMartino shifted to Danville’s Centre College and did the same thing there. For all his academic prowess, his own technical command on trumpet towered. His sound was as joyous and it was exact, a trait carried on in the jazz orchestra he currently co-leads with Osland.
J.P. Pennington: Born into a family steeped in musical tradition (his mother was Lily Mae Ledford of the Coon Creek Girls), J.P. Pennington became the founding and most longstanding member of Exile. The band’s origins stem back to 1963, when it formed in Richmond as The Exiles. There were early tours with the Dick Clark Caravan of Stars before the ‘70s brought the band, by then known simply as Exile, an international pop hit with Kiss You All Over. The ‘80s would come to define the band’s legacy with a string of hits for country radio on the Epic label. Members came and went — including, for a time, Pennington. But Exile continues today with same lineup that ruled country airwaves 30 years ago.
The McLain Family Band: During the first two decades of their extensive history, Harvard schooled Raymond McLain and the ensemble that became known as The McLain Family Band took folk and vintage country string sounds to audiences around the world, from Carnegie Hall to Bill Monroe’s heralded Bean Blossom festival to the Grand Ole Opry to over a dozen international tours organized by the U.S. State Department. Beginning in 1970, the band’s base of operations became Berea. Eight years later came its own annual festival. The band split and reformed several times but continues to perform in fractured lineups despite McLain’s death in 2003.
Ricky Skaggs: How fitting that Ricky Skaggs would be honored the same year as Crowe, whose initial New South lineup largely introduced the Laurel County native to the world. After his brief but groundbreaking tenure with Crowe, Skaggs played throughout Lexington with Jerry Douglas in the bluegrass troupe Boone Creek. Then he was enlisted by Emmylou Harris for a stint in her Hot Band. Everything exploded from there. A steller ‘80s and ‘90s run on the country charts was followed by an extended return to bluegrass. In recent years, Skaggs’ Kentucky Thunder band has been considered one of the more scholarly string music troupes on the road.
Read Walter Tunis' blog, The Musical Box, at LexGo.com