Kenny Sidle

Fiddler Kenny Sidle received the 2012 Ohio Heritage Fellowship for Performing Arts. He was born in 1931 near his present-day home in Hanover in Licking County. Sidle started fiddling when he was five years old, taught by his father and uncle, and was playing by his mid-teens at Hillbilly Park, a popular outdoor country music venue near Newark. In 1967, Sidle joined the staff band on the Wheeling Jamboree, a weekly radio program on WWVA in Wheeling, West Virginia. After retiring from Owens-Corning Fiberglass, Sidle turned his attention to competitive fiddling and has since won more fiddle contests than he can remember, including state championships in Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Indiana and the senior title at the Tennessee Valley Old Time Fiddlers Competition. Sidle’s contributions to our shared musical culture have been previously recognized with a pair of major awards: the National Heritage Fellowship, presented by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1988, and his designation as a Traditional Arts Master by the Ohio Arts Council. The Ohio Country Western Music Association named him Instrumentalist of the Year for nine consecutive years (1973-81). Sidle has recorded a handful of albums during his career, including Favorite Fiddle Tunes and Fiddle Memories.

Biography
Kenny Sidle was born in Licking County, in the small town of Toboso, near the Hanover, Ohio, home where he now resides.He has lived in Licking County since then, playing a fiddlein and around eastern Ohio, the Midwest and even Canada. At the young age of five and a half, Sidle began to play fiddle under the teaching of his father and uncle. By the time he was fourteen or fifteen (somewhere around 1946 or ‘47), he and his sister, Marge, were performing at Hillbilly Park, near Newark, one of a number of country music entertainment parks (where families could camp) around the Midwest. One of the owners, Eddie Ruton.was an early supporter and fan of Sidle’s fiddling and invited young Kenny to play there. Kenny and Marge enjoyed the opportunity to play there and audiences clearly appreciated their performances. Sidle recalls a particular time in his early days at Hillbilly Park when owner Millie Ruton asked him to sing “My Son Calls Another Man Daddy,” and his performance made some of the women in the audience weep. That memory seems to indicate the draw that performing and audience appreciation had for Sidle, even in his teens. The support of the Rutons and Hillbilly Park provided the public exposure that launched Sidle’s long career as a musician and competitive fiddler.

Following his years at Hillbilly Park, in 1967, Sidle began playing as a member of the staff band at the Wheeling Jamboree, in West Virginia. It was here he met up with Bill Anderson, of the Grand Ole Opry, who invited Sidle to join the Opry’s staff band. Sidle considered the offer and made the choice that seemed best for his family. He had recently been hired on at Owens Corning, so he turned down Anderson’s appealing offer, putting aside a career as a musician to raise his family. However after twenty years at Owens Corning Sidle retired with many years ahead of him during which he could practice his art, performing for audiences around Ohio, competing in fiddling contests in Ohio and in surrounding states. Sidle has also played and competed in Canada to much acclaim, having won in the Canadian International Fiddle contest. Canadian fiddlers and fiddle aficionados enjoy Sidle’s style of fiddling, and some listeners find his playing reminiscent of the style of French Canadian fiddlers. Sidle is proud of the warmth with which Canadians embraced him as a player.

In addition to his travel and competition playing, Sidle has played in a number of bands over the years, performing regularly throughout the eastern and central Ohio area. He continued playing for various local events and was a popular player in local radio broadcasts. Sidle played at the North American Country Cavalcade, a weekly show broadcast from what was then the Southern Hotel, in Columbus, in the 1970s, as a member of the house band. During the latter years of the Cavalcade, Sidle is when began winning recognition as a competitive fiddler.

Kenny Sidle has participated in so many contests, either competing or judging, that the walls and shelving in the living room of his home can’t display all the plaques and trophies. The 1980s and early 1990s were an especially fruitful period for Sidle as a competitive fiddler. During that time, he was awarded an honor of which he is especially proud: the “Dr. Perry F. Harris Distinguished Fiddler Award.” In 1994, Sidle was honored with this award, named for Harris, an ardent supporter of fiddle music who was the originator of what became the Grand Master Fiddler Championship. Those decades also brought Sidle recognition in the form of a national honor. In 1988 Sidle the National Endowment for the Arts presented Sidle with a National Heritage Fellowship, awarded to American folk artists ”as a way of honoring American folk artists for their contributions to our national cultural mosaic” (www.nea.gov). In Ohio Sidle has been recognized as a member of the Licking County Hall of Fame and the Paint Valley Jamboree Hall of Fame, where he was staff fiddler for eleven years. These appreciations join Sidle’s many championship honors from competition.

In addition to winning state competitions in his home state of Ohio, Sidle has won state competitions throughout the Midwest, in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Indiana. His skills have taken him farther, to the Tennessee Valley Old Time Fiddlers competition, where he has won the Senior division, and championships. After many years competing in fiddle and traditional music contests, Sidle has been invited to participate as a judge. He has judged contests in Kentucky, Alabama, Tennessee and participated in West Virginia’s Vandalia Gathering. His son’s work as a missionary in Africa has provided Sidle the opportunity to travel abroad and perform at churches in Zambia and Johannesburg, South Africa.

Over the years, Kenny Sidle has shared his passion for the music by his work with several apprentices through the Ohio Arts Council’s Traditional Arts Apprenticeship program. Two of his apprentices in particular have continued their playing in publicly. One of Kenny’s apprentices, Adam Jackson, has himself taught as a master in the Arts Council’s Traditional Arts Apprenticeship program. Adam has competed in several state fiddle contests, winning the Ohio State Fiddling Championship (a three-time champion) and championships around Ohio, in Michigan and West Virginia, as well as the Mid-Atlantic States championship. Lisa Wagner, another apprentice of Sidle, was a 1994 Ohio fiddling champion. Clearly, Kenny Sidle is not only a talented fiddler himself but also part of a larger network of traditional fiddlers who keep alive the art of old-time fiddling. As a Master, Kenny Sidle has passed along his knowledge and expertise to keep the art alive for subsequent generations interested in old-time fiddle music. His playing, too, keeps the music in the forefront, currently in collaboration with the musicians of the “Frosty Morning Bluegrass Band.”

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