Pioneering bluegrass fiddler Kenny Baker died on July 8 in Gallatin, Tennessee. He was 85 years old. Baker was born in the Burdine-Jenkins section of Letcher County, Kentucky, on the Virginia line. He was the son and grandson of fiddlers, and picked up both guitar and fiddle as a child. Among his earliest musical influences was a local black guitar player named Ernest Johnson who taught him a distinctive four-finger picking style. He also loved the jazz fiddling of Stéphane Grappelli, and the sounds of Western swing music.
After service in the Navy during World War II, and working in the coal mines, Baker became the fiddler in Don Gibson’s Western swing band in the early 1950s. He was hired by Bill Monroe in 1957, and played with the Blue Grass Boys often in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. He returned to the band full-time in 1968, and would remain a Blue Grass Boy until 1984. He became one of the architects of bluegrass music, making well over 200 recordings with Monroe, including tunes on the 1972 Bill Monroe’s Uncle Pen album. He also had a musical partnership of many years with Dobro player Josh Graves, and recorded numerous albums solo and with fellow bluegrass luminaries such as Masters bandmates Jesse McReynolds and Eddie Adcock.
Kenny Baker is honored as a member of the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music in American (SPGMA) Preservation Hall of Greats, and the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) Hall of Honor. In 1993, Baker received the National Heritage Award, presented by the National Endowment for the Arts.