The Virginia Folklife Program at Virginia Humanities is proud to announce that Eddie Bond, celebrated old-time fiddler from the small southwestern Virginia town of Fries, has been honored with the 2018 National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship. The NEA National Heritage Fellowship, awarded annually by the National Endowment for the Arts, highlights the breadth and excellence of the artistic traditions found in communities all across the United States, and is the highest honor the United States bestows upon traditional artists. As a 2018 recipient, Eddie Bond will receive a $25,000 award and be honored in Washington, D.C., at an awards ceremony on September 26, 2018, and at a free concert on September 28, 2018.
Virginia State Folklorist Jon Lohman nominated Eddie Bond for the award. “Virginia has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to old-time musicians,” says Lohman, “and anyone will tell you that Eddie is as special as they come and much deserving of this national recognition.”
A powerful singer in the soulful Appalachian tradition, as well as one of the most respected old-time fiddlers in the region, Eddie Bond was raised up in a family of musicians in the Grayson County mill town of Fries (pronounced “Freeze”). Bond was taught by a maternal grandmother who played guitar and sang music handed down for generations through the Hill family, musicians well-documented in the Library of Congress’ archival field recordings. His paternal grandparents played guitar and sang; his Grandmother Bond was from the same region of North Carolina as Doc Watson and taught Eddie many of the old mountain ballads he sings today. One of the most influential members of his family was his Great Uncle, Leon Hill, a musician who took him to visit many of the local fiddlers from whom he learned. Family friends included master performers such as Kilby Snow and Glen Smith. Bond first learned the guitar, then the banjo, autoharp, and his signature instrument, the fiddle.
Since 2001, Bond has been the lead singer and fiddler for the New Ballard’s Branch Bogtrotters, among the most respected of Virginia’s old-time string bands. The Bogtrotters are staples at Galax-area community dances and gatherings and frequent first-place winners at the Old Fiddlers’ Convention, where Bond himself has won countless fiddle contests and twice been named Best All-Around Performer—arguably the highest honor in old-time music. Bond has performed across the country and overseas, including the “Music from the Crooked Road” tours produced by the National Council for the Traditional Arts. He regularly performs at festivals from Australia to Ireland, where he trades familiar tunes with local masters.
“Once I got the call about winning this award, my mind just kind of flooded with memories of all the old timers that I learned these tunes from,” Bond reports. “I honestly can’t remember the first time I heard these tunes or exactly how I learned them. They were just always there. Down here playing this music comes as naturally as breathing. I just feel so blessed I get to carry it on.”
Bond also remains deeply committed to his local community: he performs locally as a solo artist and with others, and teaches a string band course at a high school in Grayson County. Much as the great old-time fiddling masters did for him, Bond never hesitates to take the time to teach, assist, and encourage the next generation of fiddlers.
Eddie Bond is one of nine of the 2018 NEA National Heritage Fellows. The 2018 recipients are:
- Feryal Abbasi-Ghnaim (Milwaukie, OR)—Palestinian embroiderer
- Eddie Bond (Fries, VA)—Appalachian old-time fiddler
- Kelly Church (Allegan, MI)—Anishinabe (Gun Lake Band) black ash basketmaker
- Marion Coleman (Castro Valley, CA)—African-American quilter
- Manuel Cuevas (Nashville, TN)—rodeo tailor
- Ofelia Esparza (Los Angeles, CA)—Chicana altarista (Day of the Dead altar maker)
- Barbara Lynn (Beaumont, TX)—R&B musician
- Don & Cindy Roy (Gorham, ME)—Franco-American musicians
- Ethel Raim (New York, NY)—traditional music and dance advocate
Raim is the recipient of the 2018 Bess Lomax Hawes NEA National Heritage Fellowship in recognition of an individual who has made a significant contribution to the preservation and awareness of cultural heritage.
“The 2018 NEA National Heritage Fellows have dedicated their lives to mastering these distinctive art forms and sharing them with new audiences both within their communities and nationwide,” said Mary Anne Carter, acting chairman for the National Endowment for the Arts. “We look forward to celebrating them and their incredible artistic accomplishments this fall.”
In addition to their artistic value, each of the Heritage Fellows’ art forms also reflects the community they come from and the history of the tradition, whether it’s a material art form—such as Manuel’s iconic suits and the patterns of Feryal Abbasi-Ghnaim’s embroidery—or a musical art form—such as Don and Cindy Roy’s Franco-American music. These artistic traditions and the stories behind them will be shared at two events in Washington, D.C., both of which are free and open to the public.
- The NEA National Heritage Fellowships Awards Ceremony will take place at the Library of Congress’s Thomas Jefferson Building at 10 First Street SE in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, September 26, 2018 at 5:30 p.m.
- The NEA National Heritage Fellowships Concert will take place at Sidney Harman Hall at 610 F Street NW in Washington, D.C., on Friday, September 28, 2018 at 8:00 p.m. The concert will also be webcast live at arts.gov. More concert details and ticket information will be available later this summer.
The National Heritage Fellowships—the nation’s highest honor in the folk and traditional arts—recognize the recipients’ artistic excellence and support their continuing contributions to our nation’s traditional arts heritage. Including the 2018 class, the NEA has awarded 431 NEA National Heritage Fellowships, recognizing artists working in more than 200 distinct art forms, such as bluesman B.B. King, Cajun fiddler and composer Michael Doucet, sweetgrass basketweaver Mary Jackson, cowboy poet Wally McRae, Kathak dancer and choreographer Chitresh Das, and gospel and soul singer Mavis Staples. More information about the NEA National Heritage Fellows is available on the NEA’s website. Fellowship recipients are nominated by the public, often by members of their own communities, and then judged by a panel of experts in the folk and traditional arts. The panel’s recommendations are reviewed by the National Council on the Arts, which sends its recommendations to the NEA chairman, who makes the final decision.
Established by Congress in 1965, the NEA is the independent federal agency whose funding and support gives Americans the opportunity to participate in the arts, exercise their imaginations, and develop their creative capacities. Through partnerships with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies, and the philanthropic sector, the NEA supports arts learning, affirms and celebrates America’s rich and diverse cultural heritage, and extends its work to promote equal access to the arts in every community across America. Visit arts.gov to learn more about NEA.