John McCutcheon (1952 -)

Updated: February 24, 2011

Folksinger and multi-instrumentalist.

Born August 14, 1952, in Wausau, Wisconsin, John McCutcheon is a versatile musician and storyteller whose performances and original songs are infused with his understanding of Appalachian themes. Proficient on such instruments as the banjo, fiddle, guitar, autoharp, fretted dulcimer, and piano, and an acclaimed virtuoso on the hammered dulcimer, he often employs his music abilities to promote social justice.

McCutcheon took piano lessons as a child but as a teenager became more interested in playing the guitar and then the banjo. As an undergraduate student at St. John’s University in Minnesota, he embarked on an independent study trip to Appalachia to explore the roots of the music he loved.

In the early 1970s, shortly after arriving in Appalachia, McCutcheon participated in shape-note singings at a rural church in eastern Tennessee and soon initiated regular revivalist shape-note singings in Knoxville. He subsequently played music with such master traditional Appalachian musicians as Roscoe Holcomb, I. D. Stamper, Nimrod Workman, and Janette Carter.

McCutcheon first heard the hammered dulcimer at a 1972 folk festival, played by folksinger Guy Carawan. The next year McCutcheon began playing the instrument and soon developed a distinctive and highly lauded technique.

McCutcheon eventually moved to Charlottesville, Virginia. The birth of his first child introduced McCutcheon to the genre of children’s music. Unimpressed with many of the available recordings intended for children, McCutcheon turned his attention toward creating music for the younger generation. He released two acclaimed albums of children’s music for Rounder Records: Howjadoo (1983) and Mail Myself to You (1988). His children’s recordings continued into the 1990s with Family Garden and his Four Seasons series.

For his recordings, McCutcheon has received several Parents’ Choice Awards and American Library Association awards, and he has been nominated for numerous Grammy Awards. McCutcheon is also a frequent performer at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee, where he plays, sings, and tells stories. His 2006 album, Mightier Than the Sword, was a literary collaboration with such writers as Wendell Berry and Rita Dove.

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MLA Style

"John McCutcheon," Encyclopedia of Appalachia, 2018, Encyclopedia of Appalachia. 23 Sep 2018 <>

APA Style

"John McCutcheon." (2018) In Encyclopedia of Appalachia, Retrieved September 23, 2018, from Encyclopedia of Appalachia:

John McCutcheon