Kenny Baker (1926 – 2011)

Updated: July 13, 2011

Bluegrass fiddler.

Kenneth “Kenny” Baker was born June 26, 1926, in Jenkins, Kentucky, into a family of fiddlers. Counting jazz among his early musical influences, he played guitar while in the military and worked as a coal miner before becoming a professional musician. Baker began his national country music performance and recording career in 1953 as a fiddler with Don Gibson’s touring band.

In 1956 Baker joined Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys, becoming one of Monroe’s best fiddlers and helping to define the bluegrass style of fiddle playing. He recorded nearly two hundred sides with Monroe, including those on the critically acclaimed tribute album Uncle Pen (1972), which was dedicated to Pendleton Vandiver, Monroe’s uncle and a fiddler who helped shape Monroe’s bluegrass music style. Other Baker albums include Kenny Baker Country (1972), Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe (1976), and Portrait of a Bluegrass Fiddler (1968), with Monroe’s mandolin featured on many cuts. Among Baker’s signature fiddle tunes are “Jerusalem Ridge,” “Windy City,” and “Festival Waltz,” the first composed by Monroe and the latter two by Baker. His fiddle playing is known for its distinctive tone and inventiveness.

Baker interspersed three stints with Monroe between the mid-1950s and the mid-1980s with work in eastern Kentucky coal mines. He has also partnered with dobro player Buck “Uncle Josh” Graves, formerly of Flatt and Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys. The long collaboration between Baker and Graves, highlighted by frequent festival appearances and occasional recordings, continued into the 1990s in the instrumental bluegrass “supergroup” the Masters, also featuring Jesse McReynolds and Eddie Adcock. Baker died July 9, 2011.

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Kenny Baker