Scottish Fiddle Legend Johnny Cunningham Dies at 46

Johnny Cunningham
Johnny Cunningham
New York, NY – Several sources confirmed today that the great Scottish fiddler, Johnny Cunningham, passed away on the evening of December 15th 2003. He was 46 years old and died from a heart attack

Johnny leaves behind a great body of work and a huge legacy in Scottish and Celtic music of the late 20th century. He was a founding member of Silly Wizard, and later created other seminal Celtic groups, including Relativity, Nightnoise and The Celtic Fiddle Festival.

Johnny played a large role at Green Linnet, appearing on more than a dozen albums including his solo Fair Warning, as well as producing albums by Cherish the Ladies, Orealis and Brooks Williams. “Johnny was a huge life force, and a brilliant musical intelligence,” says Green Linnet Records owner Wendy Newton. “He was a friend for more than 20 years. A great light has gone from our lives.”

Another person that worked with Johnny for many years, Tom Frouge, Triloka Records’ General manager, and former Green Linnet employee, said today about Johnny: “…extraordinary fiddler, producer, comic wit and human being.” Johnny will be remembered for his musicianship, his compositions, and for his larger-than-life personality. He was beloved on both sides of the Atlantic for his exquisite musicianship as well as for his renowned wit and warmth. An outrageously funny man and a gifted storyteller, he held audiences either rapt in attention at his virtuosic playing, or falling over in laughter at his stories.’

Born in Portobello, Scotland on August 27, 1957, Johnny began playing fiddle at age seven. He was a founding member of legendary Scottish band Silly Wizard, along with his brother Phil on accordion and singer Andy M. Stewart. The band is credited with playing a strong role in Scotland’s traditional music revival. Johnny and Phil also founded Relativity, an acclaimed group with Irish brother-and-sister musicians Tríona and Míchaél Ó Domhnaill of The Bothy Band. He and the Ó Domhnaills later formed the new age group Nightnoise.

Johnny was a member of the renowned Celtic Fiddle Festival with Irish fiddler Kevin Burke and Breton musician Christian Lemaitre, who made three albums together. (The group was scheduled for an American tour in February 2004.) Most recently, Johnny had worked with Irish singer Susan McKeown on a seasonal album called A Winter Talisman. The two had just finished an American tour this week.

A widely-read man, Johnny’s skills and interests were far-ranging. He wrote the music and lyrics for a theatrical version of Peter Pan, “Peter and Wendy,” produced by New York City’s Mabou Mines Theater Company. The musical was a critical and popular success, winning two OBIE awards and touring America as well as Ireland. Alula Records released the soundtrack of Peter and Wendy in 1997.

He founded the rock group The Raindogs in the 1980s, releasing two albums on Atlantic/Atco, and toured with such artists as Bob Dylan, Don Henley, Warren Zevon, Hall & Oates, and Bonnie Raitt. He collaborated with best-selling author Thomas Moore on a CD and book set, “The Soul Of Christmas,” a spiritual exploration of Celtic culture and the Christmas tradition. He also produced such artists as award-winning Irish band Solas.

Johnny resided in New Bedford, Mass. He is survived by his his mother Mary, his sister Laura, his brother Phil, and his grandmother Martha Knowles, all of Scotland.

More information: Johnny Cunningham’s discography [updated in 2017]

Author: Angel Romero

Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites and Angel produced several TV specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.