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Art Stamper

Art Stamper is a classic Kentucky fiddler and a giant in traditional mountain music and the bluegrass style that evolved from it. When the old-time music heavy soundtrack for O Brother, Where Art Thou? became a hit, there was speculation that the "Art" in the title might be Art Stamper, veteran of the Stanley Brothers, Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Boys, and countless classic bluegrass recording sessions. When Stamper was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2000, the bluegrass community poured out for a subsequent benefit concert, the lineup of the artists on the roster like flashing one's eyes across the spines of the albums on a bluegrass collector's shelf. His health problems coincided with yet another bloom in his career, as the new millennium also marked the release of one his most praised albums to date, Goodbye Girls, I'm Going to Boston, the title-track a programming favorite on several prominent radio shows devoted to this genre. Fiddlers and classical violinists alike can sometimes be accused of winning audiences over by making them submit to mind-numbing displays of technical virtuosity, yet Stamper can never be accused of this artistic fault. His fans love him for his superb grasp of very basic musical issues: a firm and inventive grasp of melody, heartfelt sincerity, and a constant sense of enjoyment in what he is doing. All the same, a look back at his career does reveal that he was somewhat swept away by the tides of technical one-upmanship that temporarily flooded the bluegrass scene as it moved into the progressive or newgrass stage. His recordings from this period are still loaded with feeling, however, especially when he matches licks with banjo master J.D. Crowe on the superb 1982 County release The Lost Fiddler. Even though it might have been hard for a listener to really notice, the fiddler eventually felt that he was lost, drifting away from his Kentucky roots toward an anonymous picking paradise. He began emphasizing a return to his homeground of making music, resulting in music what bluegrass fans apparently find overwhelmingly beautiful. He joined the Stanley Brothers' band at a crucial time in country music history, as the 1952 entrance of fiddler and mandolinist Jim Williams into the band is considered the end of a transition between the old-time string band sound and what would come to be regarded as a bluegrass instrumental lineup. Stamper has received the Best Old Time Fiddlers award three years in a row at the SPGMA bluegrass awards in Nashville. Since the '80s, he has also been active as a teacher, including a regular residency at the Blackwell Farm Fiddle Camp in Niangua, MO. He began undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments at the Veterans Hospital in Louisville, KY, sometime in 2000, and the following year underwent surgery on his throat which involved a tracheostomy. He has still been able to keep up a schedule of concert appearances from time to time, including bluegrass festivals, as well as reunions of surviving members of the Clinch Mountain Boys, one of strawboss Stanley's main backup aggregations. Eugene Chadbourne

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