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Folk singer learned from the masters

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John McCutcheon got his start in the '60s when he left his Wisconsin home and traveled to Appalachia to learn from the masters of traditional folk.

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John McCutcheon is the quintessential old-fashioned folk singer.

You won't hear his songs much on the radio, but he tours relentlessly, has made a series of highly successful children's albums, and is politically active, speaking out frequently during the 2004 presidential campaign on behalf of Democratic nominee John Kerry.

It's a tradition that dates back to Woody Guthrie: traveling the country singing songs, introducing youngsters to the joy of well-crafted music, and speaking out for grass-roots political organizations.

McCutcheon got his start in the '60s when he left his Wisconsin home and traveled to Appalachia to learn from the masters of traditional folk. He became a top-notch instrumentalist. His explorations included the fiddle, guitar, banjo, and autoharp, and he became a master of the hammer dulcimer.

His first album was released in 1974. Then, in the middle of a critically acclaimed folk career, McCutcheon became a new father in the early '80s and he grew frustrated by the lack of contemporary music for children. He recorded "Howjadoo," thinking it would be a one-time recording for Rounder Records.

But the album was a success, and he recorded a number of children's discs over the ensuing years, taking time to record straightforward folk releases, raise his family, and tour. He has released more than two dozen albums.

McCutcheon has been nominated for five Grammy awards, and he has toured the world several times.

John McCutcheon performs at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in the George V. Voinovich Auditorium at Northwest State Community College in Archbold. Tickets, $15 for adults, $10 for students and Northwest State faculty members, and $5 for Northwest State students, will be available at the door. Children younger than 5 will be admitted free. Information: 419-267-1227.

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