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Tom Foolery

Storyteller-fiddler Cunningham
is always a hit with audiences

He returns to perform at this year’s Folk Festival

By Chemaign Drumm
Contributing Writer

(May 2007) – Tom Cunningham has been described as “wonderfully charming,” “extremely talented,” “spirited” and a “sharp dude.”

Tom Cunningham

Photo provided

Fiddler Tom Cunningham mixes humor with music.

A fiddler and storyteller with a storytelling fiddle, the 51-year-old Louisville resident will bring his talents and show to Madison, Ind., on May 19 as part of the second annual Ohio River Valley Folk Festival. He performed at the inaugural event last year.
Cunningham began his musical career in Pittsburgh more than 40 years ago with a violin and his mother’s lessons. He said music had always been in his family and was a part of him. He took lessons on the violin and later on the fiddle. Cunningham then taught himself to play guitar and mandolin. Over the years, he has been in numerous bands, performed in theater, recorded his own music and taught others the craft of playing the fiddle.
Four years ago, Cunningham and his wife, Lorraine Benberg, moved to Louisville, and Cunningham decided he wanted to turn his fiddle playing and love of storytelling into a show. And that’s how “FiddleTales” was born.
FiddleTales combines songs, poems and stories of old. Cunningham makes his fiddle “talk” and has written some of his own stories. He even has an alter ego, Professor Longwind, who teaches the difference between a violin and fiddle. Cunningham said a lot of the fiddle songs, themselves, tell stories, and he has written stories about the fiddle.
“I love doing this,” he said.
John Gage, 62, of Louisville has known Cunningham since he has been in Louisville. Gage produces a radio show called “Kentucky Home” on WFBK, 91.9 FM, in Louisville. He’s had Cunningham on his show many times, performing with bands and performing FiddleTales. Gage, a guitar player, has also “jammed” with Cunningham several times.
“He’s a sharp dude,” Gage said of Cunningham. “He’s a scholar, and artist, an entertainer. He is comfortable with different styles (of music), jazz, swing. Very esoteric.”
Gage added that Cunningham is a “very spirited entertainer” who understands the historical context of the fiddler and his social significance in the 1800s and 1900s. He also understands the theory and structure of music and its melodic form. Gage said.
The fiddler in the 1800s roamed the country telling stories. “He was very much like a shaman at the time,” Gage said. People would come from all over a region when a fiddler would come through.
Steve Thomas of the Thomas Family Winery in Madison, agreed. A co-chairman of the Folk Festival, Thomas invited Cunningham to provide a sample of his storytelling and fiddling during a media event held in early April to help promote this year’s festival. Thomas agrees with Gage that at those earlier times in history, illiteracy was commonplace. “The fiddler was the historian and teacher and messenger.”

• Read more on Cunningham at: www.fiddletales.com. See the storyteller schedule at: www.ohiorivervalleyfolkfestival.com.

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