NEA 2016 National Heritage Fellowship recipients

The National Endowment for the Arts has announced the 2016 NEA National Heritage Fellowship recipients! This award is considered the highest honor for the folk and traditional arts in the United States. According to the NEA, this annual award has recognized 413 recipients of various art forms and traditions since 1982.


Photo borrowed from NEA website

These are the nine recipients selected this year:

  • Bryan Akipa (Sisseton, SD) – Dakota Flute Maker and Player
  • Joseph Pierre “Big Chief Monk” Boudreaux (New Orleans, LA) – Mardi Gras Indian Craftsman and Musician
  • Billy McComiskey (Baltimore, MD) – Irish Button Accordionist
  • Artemio Posadas (San Jose, CA) – Master Huastecan Son (Mexican Musical Tradition) Musician and Advocate
  • Clarissa Rizal (Juneau, AK) – Tlingit Ceremonial Regalia Maker
  • Theresa Secord (Waterville, ME) – Penobscot Nation Ash/Sweetgrass Basketmaker
  • Bounxeung Synanonh (Fresno, CA) – Laotian Khaen (free-reed mouth organ) Player
  • Michael Vlahovich (Tacoma, WA/St. Michaels, MD) – Master Shipwright
  • Leona Waddell (Cecilia, KY) – White Oak Basketmaker

Just to list a few familiar names, the NEA Heritage Fellowship has recognized famous musicians in the past such as blues musician B.B. King (1991), bluegrass legend Bill Monroe (1982), the godfather of go-go Chuck Brown (2005), gospel and R&B singer Mavis Staples (2006), tejano accordionist Flaco Jiménez (2012), creole accordionist Clifton Chenier (1984), and oud player Rahim AlHaj (2015).

The NEA National Heritage Fellowships include $25,000 for each individual in addition to a ceremony and concert to celebrate the award. Not only can this recognition inspire communities to sustain valuable and creative traditional practices, but it also celebrates the masterful talent and diverse histories our nation holds.

The main reason I wrote this post is to acknowledge why this type of award is so important for folklorists and ethnomusicologists alike. National or local, anywhere in the world, it is our job to utilize our research in order to recognize and identify individuals who may meet the qualifications to receive these distinguished heritage awards. The NEA operates on nominations, so the artists themselves do not apply for the award. Within and outside the academic setting, ethnomusicology equips us with necessary skills to appropriately promote the communities we research and to provide them with the honor they deserve.

If you’re in the Washington, DC area this weekend, be sure to check out the Ralph Rinzler Memorial Concert on Sunday, July 3rd where many NEA National Heritage Fellows will be performing! More information about this concert can be found here.

To read more about the 2016 recipients, check out the NEA website.

Additionally, Cliff Murphy, NEA Director of Folk and Traditional Arts, wrote a wonderful reflection piece on the NEA National Heritage Fellowship.

– Jennie


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