James Kelly, a native of Ireland, is one of the finest Irish traditional fiddlers of our time. Born in Dublin, James grew up listening to and playing traditional Irish music. His father, John Kelly, the renowned fiddle and concertina player from Co. Clare, began teaching James to play at the age of 3. James’ father was also a founding member, with Sean O’Riada, of “Ceoltoiri Cualann”, a traditional group that, in many ways, was responsible for the modern revival of Irish Music. James’ love of the music and his ability as a player launched, at age 14, his performing and recording career with several broadcasts for R.T.E. (Irish National Radio and T.V.).
At the age of 16, he won first place in the prestigious Fiddler of the Year competition and he also recorded his first album, a fiddle duet with his brother John. During that time, he joined the group Ceoltoiri Leigheann (Leinster Musicians), that included his father John, Paddy O’Brien, Mary Bergin, and Paddy Glackin. He recorded two albums with this group before emigrating to the U.S. in 1978. He spent the next three years touring the U.S with Paddy O’Brien and Daithi Sproule and recorded two albums for Shanachie records.
James has toured Europe, the U.S., Canada and South America and was a member of many groups, including: Kinvara (Dolores Keane, John Faulkner, Jackie Daly); Bowhand (with Paddy O’Brien and Dáithi Sproule, later with Paddy and Bernie Mc Donald); Patrick Street (Kevin Burke, Andy Irvine, Gerry O Beirne, Triona Ni Domhnaill and Declan Masterson); and the legendary Irish folk group, Planxty (Liam Flynn, Andy Irvine, Dolores Keane, Bill Whelan, Arty McGlynn). He has also appeared with the Grammy award winning Irish group The Chieftains. He received the prestigious “Florida Folk Heritage Award” as well as the “Florida Individual Artist Fellowship in Folk Arts Award” in recognition of his art. In 2006 James received Irish music’s highest award – the “Gradam Ceoil TG4 Irish Musician of the Year Award ” in recognition of his outstanding musicianship and contributions to Irish music (TG4 is Ireland’s Irish language TV station).
In addition to his performing career, James has composed over 1500 tunes and has considerable experience in teaching Irish music. He established weekly fiddle classes at Na Piobairi Uilleann (the Piper’s Club) in Dublin in the early 1980’s. He has taught for many years and continues to teach at the prestigious Willie Clancy Summer School in Miltown Malbay, Co. Clare Ireland as a master fiddle teacher and has participated in the student-teacher program sponsored by Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann, giving fiddle exhibitions. He has twice been awarded grants to teach as a master artist in the Florida Folklife Apprenticeship Program, and these days James also teaches via the internet. In the field of research, he was a co-worker with the late Breandan Breathnach, the great authority on Irish music, in compiling his complete index (over 10,000) of traditional Irish dance tunes. In 1983, James wrote a review of a publication on Sligo fiddle styles in the Irish journal “Ceol.”
Although he has played and recorded with some of Ireland’s premier folk groups, it is as a solo performer that James has made his reputation. Two of the major influences on his playing are the Clare and Sligo styles, named for two counties in Ireland long famous for their fiddle traditions. The Clare style is even-flowing and highly ornamented, while the Sligo style, though equally ornamented, is bouncier. These influences along with many others have helped create a style which, to the ears of aficionados, is unmistakably James’ own.
James recently released his third solo CD entitled “Melodic Journeys” and is compiling his compositions for publication, as well as recording an instructional DVD for fiddle students. James continues to tour the U.S., Canada and Europe with some of Irish music’s leading accompanists.
Instructor – Fiddle | Recipient of the Irish Artist in America Achievement Award
2008, 2012, 2017