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Buddy MacMaster - 1924 - 2014

Hugh Allan MacMaster, or Buddy, as he was widely known, died after a heart attack at his home in Judique, Cape Breton at the age of 89 – just two months before his 90th birthday. He was very deservedly credited with helping to bring Cape Breton fiddle music to a wider world and had a particular interest in preserving the region’s musical traditions.

Nicknamed ‘King of the Jigs’, Buddy began playing the fiddle while a young child in Inverness County, in the west of Cape Breton Island. But though he played widely, music remained mainly a hobby until he retired from the Canadian National Railway in 1988. It was then that he began releasing recordings and playing music on a full-time basis.

The Cape Breton fiddle style comes from the Scottish tradition and in the small communities on Cape Breton Island, has been preserved in a pure form. Buddy was passionate that this style would be passed on and so he taught widely – travelling far and wide to teach, but also sharing his skills with those who visited the Judique Interpretive Centre near to his home, eager to learn his style. He was extremely generous with his time and music, mentoring up and coming players, most notably his niece, Natalie MacMaster, who has become another ambassador for Cape Breton fiddling. She said of Buddy: “He really did believe in giving to other people and not letting them down. He believed in the duty that he had in sharing his God-given talent... we were so lucky to have him.”

Buddy was passionate about preserving the old tunes and would search through old music books to rediscover them and breathe life into them once more.

He was an unassuming man who did not seek awards or public recognition, but the extent to which his music touched people is evidenced in the many awards that have been given him. He was named in the Order of Canada in 2000 and the Order of Nova Scotia in 2003. In 2006, he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the East Coast Music Association and was also inducted into the Scottish Traditional Music Hall Of Fame. He was also very recently given the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Folk Alliance, an honour that sees Buddy join the likes of Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, Stan Rogers and Joan Baez.

Buddy stopped playing in recent years as his health deteriorated. He would have turned 90 during this year’s Celtic Colours in October. A birthday celebration had been planned for him but now it will become a celebration of an amazing life. He was a musical icon who will be deeply missed.