December 21, 2003 by

Johnny Cunningham


Categories: Musicians

jcunningham.jpgJohn James Cunningham, a Celtic fiddle player and songwriter, died on Dec. 15 from a heart attack. He was 46.

Born in Scotland, Cunningham began playing the harmonica when he was only five years old. By the time he was eight, he’d tried the piano and the accordion, and declared the fiddle to be his favorite instrument.

During the 1970s, Cunningham co-founded the band, Silly Wizard, and performed on the folk festival circuit throughout Europe. He moved to the United States in 1981, where he played with several other groups like Relativity, Nightnoise and the Raindogs.

Cunningham became famous in 1996 for reworking the J.M. Barrie classic, “Peter Pan,” into an elaborate musical using puppets and shadows. He wrote the music and lyrics for the theatrical production, which toured in regional theatres from San Francisco to New York. In 1997, “Peter and Wendy” won an Obie Award for Best Production.

Cunningham also won three National American Independent Music Awards. He spent the last year of his life promoting the CD, “A Winter’s Talisman,” and touring with Irish singer, Susan McKeown.


6 Responses to Johnny Cunningham

  1. renee and charles mccormick

    our deepest sympathy go to trisha mccormick our daughter who was a loving partner to johnny cunningham.
    our thoughts go to his brother phil and to his mother and sister and all his family.
    johnny brought his great talent to america and his wonderful spirit.
    all our family loved johnny, especiallly the little ones.
    his spirit will always be with us
    and we thank you johnnny for bringing such great joy to tricia and all of our family and friends
    johnny we love ya.
    renee and charles mccormick

  2. Rat MacKay aka Rev. DunMac

    I don’t even know what to say.
    I first became acquainted with JOhnny through hte music of Silly Wizard when I was still in high school. I stumbled onto the Rovers e-mail list and *gasp* actually got to converse with Johnny back and forth.
    I remember at one point I was going to leave the list because I was one of, if not THE youngest, people on the list and was getting snarked at by some of the older and less hip list members. Johnny e-mailed me privately and asked me not to leave. He made me feel much better about everything and gave me a glimpse of the warm, loving bloke I’d always heard he was.
    My biggest regret is that I will never get to meet him face to face and thank him for his kind words.
    Och, Johnny…

  3. Cheryl Hodge

    Johnny was a great personal friend of mine for 15 years. News of his tragic death did not reach me until yesterday (since I live in Canada, now!) I am still in shock. Johnny hired me to sing on some studio sessions for the Raindogs, which I performed B.G. vocals on. The first time Johnny heard me sing I was playing piano in a MALL! He found out my name, came to one of my gigs that night and the rest is history.
    Whenever I doubted myself, future, or talent Johnny was always there with a hug, telling me things like “Yer the grrreatest jazz singer in the world.” He was my number one cheerleader, and I was one of the millions of his! I love him dearly and will always miss him.
    Sincerely, Cheryl Hodge

  4. Dennis Allen

    I was fortunate enough to have had Johnny play on a song I recorded in Boston spring ’93. I had met him at a club in Cambridge called T.T. The Bears where he was sitting in with someone (? Zulu’s?) and he was killing me with this Scottish brogue saying the funniest things I had ever heard in my life. I asked him if he would play fiddle on a song for me, and without hesitation the answer was yes…and he showed up (I had no idea what a legend he already was)! One take perfection. A genuinely nice human being. I’m sure many people will miss him.

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