Akira Otsuka with DCBU President Carolyn Eyerly and his 2023 Washington Monument Award
Born in Japan, Akira first visited the US as a member of Bluegrass 45 in 1971. The band created a sensation at festival performances that year and the next, when they returned for a second tour. The country so impressed itself on their young mandolinist that he decided to make it his home.
Since that time, he has recorded and/or toured with an A-list of top artists, including Emmylou Harris, Nils Lofgren, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Ricky Skaggs, Béla Fleck, Jethro Burns, Danny Gatton, Hazel Dickens, Bill Kirchen, Sam Bush, David Grisman, and Peter Rowan. A good friend of John Duffey of Seldom Scene and Country Gentlemen fame, Otsuka eventually obtained one of John’s “Duck” mandolins, which became his calling card for years.
Akira played with a number of groups in the DC area, including Cliff Waldron & The New Shades of Grass, Grass Menagerie, and Grazz Matazz.
His most recent accolades came with Epilogue: A Tribute to John Duffey, a set of recordings he made over a period of several years with a variety of prominent bluegrass artists, revisiting songs that Duffey had sung during his long career. Guests on the record included Amanda Smith, Lou Reid, Jonathan Edwards, Béla Fleck, Sam Bush, Dudley Connell, John Cowan, Tim O’Brien, Ronnie Bowman, John Starling, James King, Steve Gulley, and several others.
In response to receiving this award, Akira shared the following:
“I am very honored to receive this award. Thank you very much to DC Bluegrass Union and also all the people who attended this Pick-nic. There were faces that I had not seen for 20, 30, or more years and it was just wonderful!
I toured the States with Bluegrass 45, a band of five college kids from Japan, in 1971 and 1972, and then I came back in 1973 by myself so this year makes it my 50th anniversary living in the US.
In spite of my origin, the American bluegrass community accepted and welcomed me with love, kindness, friendship, and hospitality. You let me perform with your bands at your festivals and venues, you invited me to your events and parties, and so on. In other words, you included me in your bluegrass camaraderie and that’s far more than I was hoping when I arrived 50 years ago.
I want to thank the DC Bluegrass Union for this award, but I feel I should share with larger bluegrass communities both in the US and Japan because they showed me the way.
Thank you all.”
Many congratulations to Akira Otsuka on this well-deserved award.