Bluegrass Young Uns – John Maupin 

Just turned 12 years of age, Fiddlin’ John Maupin began playing fiddle at the age of four. Since then he has been like a sponge, absorbing so much that by the time he was eight he knew over 200 fiddle tunes.

From Richmond, Kentucky, Maupin has a particular affinity with the old-time fiddle and bluegrass music of his home state. But having had the opportunity to perform at Mulate’s (dubbed ‘The Original Cajun Restaurant’) and the Mahogany Jazz Hall in New Orleans, he enjoys Cajun and jazz music also and has played on Hilton Head Island at Ruby Lee’s and The Jazz Corner.   

As far as bluegrass music is concerned, he has polished his chops with on-stage adventures with Ralph Stanley’s Clinch Mountain Boys, Nathan Stanley, Larry Sparks and the Lonesome Ramblers, Marty Raybon of Shenandoah, the Farm Hands Bluegrass Quartet, Michael Cleveland, Jeff Guernsey, and the New Coon Creek Girls.  Naturally, he loves to jam.  

Maupin isn’t afraid to test his skills against others and has won both the Morehead Old-Time Fiddle and the Ed Haley Fiddle Competitions for two years in a row.  He was awarded the JP Fraley Scholarship from the Cowan Creek Mountain Music School. 

In 2015, a 9-year-old Maupin won the Kentucky Farm Bureau talent show for both Madison County and District level. 

He then went on to perform for the state agencies in Louisville, Kentucky. He also won Willis Music’s Kids Got Talent Contest for the state of Kentucky.  

Maupin has performed on Woodsongs Old-Time Radio Hour where he was described as a “tsunami of personality and a future IBMA Fiddle Player of Year winner.”

You can find him performing every weekend on stage at the Mountain Arts Center in Prestonsburg, Kentucky, as a member of the Kentucky Opry Junior Pros. He has been playing with them since he was eight years old, and really enjoys performing and playing with other musicians.

John is also a member of the HASP (Heritage Area String Program) orchestra in Danville, Kentucky, which is under the direction of Jeremy Mulholland. 

Mulholland has been impressed with Maupin’s work ethic and attitude  .. 

“My only experience with his fiddling has been seeing him in a couple of videos, in which he performed exceptionally well. His violin teacher is excellent and always has great students, and John is a hard worker.

I can tell you that he’s a wonderful student, always has a great attitude and is a valuable part of our program in Danville.”

Recently, Fiddlin’ John Maupin was honored with the 2018 Bluegrass Youth Instrumentalist of the Year award presented by the NACMAI (North American Country Music Association International) at a ceremony in Pigeon Forge. “That was really awesome,” he enthused.  

We spoke with John and his parents, and asked him about his experiences in music.

Early on, who influenced your interest in bluegrass music and in what ways did they influence you? 

“I was not born into a musical family. My grandmother bought me a fiddle when I was five. I started playing classical music. Then I discovered bluegrass music. I like how I can play it really fast and hard. 

I have always loved music for as long as I can remember. One of my first songs I can remember was Rocky Top. I was three and I’d make my mom play it over and over. I started music lessons on the piano at four years old. I loved playing, but my teacher said my hands were still too small. I was really sad and upset. So, my grandma took me to the music store and offered to buy me a fiddle because she said they came in all sizes especially for someone little like me. Right after we bought it, we went to a restaurant and I remember wanting to play it right then in the middle of the place without any music lessons.

I started lessons right when I was four. I started out using the Suzuki books. My teacher and my grandmother always had to tell me to SLOW DOWN. Then when I was seven I REALLY fell in love with bluegrass music. I loved it because I could play as loud and fast as I wanted. But I also like it because I can improvise and not go by what a sheet of music says. There were lots of people who got together and jammed playing bluegrass music. So, I started going to a lot of those. That’s when I really got into fiddle and playing a lot more.

Early on I think one of the biggest influences I had early on was Kenny Baker, Bill Monroe, and Ralph Stanley. I really like the sound of the traditional bluegrass. I love the old songs. I also like Ricky Skaggs. I would go to jams or listen to CDs and think ‘I want to learn that song!’ Then I would go back and try to figure it out by ear. Sometimes my grandmother would find the sheet music for me. But a lot of the old songs don’t have sheet music. I really liked to do a combination of the two. My grandmother has helped me a whole lot. She doesn’t play an instrument, but I bet she could if she wanted.   

I also really like Mark O’Connor and Michael Cleveland. Michael and Mark are amazing. I saw Michael Cleveland play once with Jeff Guernsey! Wow. He’s won at least nine IBMA awards alone, I think. I’d like to play like him.” 

Who helped you to build up your knowledge of the 200 fiddle tunes that you learned to play by the age of eight?

“How’d I learn those 200 by the time I was eight? I had lots of help from LOTS of different people. I have had great teachers, lots of family support, and encouragement from lots of people. I have learned from people who play by ear, I’ve been taught to read I have been to lots of jams, I can read music, and I listen to lots of good old bluegrass music. I picked up on things from lots of great musicians. If I hear something I like, I try to learn it and add something extra to make it my own.”

You mention Michael Cleveland … in what ways has been an inspiration to you? Has he been able to give you direct practical advice?

“No direct advice from Michael. I just love his style, how much he has achieved and how hard he works. He has a movie coming out soon and I can’t wait to watch it.”  

You have won both the Morehead Old-Time Fiddle and the Ed Haley Fiddle Competitions two years in a row. How did you get into these competitions and how do you prepare for them?

“Most recently I won the North America Country Music Associations Youth Bluegrass Entertainer of the year. It’s a national competition held in Pigeon Forge. I won all these by practicing. I practice really hard and I practice even when I don’t feel like it!”

One of his teachers Wanda Barnett of the New Coon Creek Girls remembers her early lessons with him… 

“I started John on fiddle when he was five. He still takes lessons. His first performances were with me and my students as part of Earl Barnes’ “Songs of Faith” festivals in Berea, and also at Renfro Valley where I was working at the time. He often would get up and play with the New Coon Creek Girls as well. Always fearless. John has always been a very good practicer and very determined young man. The more complicated or ‘hard’ the fiddle tune the better. He loves playing and learning, and now, entertaining. John has always had an incredible support group pushing him, as well his mother, Jennifer, and his grandmother, Kiki. John, Kiki and Jen are family to me and it’s been a pleasure and delight to watch John grow up and into his fiddling!”

In this video the New Coon Creek Girls back 8-year-old Fiddlin John Maupin as he plays the tune Liberty  ….. 


[Recorded by Jennifer Maupin at Meadow Green Music Hall in Clay City, Kentucky]

Ms. Barnett thinks the future of bluegrass music fiddling is in very good hands … 

“I love John. He’s more than a student. He’s my friend too. Just a delightful young man. Inquisitive. We’ve been ‘together’ a long time. It’s a cool feeling knowing that you’re sharing your own talents and life experiences with someone who is truly absorbing them, and is and will be putting them to use. He is learning, bit by bit, who the old masters are; ie Chubby Wise, Kenny Baker. Fiddling past and future is in good hands with John long after I’m gone. He’s the sort who will be working and learning music his whole life. It’s cool to see. A relief really. And fun.”

A year later he was playing the fiddlers’ showpiece tune Orange Blossom Special on stage with Marty Raybon.

[Recorded by Jennifer Maupin, also at Meadow Green Music Hall in Clay City, Kentucky]

Maupin’s interests aren’t limited to music. He is an honor student and enjoys swimming, golf and horse-back riding. His other love is his family’s farm where he has his own herd of cattle. 

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.