Deanie Richardson – Our reigning IBMA Fiddle Player of the Year

What an interesting and inspiring story Deanie Richardson has to tell. She fiddles with the IBMA nominated all female bluegrass group Sister Sadie. Richardson grew up in a very musical family about 30 miles west of Nashville, in the small town of Kingston Springs, Tennessee. Both her father and her grandfather played music, and her brother is a renowned clogger on staff at the Grand Ole Opry. At nine, she picked up the fiddle, and made her first appearance at the Grand Ole Opry herself at the age of 13.

Deanie plays everything from upbeat, bluegrass tunes to tear-jerking country melodies. She studied for three years at the Blair School of Music with Craig Duncan and has entered and won numerous fiddle contests before playing bluegrass or bluegrass festivals. Her entire childhood consisted of music.

In January 2019, Glide Magazine journalist Trevor Christian tells readers that Deanie, in discussing her album, Love Hard. Work Hard. Play Hard, told him, “one of my passions is old country music. I grew up around the Grand Ole Opry and I was always going backstage there when I was a kid. That is a true passion of mine, and I wanted a good country shuffle on there, so I got Dale Ann Bradley to sing it. My brother is a clog dancer on the Grand Ole Opry; he’s been doing that since he was 15 years old. I’ve always had this vision of recording the song with his feet, just his rhythms tapping out. During my time at the Grand Ole Opry, now I’m one of the staff members there, I’ve gotten to play a lot with and get really close to Mike Snider, who’s one of the members. I also grew up doing fiddle contests and I wanted even to go back that far. So, there’s a couple of the tunes that I played when I was doing that when I was a kid.”

She was nominated for the Academy of Country Music Awards Top Fiddle Player of the Year for 2010. She was greatly influenced by Stuart Duncan, Nashville’s busiest studio fiddler for years. Along with Duncan, Richardson was captivated by Mark O’Connor, Howdy Forrester, Kenny Baker, and Tommy Jackson. Deanie also plays mandolin and acoustic guitar. The latest news is that Deanie was named by the International Music Association as 2020 Fiddle Player of the Year. That is no mean feat! She was up against Becky Buller, Jason Carter, Michael Cleveland, and Stuart Duncan. These are all incredible players.

She has shared the stage and recording studio with Vince Gill, her good friend Patty Loveless, Bog Seger, Dale Ann Bradley, Emmy Lou Harris, Ry Cooder, David Olney, Hank Williams Jr., Del McCoury Band, Marty Stuart, Travis Tritt and Holly Dunn (to name a few). Included in this impressive resume is a tour with the Chieftains, Vince Gill, and Bob Seger. She has had television appearances on Letterman, Leno, Conan and the Today Show. Some of her impressive achievements are performances at Kennedy Center, Carnegie Hall, London’s Royal Albert Hall. Let’s not forget all the touring – France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Scotland, Ireland, Denmark, Norway, Holland, Austria, Belgium, and Switzerland. She radiates immense energy on stage. You feel like you’re right there with her as she plays out her solos. According to the biography on her website, “her fiddle vibrates her entire body as she plays.”

In 2016, along with Dale Bradley, Tina Adair, and Gena Britt she formed Sister Sadie, a chart topping, highly energetic bluegrass group. What a high-powered group this band of ladies is, both on stage and in their recordings! They are one of the rare groups that actually radiates energy in their recordings, which have been immensely successful. And to top it off, they were named the IBMA’s 2020 Entertainer of the Year!

She has been a mentor to many young musicians, as well as adults learning fiddle. I’m not a big fan of festival workshops, but I’ve sat in on her workshops, and she leads some of the best bluegrass workshops I’ve ever attended. If you have an opportunity to hear her at a festival and she’s doing a workshop, you have to go. She loves teaching and she’s very good at it. Deanie is particularly passionate about young players. It’s given her the opportunity to nurture the next generation of bluegrass pickers. She has shared her liveliness and love for music with many students over the years.

Talking about her recent solo album, Love Hard, Work Hard, Play Hard, and the history behind it, she shared that she did her first solo album at 12 or 13. She wanted the most recent record to be a mix of genres, reflecting her career playing multiple styles of music, and including some of the artists she’s worked with. One song was named after her grand-daughter, who she is currently raising. Her clogging brother appears on her record as well, who was a big part of her growing up. You’ll hear lots of bluegrass instrumentals, a rag, a country song, and even an Irish folk melody.

Richardson spends a lot of time with her grand-daughter, teaching her in bits and pieces, but realizes, “the little one may take another direction than grandma. She’s very musical, and has great rhythm. It’s a fun thing right now.”

When asked what she would you say to aspiring fiddlers about learning to play, she commented…

“For me, being a teacher, you have to learn something in parts (segments). Take it apart, measure by measure, start slow, then speed up. Focus on intonation, tone, bowing. Slow down…”

She also likes to use fiddle tunes as exercises, saying that classical violinist Itzhak Perlman has a video explaining about breaking down the song, get the playing to breathe.

I wanted to know more about the Kids on Bluegrass program, where it is and how long does it last?

“It’s a part of the youth program during the IBMA convention annually, and I’ve been a part of it at least 10 years. Every year about March, we put an application online, and ask interested students to tell us about themselves, and why they want to be part of the program. Anywhere between 25-30 kids are chosen to participate in the program. They learn how to be part of a team/band and get to perform. They work out solos, harmonies, etc.”

It’s clear she has an enormous passion about kids and music, showing a “pay it forward” attitude.

When I asked what’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten, she led off with a great story about the father of bluegrass, Bill Monroe. Deanie was about 17 or 18 when Monroe was playing in Henderson, Tennessee with Larry Cordle. Larry had called her to sit in one night. She didn’t grow up listening to Monroe, but mostly to more progressive players. When it came time for a solo Bill looks over at her. She thought he was asking her to do a solo. Bill Monroe had a legendary way of telling his players just how he felt about what they were or were not doing right.” Little girl you can’t play ‘em all!” was what he said. What she got out of that is, “less is more.”

Since she lives on a small farm outside of Nashville, her newest obsession is with the 25 chickens she has, and her garden. Before COVD-19 hit, she was going to slow down. But now, she has two gardens. Are you seeing a trend here? This is one busy lady!

Like many guitar players obsessed with the kind of guitar they play, I asked about her about the great sounding fiddle she plays, and how she came across it. In 2007 she was going on the road with Vince Gill, and went downtown to a violin shop where the owner told her about this fiddle he felt she should look at. She played it, loved it, and borrowed it to take on the road with Vince. When she returned home, she took all the Vince Gill money she earned and bought the Colin Mezin fiddle, circa 1880. As for a bow, she prefers using a German Pernambuco bow.

This is a nice segue into a story about the tattoos on her arms. “I was going through a bad time in my life, and I went to this tattoo guy with my fiddle and he traced the f-holes out and put them on my arms.” Talk about devotion!

Huge congratulations go out to Deanie and Sister Sadie for their IBMA Awards. She beat out fiddle player Michael Cleveland this year, a feat no one else has been able to accomplish in a long time! Her current record label is Pinecastle.

Deanie is available for private lessons, events, session work, recording tracks (from her home base), touring and in and out-of-town show dates. More details can be found on her web site.

Share this:

About the Author

Ann Smith

Anne Smith is a fiddler and a retired commercial real estate manager in California. She works as a freelance writer covering local politics and music with a focus on bluegrass, fiddle music, Americana, and jazz.