Celebrated bluegrass fiddler Kenny Sidle died at home in his sleep on September 14 in his native Ohio. He was 90 years of age.
Over a long life in music, which started at age 5 and continued well into his 80s, Kenny was named fiddle champion in multiple states, multiple times, including being honored as the Dr. Perry F. Harris Distinguished Fiddler at the Grand Masters Fiddler Championship in 1994. He had won the Ohio state championship five times, three times in Pennsylvania, and twice in Kentucky. In 1988 Sidle was named a National Heritage Fellow by the National Endowment for the Arts.
As a boy, Kenny was surrounded by fiddle music, as both his dad and uncle were active players. By 15, he and his sister, Margie, were performing regularly at Hillbilly Park in east Newark, OH, and he was brought in as a member of their staff band. The two siblings were also featured on WCLT in Columbus during the 1940s.
Following two years in the Army (1953-’55), Sidle was back at Hillbilly Park until being asked to join the staff band at the Wheeling Jamboree. This led to an invitation to play his fiddle as a member of the Grand Ole Opry band, which he turned down for the sake of a stable family life with his wife, Evelyn. From that time, Kenny had a career at Owens Corning, and only played music on the weekends. But following retirement after 20 years on the job, he was back to fiddling.
Over the years Sidle was a member of a number of bluegrass bands in eastern Ohio, including The Cavalcade Cut Ups, house band for the North American Country Cavalcade, broadcast Saturday nights on WMNI, the Independence Band, and the Frosty Morning Bluegrass Band. He also served as a sideman on numerous recordings, and filled in upon request for many other acts.
Unfortunately, not many recordings exist of Kenny on fiddle, but we did find this video of him playing Orange Blossom Special as a guest of Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper in 2014.
This other, somewhat whimsical recording of him singing was included on the 1969 LP offered by The Old Fiddlers Convention in Galax, VA. For many years the Galax Moose Lodge, who put on the annual event, would release an album with the best bits from the various competitions, and in ’69 Kenny was competing with The Southern Partners. Their version of the Reno & Smiley hit, I’m Using My Bible For A Roadmap, made the record even though Sidle, singing lead, forgot the words just a few seconds into the song.
Also appearing as The Southern Partners were Jamie Holt on banjo, Marion Hall on guitar, Marshall Hall on mandolin, Troy Herdman on guitar, and Bob Mason on guitar.
Kenny is remembered by many friends and a loving family for his generosity and humility. Despite his prowess on the fiddle, he welcomed all to play with him, and was especially kind to young people learning to play. He also played for his church for many years, and can be said to have spent a life well lived.
We have no information about funeral arrangements.
R.I.P., Kenny Sidle.
UPDATE 9/16/21 – Arrangements for Kenny’s funeral are as follows:
Visitation will take place on September 20 from 4:00-8:00 p.m. at the Vensil-Chute Funeral Home in Frazysburg, Ohio. His funeral will be at the same location on September 21 at 11:00 a.m.