Popular Japanese bluegrass artist Maro Kawabata died unexpectedly yesterday at the age of 51. He left behind many friends in the worldwide bluegrass community, who remember him fondly for his kindness, good humor, and superb musicianship.
Maro was born in Kyoto, where he was raised, before coming to the United States for college. He returned to Japan after completing his studies but eventually settled in the US, and was living currently in Nashville. Repeated trips back home with prominent American grassers in tow made Kawabata something of a bluegrass ambassador in his homeland. Artists such as Sammy Shelor, Don Rigsby, and Terry Baucom had accompanied him on these tours.
Fittingly, Bill Monroe was Maro’s introduction to bluegrass; at 12 years old, he discovered Monroe performing on Japanese television. Soon he was collecting Monroe albums and studying the music with intensity along with his brother, Takaharu.
His reputation as a strong bluegrass guitarist was solidified with a 2010 solo project, Sunset Drive, which we reviewed at the time of its release. The album featured contributions from Shelor and Rigsby, along with Adam Steffey, Andy Ball, Rickie Simpkins and Ronnie Rice. Maro was also assisted by fellow flatpickers Wyatt Rice and Richard Bennett.
A previous recording, Carolina Blue, was released in 2001 on Copper Creek Records.
Here is a video of Maro picking Daley’s Reel with Hiroki Maeta in Onomichi, Japan a few months ago.
Maro was in Japan when he passed. Details about his death are sketchy at this point, though he had been hospitalized in Fukuoka earlier this year. No information about arrangements has been announced.
R.I.P., Maro Kawabata.