Born completely blind, Michael started on the fiddle at four years old, determined as a youngster that he wanted to pursue bluegrass music. By age nine, he was brought up on stage by Bill Monroe to perform with The Bluegrass Boys at Bean Blossom. Alison Krauss recognized the young Cleveland’s skill as well, and had him appear with her on the Grand Ole Opry around the same time.
In 1989, Louisville television station WHAS prepared this feature on a nine year old Michael, as part of their Crusade For Children fund promotion. It shows just how clear it was at this stage that Cleveland was headed for something special.
The IBMA showcased him as well, making him part of their Bluegrass Youth Allstars in 1993, who performed on the Awards Show that year. Other members included fellow future stars Chris Thile, Cody Kilby, Josh Williams, and Brady Stodgil.
It all came together in 2006 when Michael formed his own band, Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper, who have consistently performed and recorded some of the finest in bluegrass music, resulting in ten IBMA Awards for Fiddler of the Year. His most recent album, Tall Fiddler, won the Best Bluegrass Grammy last year.
The Governor’s Arts Awards are given every other year to Indiana citizens who have made exceptional contributions to arts in the state. 2020 awards were not distributed until this year owing to pandemic shutdowns.
A complete list of 2020 recipients follows:
- Jim Bodenmiller, Advocate, West Lafayette
- Michael Cleveland, Musician, Henryville
- Hurley Goodall, Advocate, Muncie
- John Green, Author, Indianapolis
- Harrison Center for the Arts, Organization, Indianapolis
- Amy Oelsner, Musician, Bloomington (Emerging Artist Award)
- Robert and Barbara Stevens, Advocates, Columbus
You can see last month’s Governor’s Arts Award presentation online.
Congratulations, Michael Cleveland! No award could be more acutely deserved.