Michael Cleveland receives NEA National Heritage Fellowship

Michael Cleveland with Béla Fleck’s My Bluegrass Heart at FreshGrass 2021 – photo © Dave Hollender

Having won just about every award open to him in the music business, Michael Cleveland has today been named a 2022 National Heritage Fellow by the National Endowment for the Arts. This is the highest award offered in the United States for the folk and traditional arts, with recipients nominated by members of the public, and then chosen by a panel of experts in their fields.

In the bluegrass world, Michael has already been named the Fiddle Player of the Year 12 times by the International Bluegrass Music Association since 2001, and his band, Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper, has been chosen as Instrumental Group of the Year five times. He has received another five IBMA trophies for Instrumental Recorded Performance of the Year on his own tracks, and two more times with other artists. The 2019 Best Bluegrass Album award from The Grammys is also Cleveland’s for his Tall Fiddler project.

As a fellow, Michael will receive a $25,000 grant from the NEA, and will be featured in a film produced by the agency to be shown at the arts.gov web site. All 2022 fellows will be included in the documentary, where the filmmakers will visit them at home and at work.

Cleveland said the news caught him completely unawares.

“This is unbelievable! I have experienced a lot of amazing moments in my career – things I could never even have dreamed of. I still can’t believe I actually get to create and perform music at this level for a living. The news of this fellowship from the National Endowment of the Arts is without question the greatest honor I could ever receive, and I am beyond surprised. My parents have supported me my entire life and this honor goes just as much to them as it does me. Special thanks to all those who made this possible, it means the world. Now let’s pick!”

Michael is also an accomplished guitarist, mandolinist, and banjoist.

Here is a look at him at work with Béla Fleck…

Also awarded fellow ships in 2022 are:

  • Eva Enciñias, Flamenco Artist from Albuquerque, New Mexico
  • Excelsior Band, Brass Band Musicians from Mobile, Alabama
  • Stanley Jacobs, Quelbe Flutist and Bandleader from St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands
  • The Legendary Ingramettes, Gospel Musicians from Richmond, Virginia
  • Francis “Palani” Sinenci, Master Hawaiian Hale Builder from Hana, Hawaii
  • Tsering Wangmo Satho, Tibetan Opera Singer and Dancer from Richmond, California
  • C. Brian Williams, Step Artist and Producer from Washington, District of Columbia
  • Shaka Zulu, Black Masking Craftsman, Stilt Dancer, and Musician from New Orleans, Louisiana
  • TahNibaa Naataanii, Navajo/Diné Textile Artist and Weaver from Shiprock, New Mexico

Many congratulations to Michael, and all the 2022 Fellows!

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.