Fourth-generation old-time fiddler and button accordion player Dwight “Red” Lamb is a master of Danish fiddle and accordion traditions, as well as Missouri Valley old-time fiddling. With more than 60 years’ commitment to collection, recording, preservation, and teaching, Lamb has mentored generations of regional and international musicians and is the 2017 recipient of the Bess Lomax Hawes National Heritage Fellowship.
Lamb, known for his unusual left-handed fiddle style, was born in Moorhead, Iowa, in 1934. Alongside his Danish grandfather, Chris Jerup, Lamb played his first dance on the single row ten-button accordion. Jerup, also a fiddler and button accordion player, learned from his own father in Vendsyssel, Denmark. In 1961, Lamb—also a protégé of Missouri Valley fiddler Uncle Bob Walters, a radio fiddler from Tekamah, Nebraska—entered his first fiddle contest. Lamb has gone on to win numerous awards from fiddle and accordion contests, and, as a nationally certified judge, he has adjudicated contests in nine states.
Lamb is not simply a musician and teacher. Without his efforts, the majority of available recordings of Missouri Valley musicians such as Bob Walters, Casey Jones, Cyril Stinnet, and Lena Hughes, as well as their unique styles, repertoires, and stories, might have been lost. His broad repertoire reflects the confluence of his heritage and his region, as the Missouri Valley fiddle tradition reflects a unique melding of Anglo-Irish traditions with the Scandinavian, Eastern European, German, and Canadian influences of the upper Midwest.
In recognition of Lamb’s preservation of this complex regional style, the state of Missouri invited him to perform at the 1991 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. He was featured again at the 1996 Smithsonian Folklife Festival (which helped to mark the Iowa Sesquicentennial) as well as for the 1996 Iowa Folklife Festival. Lamb received the Iowa Arts Council’s 1998 Folklife Award and has received Traditional Arts Apprenticeship grants in Iowa, South Dakota, and Missouri. Lamb has made numerous recordings, including for Rounder Records; is featured on the 1996 Iowa State Fare CD (Smithsonian Folkways); and has appeared on Iowa Public Television. He has also performed in San Antonio at the 2011 International Accordion Festival and at the 2011 Tønder Festival in Denmark.
Lamb’s international reputation came about late in life when his inclusion of old Danish buttonbox tunes on the album Joseph Won A Coated Fiddle (Rounder, 1999) attracted interest in Denmark, where the music of his forebears had vanished. In 2010-11, Danish accordionist Mette Kathrine Jensen and fiddler Kristin Bugge invited Lamb to Denmark, where he played to sold-out halls. In 2015, the Danish National Commissioner of Musicians awarded Lamb their highest honor, the Rigs Fiddler (Silver Coat) Award, for his work in returning Iowa’s Danish music to its homeland.
Bio written by Rachelle H Saltzman, Oregon Folklife Network