Common Ground on the Hill has presented the Robert H. Chambers Award for Excellence in the Traditional Arts every year since 2000. The award is named in honor of Robert H. Chambers III, who, as President of Western Maryland College (now McDaniel College) and as a Founding Director of Common Ground on the Hill, understood the innate power and potential of the traditional arts to help foster understanding among people of different cultures. His unwavering support was essential in the early development of Common Ground on the Hill and is remembered gratefully in the naming of this annual award. The award is presented at the Roots Music & Arts Festival held in early July.
Over forty years of performing, Sparky and Rhonda have performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. and the Smithsonian Folklife Festival as well as NPR's On Point, Prairie Home Companion, Mountain Stage, and Morning Edition. Their recording, Treasures & Tears, was nominated for a W.C. Handy Award, and their music is also included on the Grammy-nominated anthology, Singing Through the Hard Times. The Ruckers have been featured tellers at the International Storytelling Center and Festival. Sparky and Rhonda each tell solo stories, but they also tell stories together in tandem, adding life and humor to the characters and tricksters in their Brer Rabbit tales, Jack tales, High John the Conqueror stories, preacher tales, and family stories. Together, they have won awards including the Underground Railroad Free Press Award, the Spirit of Freedom Commemorative Medal of Honor(African American Civil War Memorial), the MLK Art Award from the Dr. Martin Luther King Commemorative Commission, the Howard “Louie Bluie” Armstrong Legacy Award.
Tony Ellis is often described as “the backwoods Bach.” On the National Masters of the Banjo tour, produced by the National Council for Traditional Arts, Tony was introduced as "a banjo and fiddle player of astounding skill and innovation, a legend among people who really know bluegrass and old-time music. His skills as a composer match his instrumental abilities and he has created numerous stunningly beautiful solo pieces for the banjo.” Rarely does a musician so skilled and steeped in tradition have the vision to take the music to new realms within the sonic boundaries of an idiom. Early in his career, Tony performed on tour with the father of Bluegrass, Bill Monroe. Over a two-year period he recorded some twenty-five classic bluegrass cuts. All of his recordings have received critical acclaim and he has received eleven awards from ASCAP. Tony was nominated for the National Heritage Fellowship Award, the highest honor America pays to her traditional artists. In 2003, he became the first recipient of the Ohio Heritage Fellowship Award for Performing Arts. He graced our stage and classrooms in 2004, 2005 and 2007. Thirteen years later, we are ecstatic about his return and honored to include this visionary musician among the other renowned artists who have received the Robert H. Chambers Award for Excellence in the Traditional Arts.
Shelley Ensor led the Common Ground Gospel Choir for twenty-two years and is revered at Common Ground on the Hill as one of its most inspired and treasured instructors. She comes from a highly gifted musical family and possesses a rare, beautiful and powerful voice, resulting in excellence in both sacred and secular music. Her mother and accompanist, pianist Alice Dorsey, raised her daughters with great musical inspiration, purpose and direction. Since childhood, Shelley has sung with her siblings in The Sisters in Harmony, releasing their CD, Your Love, in 2001. Shelley’s credits are many. She was the vocalist with the Howard Burns Quintet, appearing on their CD, Lucinda's Serenade, and performing at the legendary jazz venue, Blues Alley. She is featured on the Ron Kearns CD, Live at Blues Alley, and was the soloist with the Frederick Community College Jazz Band for a number of years. Shelley currently directs the Voices of Faith and the Men’s Choir of First Baptist Church of Baltimore, directed the Trinity Baptist Gospel Choir, the Men's Choir of St. Luke’s UMC, the Bertinna Randall Gospel Choir of St. Mark UMC and the Westminster Church of the Brethren choir in Westminster. For the past six years Shelley has served as the Director of the McDaniel College Gospel Choir, the ensemble that includes both college students and members of the greater community, producing two annual concerts. A songwriter once wrote “…as I look back over my life I can truly say that I’ve been blessed, I’ve got a testimony.” Music has allowed me to express the happiest times in my life. It has given me comfort in the most trying times and it has calmed in chaotic times. Being able to share the gift of music either by performing or teaching has been a blessing to me. My hope is that something I have done has touched someone to the point that they have the desire to pass the gift of music on to someone else. ~ Shelley Ensor In awarding Shelley the Robert H. Chambers Award for Excellence in the Traditional Arts, we celebrate her critical presence in our work throughout our twenty-five year history. She brought the house down at our very first concert in January, 1995, and remains a powerful force for peace and harmony in our community. Shelley’s musical excellence combined with her generous spirit has sustained and inspired each of us to do our best, to be our best.
Grammy Award winner Tim O’Brien is a national treasure of American traditional music. Tim has toured extensively in the U.S. and internationally, has been featured on the Grand Ole Opry, Prairie Home Companion, and is a favorite at major bluegrass and folk festivals throughout the U.S. As co- founder and lead vocalist of the band Hot Rize, he served as an important bridge between the traditional sounds of the hill country and the modern styles of bluegrass in the 1980s. Hot Rize remained together for 12 years, receiving critical acclaim and numerous awards. O'Brien has continued to expand the music's borders as a solo multi-instrumentalist artist, releasing 13 solo albums, including an album of Bob Dylan covers, “Red on Blonde,” and the Grammy-winning “Fiddler's Green.” In short, Tim O’Brien was “Americana” music long before the term was coined. Tim is at once a consummate bluegrass, old time, folk, Celtic, gospel and singer-songwriter musician. His songs are moving, intimate windows into people’s life experiences, realities and desires. His music is at once traditional, history-laden, new and relevant, with heart always at the center. Tim has graced the stages at Common Ground on the Hill for three summer seasons throughout its 25-year history. We are grateful for his presence in and generous contribution to our work, as we strive to serve and inspire our community through the traditional arts. We are most happy and honored to include this West Virginia native and world citizen among the other wonderful artists who have received the Robert H. Chambers Award for Excellence in the Traditional Arts.
Born and raised in Switzerland, brothers Jens and Uwe Kruger started singing and playing instruments at a very young age. Growing up in a family where music was an important part of life, they were exposed to a wide diversity of musical influences. The brothers were performing regularly by the time they were eleven and twelve years old and began their professional career in 1979. They were particularly inspired by recordings of Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs, Bill Monroe, and other progenitors of country, bluegrass and folk music whom they would eventually encounter. Jens’ and Uwe’s first public performances were as a duo, and in just a few years they were busking on the streets of cities throughout eastern and western Europe. CBS Records contracted with the brothers when Jens was seventeen years old, and shortly thereafter, the Krugers hosted a radio show on the Swiss Public broadcast group. Several years later, they teamed up with bass player Joel Landsberg, a native of New York City who also had a very extensive musical upbringing in classical and jazz music. They formed the trio that has been playing professionally since 1995. Together, they established the incomparable sound that The Kruger Brothers are known for today. The trio moved to the United States in 2002 and is based in Wilkesboro, NC. Since their formal introduction to American audiences in 1997, The Kruger Brothers’ remarkable discipline, creativity and ability to infuse classical music into folk music has resulted in a unique sound that has made them a fixture within the world of acoustic music. The honesty of their writing has since become a hallmark of the trio’s work. In their ever-expanding body of work , The Kruger Brothers personify the spirit of exploration and innovation that forms the core of the American musical tradition. Their original music is crafted around their discerning taste, and the result is unpretentious, cultivated, and delightfully fresh. In addition to their regular concert schedule, The Kruger Brothers perform their classical pieces with select symphony orchestras and string quartets throughout the country. Through their numerous recordings, radio and television performances, lectures, and collaborative efforts, The Kruger Brothers’ powerful artistic statement continues to inspire and enlighten audiences and musicians around the world. “The music they make is a tribute to the very idea that indeed America is a melting pot and the sounds that were birthed from the heartland find a universal touchstone.” The Journal of Roots Music Common Ground on the Hill is honored to welcome the Kruger Brothers to its stage, to delight in their music and to present them with the 2018 Robert H. Chambers Award for Excellence in the Traditional Arts.
Guy Davis is a musician, storyteller, author, and actor considered to be “America’s greatest link to the blues right now.” He has been turning out chart-topping, award-winning blues since his debut in 1995. His album Kokomo Kid was named 2016 Acoustic Record of the Year by Blues Blast Magazine and received nominations for the Blues Music Association Acoustic Album of the Year and Acoustic Artist of the Year. These awards follow his 2014 Blues Music Association nominations for Acoustic Album of the Year (Juba Dance) and Acoustic Artist of the Year. The son of famed actor/civil rights activists Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis, Guy celebrates and expands the music and stories he learned at the knees of his parents and grandparents. The Robert H. Chambers Award continues Guy’s history of honors, including awards from National Public Radio and the Blues Foundation, specifically the W.C. Handy Keeping the Blues Alive Award, nine Handy Award nominations, as well as acclaim on and off-Broadway. Guy has been a revered instructor, supporter and friend to all at Common Ground on the Hill throughout its 23-year history. One is just as likely to encounter Guy sharing a song with a campus worker as to hear him in full concert. He embodies all that is good and true about traditional music. We are grateful for Guy’s constant presence in our work and are delighted to present him with the 2017 Robert H. Chambers Award for Excellence in the Traditional Arts.
Born blind in Puerto Rico to humble beginnings, José Feliciano moved to New York City at age five. He learned to play the concertina at age six, using a handful of records as his teacher. At eight, he entertained his classmates at PS 57, and at nine, performed at The Puerto Rican Theater in the Bronx. Venturing beyond the accordion, he taught himself to play the guitar with undaunted determination and again, with nothing but records as his teacher, practicing for as many as 14 hours a day. Exposed to the Rock ’n’ Roll of the 50s, José was then inspired to sing. At 17, he starting playing in coffee houses in Greenwich Village and clubs and cafes from Boston to Cleveland to Detroit, Chicago and Denver. A music critic from the New York Times, referred to him as a “10-fingered wizard who romps, runs, rolls, picks and reverberates his six strings in an incomparable fashion.” He added, “If you want to witness the birth of a star, catch Mr. Feliciano before he leaves tomorrow night.” An A&R executive from RCA, went to the Village, saw José perform and signed him to RCA. This was, indeed, the Birth of a Star. José Feliciano is recognized as the first Latin Artist to cross over into the English music market, opening he doors for other artists who now play an important role in the American music industry. Referred to as “The Picasso of his Realm,” José’s accomplishments are highly celebrated. He’s been awarded over forty-five Gold and Platinum records; he has won nineteen Grammy nominations, earning nine Grammy Awards, including the “LARAS Award for Lifetime Achievement.” His musical career has been immortalized with a Star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. New York City has honored him by re-naming Public School 155 in East Harlem, “The José Feliciano Performing Arts School.” The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, an ancient and prestigious Papal Order of the Catholic Church, knighted José at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. He received a Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut, for his musical, as well as humanitarian, contributions to the world. Guitar Player Magazine awarded him “Best Pop Guitarist,” placing him in their “Gallery of the Greats,” and he was voted both “Best Jazz and Best Rock Guitarist” in the Playboy Magazine reader’s poll. In 1996, José received Billboard Magazine’s “Lifetime Achievement Award.” José’s gifts of time, treasure and talent have earned him the reputation of great humanitarian and “Ambassador of Good Will” throughout the world. “I’ll never forget where I came from or the people who helped my family or me along the way.” For this reason, José will often lend a hand or his name in support of causes that he believes are important. Common Ground on the Hill is honored to welcome José Feliciano to its stage, to hear his soulful music and award him The 2016 Robert H. Chambers Award for Excellence in the Traditional Arts.
Aaron "Professor Louie" Hurwitz was born in Peekskill, New York and was immersed in music throughout his youth, including leading bands that backed up greats such as Fats Domino. By the time he was 18, Louie was touring throughout the country playing piano and organ with Mercury Records recording artists, the Mighty Gospel Giants of Brooklyn. Louie continued to study and perfect his musical abilities, performing in New York City and becoming a sought-after record producer/engineer. He moved to Woodstock, NY, and began work with the legendary group, The Band. Louie co-produced, engineered, and performed on The Band’s last three albums in the 1990s as well as solo projects with Levon Helm, Rick Danko & Garth Hudson. He was tagged “Professor Louie” by The Band’s vocalist/bass player Rick Danko while traveling and performing as a duo here and abroad. Other productions include work with Dave Brubeck, Artie Traum, Livingston Taylor, Guy Davis Buckwheat Zydeco, Graham Parker, Jesse McReynolds, Commander Cody and countless others. Since 2000, Professor Louie and the Crowmatix have recorded and toured throughout the United States, Canada and Europe, with regular sojourns in Siberia. Louie's generosity of spirit and his tireless commitment to both performing and teaching at Common Ground on the Hill have earned him a deserved place among honored recipients of the Robert H. Chambers Award for Excellence in the Traditional Arts.
In 1969, Hot Tuna emerged from the renowned Rock and Roll Hall of Fame group, Jefferson Airplane, to go on to forge a 45-year history that perhaps more than any other group, has illuminated the true roots of rock and roll. Guitarist Jorma Koukenan and bassist Jack Casady are at the core of this venerable ensemble that continues to shine a light on both the past and the future, consistently alternating between acoustic and electric styles. Mandolinist and long-time Common Ground on the Hill instructor Barry Mitterhoff celebrates his 11th year with Hot Tuna this summer. Serious students of the blues pantheon, Hot Tuna have themselves assumed a well deserved place in that wellspring of traditional roots music. Their music rings out at concerts, festivals and clubs throughout the world, bringing it all back home to teach their eager students at the Fur Peace Ranch in Ohio. We are excited to have Hot Tuna with us once again, to play for us and to receive this well deserved award. Common Ground on the Hill has presented the Robert H. Chambers Award for Excellence in the Traditional Arts every year since 2000. This year's award will be presented at 7 PM on July 12th at the Common Ground n the Hill Festival. The award is named in honor of Robert H. Chambers, who, as President of Western Maryland College (now McDaniel College) and as a Founding Director of Common Ground on the Hill, understood the innate power and potential of the traditional arts to help foster understanding among people of different cultures. His unwavering support was essential in the early development of Common Ground on the Hill and is remembered gratefully in the naming of this annual award.