Eddie Bond is Honored by the NEA
Virginia Humanities recently announced that celebrated old-time fiddler Eddie Bond has been honored with the 2018 National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship (NEA). The fellowship, awarded annually by the NEA, highlights the breadth and excellence of the artistic traditions found in communities across the United States, and is the highest honor the United States bestows upon traditional artists. Bond, who hails from the southwestern Virginia town of Fries (pronounced “Freeze), is one of nine National Heritage Fellows for 2018, and received $25,000 for the honor. He was recognized at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. in September, where he joined the other Heritage Award recipients for a free concert and celebration. Bond was nominated for the fellowship by Virginia State Folklorist and director of Virginia Humanities’ Virginia Folklife Program Jon Lohman, who noted the Commonwealth’s “embarrassment of riches” when it comes to old-time musicians. “Anyone will tell you that Eddie is as special as they come,” Lohman said, “and he is much deserving of this national recognition.” In addition to being one of the most respected fiddlers in the region, Bond is also a powerful singer in the soulful Appalachian tradition. He was raised in a family of musicians in his Grayson County mill town. Bond was taught by a maternal grandmother who passed along the Hill family’s musical heritage, which is well documented in the Library of Congress’ archival field recordings. Bond first learned the guitar before moving on to the banjo, autoharp, and finally, his signature instrument, the fiddle. The news of the award immediately had him reflecting on his musical upbringing. “My mind just kind of flooded with memories of all the old timers that I learned these tunes from,” Bond said, “They were always there. Down here, playing this music comes as naturally as breathing. I feel so blessed that I get to carry it on.” These days fans can hear Bond showcase his artistry as lead singer and fiddler for the New Ballard’s Branch Bogtrotters, ranked among Virginia’s most respected old-time string bands. The band is a staple at Galax-area community dances and gatherings and frequent first-place winners at the Old Fiddlers’ Convention, where he has twice been named Best All-Around Performer (arguably the highest honor in old-time music). Bond has performed throughout the country and overseas, including at festivals from Australia to Ireland, where he regularly trades tunes with the local masters. Like many of his fellow masters, Bond also takes time to share the lessons he has learned with the next generation at jam sessions, fiddling conventions, and by teaching a string band course at a local high school.