Work of Duluth's historical singing Scotsman lives on through new album


The folk music of a Scotsman who emigrated to Duluth more than a century ago will be given new life thanks a Northfield musician.

The Scots Gaelic songs performed by highly-regarded singer John Matheson were recorded in Duluth in 1937 and preserved by the Library of Congress.

Modern-day artist Laura MacKenzie came across the recordings and used them to learn Matheson's songs, creating arrangements that will appear on her latest album "From Uig to Duluth", the Duluth News Tribune reports.

Uig is a village on the remote Isle of Lewis, in Scotland's Outer Hebrides, near where Matheson was born in 1875.

He moved to Duluth at the age of 25, and according to Northfield News became held in the highest regard in both Scotland and North America as a singer of traditional Scots Gaelic songs.

MacKenzie, whose work had primarily focused on the Irish folk-scene, became interested in the Scottish angle upon realizing her own grandfather came to Minnesota from a Gaelic-speaking region of Nova Scotia.

"Once I found that out, I became excited about learning Scottish Gaelic music," she told the News Tribune. And once a folklorist friend of hers came across Matheson's records, she used it as inspiration for her new album.

"It occurred to be that it would be a wonderful project to learn (the songs)."

Matheson and others from the Isle of Lewis form an important part of Duluth's history, according to Zenith City Online, which found that at least 100 emigrants from the island made landfall in the Twin Ports during the 1880s, and that prior to Duluth's creation, Lewismen were plying their trade on Lake Superior with the Hudson Bay Company.

Matheson's legacy in the city lives on, with his granddaughter Colleen Birt still resident. She told the News Tribune he used to sing to her when she was young, and described him as having an unusual "very high-pitched and very gentle" singing voice.

MacKenzie will be releasing her interpretation of his work Friday at Duluth-Superior Friends Meeting House in 1802 E. First St., with tickets starting at $10, which includes a copy of the CD.

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