Bluegrass fiddler Kenny Baker has died at the age of 85. The son
of an old-time fiddle player, Baker was born in Burdine, Kentucky.
He took up guitar before becoming interested in the fiddle after
listening to Western swing fiddler and bandleader Bob Wills and
jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli. After serving in the navy during
World War II, he worked as a coal miner in eastern Kentucky while
playing Western swing fiddle semi-professionally.
Baker made his professional breakthrough playing with country musician Don Gibson, and in 1957 began performing with bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe in his genre-defining Blue Grass Boys band. Monroe would often introduce Baker as 'the greatest fiddler in bluegrass'. Baker left the group several times to return to mining, but rejoined in 1968 and stayed until 1984. He then began a long and successful partnership with dobro player Josh Graves.
Known for his smooth, tip-to-tip bowing style, Baker was also a prolific composer of fiddle tunes. In 1993 he received a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.