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Ian Kirkpatrick

2021 Emerging Traditional Artist Grant Recipient

Ian Kirkpatrick

Recipient Information


New Tazewell, Tennessee



Year of Award


Grant or Fellowship

Emerging Traditional Artists Program

Grant Amount


Ian Kirkpatrick (he/him) is a ballad singer based in New Tazewell, Tennessee. Though he grew up surrounded by gospel music, he says, “it wasn’t until college that I learned the term "ballad" and began to explore this particular repertoire with intention.” He has since immersed himself in the community of ballad singers in Madison County, North Carolina, and, in 2020, participated in an In These Mountains Folk & Traditional Arts Cross-Border Apprenticeship with his mentor, National Heritage Award-winning ballad singer Sheila Kay Adams. With Adams, Ian “was able to learn in the traditional ‘knee-to-knee’ style, where a specific song is taught in a sing-and-repeat fashion.” Ian has also apprenticed with Tennessee ballad singer Carmen McCord Hicks, from whom he learned a different repertoire of ballads unique to his home region of East Tennessee.

Ian sees his study and practice of traditional English ballads as a return to his family’s heritage. “At one time,” he explains, “this art form was commonly practiced by my family and my community. I have friends and relatives who continue to sing those ballads that were able to survive in the bluegrass and country genres, though they often do not know the history of those particular songs. The Tennessee families that once sang folk ballads began singing country songs, and the few ballads they preferred were modernized and sung to musical accompaniment… My style preserves a Capella performance aspect that has largely died out in the area outside of my family.” He represents the seventh generation in his family to practice balladry.

Along with other young ballad singers in the region, Ian started a virtual “ballad swap” during the pandemic, which mimics traditional, in-person ballad swaps. The group includes elders like Sheila Kay Adams, Carmen McCord Hicks, and 2020 In These Mountains Folk & Traditional Arts Master Artist Fellowship recipient, the late Bobby McMillon. After McMillon’s passing in 2021, Ian will use his Emerging Traditional Artists Program award to study the extensive library of ballads McMillon collected throughout his life. “I can think of no better way to honor Bobby’s memory,” Ian says.