As a lover of Cape Breton music, I appreciate learning about John Morris Rankin's musical contributions, and about his untimely, tragic death. To lose such a talented musician makes it all the more tragic.
I did not know his work, but was happy to discover that I could listen to him play on three tracks of the Nimbus Records CD, Traditional Music from Cape Breton Island. The notes contain a very good history of this music. A few excerpts follow:
Cape Breton Island, in the eastern Canadian province of Nova Scotia, stands as a stronghold in a Celtic fiddle-music continuum which spans the Atlantic ocean. Originally inhabited by Mi'qmac Indians, the area witnessed an influx of Scottish settlers during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries - immigrants from the Highlands and Islands of Scotland who were forced to flee their native land as a result of a series of traumatic events which culminated in the Highland Clearances. By 1851 it is believed that some 12,000 Scots had arrived in Cape Breton. To this day descendants of those pioneers show a conscious awareness and pride in their Scottish heritage which is reflected in place-names throughout the island such as Glencoe, Inverness and Iona, and in family names like MacInnis, MacNeil, MacDonald and MacKenzie. Transplanted to the New World with these early settlers was a rich, expansive culture which embraced the Gaelic language, folklore and customs, alongside music, song and dance. For the early settlers this culture served as a tangible link with home, and so, in the geographic isolation of Cape Breton Island, the Highland traditions of Scotland were maintained and nurtured. Although the language has, of late, gone into rapid decline, the music - of which the fiddle is the chief exponent - happily has flourished....
The extensive repertoire of the Cape Breton fiddler therefore comtines a variety of sources, both old and new. The core of the material dates from the 'Golden Age' of Scottish fiddle music which enjoyed its heyday throughout the eighteenth century... More recent fiddler-composers include Donald Angus Beaton, Jerry Holland, John Campbell, John Morris Rankin, Dougie MacDonald and Brenda Stubbert...
[Dougie MacDonald] plays regularly along with John Morris Rankin, another multi-talented musician, and, whether exchanging roles at the piano or combining fiddle forces, this duo makes quite an impact. John Morris is from Mabou in the west of Cape Breton, and is a member of the popular Rankin Family Band which includes four of his siblings. His fiddle playing and repertoire reflect the sound of an older generation and a local style.
[Copyrite 1993 Liz Doherty]