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Native Guitarist Wins International Award

Betty Ann Adam

Micmac guitarist, Don Ross, has proven that persistence is rewarded. The 27 year old Montreal Native finally brought home first prize at the prestigious National Finger Pick Guitar Championship at the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, Kansas. He first played at the festival in 1986 and in 1987 he placed third. By winning the top honours, Ross becomes the first Canadian and the first Indian to do so.

Ross feels that playing four of his own compositions helped him win because the judges took not only for technical excellence, but also for sensitivity and the ability to communicate through music.

Ross, who was born to a Micmac mother and Scottish father, graduated from York University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts music major in 1983, before going to Massachusettes and New York for two years to study with the Conventual Fransiscans. He decided to return to music and taught at the Kehewin Reserve in Alberta for six months and then embarked on a professional performing career.

In 1986 he paid for and recorded a number of songs on a tape called Kehewin, named for the reserve where he wrote the title song.  He continues to distribute the tape himself.

Ross plays a wide variety of guitar music: he and his band, Eye Music, performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland to rave reviews; as part of the Harbord Trio, who play traditional Canadian and British folk music, he entertained at the Regina Folk Festival and held workshops there with Buffy Sainte-Marie; and in 1987, he was featured at the Bernadette Peters Gala Benefit Concert held at Toronto's Roy Thompson Hall where he played with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Native conductor, John Kim Bell. The concert featured orchestrated versions of Ross' compositions.

Don says he appreciates the assistance he has received from the Canadian Native Arts Foundation in pursuing his musical career. John Kim Bell, the founder and president of the Foundation, has said,"'s quite spectacular that a Native Canadian won this international award, and definitely an achievement that all Canadians should applaud and take pride in."

Ross has recently signed a recording contract with Duke Street Records, notable for their recordings of. Jane Siberry and Moe Kaufmann, and will release his first solo album in February. It will be released in Canada and the United States with possible distribution in Japan and Europe.

Another exciting project he is undertaking, is a commission to write a new score for the theatrical production, "The Ecstasy of Rita Joe", which will be staged at York University in February.

"'87 and '88 have been good years for me," says Don "and it looks like 1989 will be even better." The Harbord Trio plans to return to the West in April, with possible dates in Edmonton, Bonnyville, Regina and Saskatoon.