Showcasing the Arts

July/Aug. 2016 Featured Artist:
Sue Massek


Sue MassekSue MassekSue Massek has been performing as a soloist and in a band for more than 50 years. In addition to being a master artist with the Kentucky Arts Council’s Folk and Traditional Arts Apprenticeship program, she has the distinction of being in the first graduating class of the arts council’s Community Scholars program. I have been working as a performing artist for over a half century, including nearly 40 years of playing and singing with the Reel World String Band. I moved from Kansas to Kentucky in 1976, and my work with the Kentucky Arts Council includes over 30 years as a teaching artist, one year as circuit rider, and three years as a folklorist in residence. I have been both apprentice and master artist for the Folk and Traditional Arts Apprenticeship program. The arts council has given me opportunities to hone my skills as an artist and educator and provided what I needed to sustain using music as my main source of income.

My work with Reel World, “Kentucky’s feminist hillbilly band,” includes international experiences as well as extensive touring throughout the United States, from picket lines in the coal fields to the Lincoln Center in New York City. We have seven recording projects from vinyl to CD and have been featured in several anthologies. Along with Frank X Walker, we received the 2011 Lauren K. Weinberg Humanitarian Award given by the Kentucky Conference for Community and Justice. Reel World has been mentored by the Highlander Center since 1977 and we have used our music as a tool for social justice and shepherding our environment and its sustainability.

I have been blessed to work closely with iconic Kentucky artists including Lily May Ledford, Clyde Davenport and Blanche Coldiron. I worked for the Kentucky Foundation for Women for seven years and as a cultural organizer for the Appalachian Women’s Alliance. I have three solo recording projects: “Searching for Shady Grove,” “Brave is the Heart of a Singing Bird” and “Precious Memories, the Songs of Sarah Ogan Gunning.” “Precious Memories” is a companion CD that includes all the songs in the one woman play about Sarah and her sister Aunt Molly Jackson. Alice Gerrard has added fiddle and vocals on the CD. The play was written for me by the renowned folk singer, organizer and songwriter, Si Kahn, who also sings on the CD. The “Precious Memories” CD rose to No. 2 on the International Folk DJ List and was No. 7 for 2015. I frequently combined all of my musical, acting and feminist perspective regarding Appalachian culture to present college residencies.

Sue Massek
Willisburg, Ky.


Page last updated: June 1, 2016
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