MARQUETTE, Mich.— Legendary harmonica player Les Ross Sr. of Marquette will receive the 2010 Upper Peninsula Folklife Award. The award recognizes individuals or groups who have made an important contribution to preserving, promoting and/or documenting the folk culture of the Upper Peninsula. It is presented annually by the Northern Michigan University provost’s office and the Beaumier U.P. Heritage Center. Ross will be honored at the third annual Upper Peninsula Folklife Festival at NMU. The presentation ceremony is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 11, on the main dance stage on the University Center lawn. Ross will also play music at the festival at noon that day with Oren Tikkanen and Randy Seppala. There is no charge to attend the festival. Born in 1923 and raised in the Eben area, Ross was captivated by the harmonica music of the local Finnish lumberjacks and members of his family. He received his first harmonica as a gift from his father at age 7. For the past eight decades, Ross has played at venues across Michigan. He is one of few surviving players of the unique “lumberjack” style of harmonica, in which the chords and melody are played at the same time. He has been working with the Michigan Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program to teach the style to other musicians. Ross has received several awards for his harmonica talents, most notably the 2009 Michigan Heritage Award at the annual Great Lakes Folk Festival in Lansing. He is also the only Finnish American musician from the Northern Great Lakes area ever invited to perform at the National Folk Festival. Ross has produced one CD, Hulivili Huuliharppu (“Rollicking Harmonica”), and plays with several ensembles including his Finnish American All-Stars, Wil Kilpela and Friends and Lumber Jakki. His son, the late Les Ross Jr., was also an important musician in the Upper Peninsula, having co- founded the Finnish reggae group Conga Se Menne.
September 2, 2010