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Sharing history, autoharps and empathy

Man of Constant Sorrow is the new song-of-the-month, free download! It is from my album, Long Time Travelling that I’m currently releasing one song at a time, only on my website. Go to the bottom of this page for the intro video and link for the free download.

Ken Whiteley at 13 years old with his first autoharp.

 I learned how to play the autoharp and this song from Mike Seeger (Pete’s half brother).  I probably learned this song when I was 13 or 14 years old.  Mike’s version originally came from bluegrass legends The Stanley Brothers, who had it passed down in their family.  The first published version was in 1913 by a partially blind fiddler and singer, Dick Burnett but the song probably predates that . It’s been done by many people and I combined a number of versions to make my own adaptation. The song tells the story of a “man of constant sorrow” forced to wander far from his home. As we empathize with the words of the singer, let’s remember all of the people right now who are being forced from their homes because of war and injustice. One place, among many, to make a very needed donation is here at UNHCR.

other news …

I recently did some extended interviews looking back over aspects of my long musical journey. One was for  Chris White’s Ottawa folk music show Canadian Spaces on CKCU fm broadcast on March 12. It is #2 of 3 episodes in which I talk about the experience of working with many artists and we play tracks from albums I’ve helped make during my producing career. The show is currently archived on CKCU’s website and Here’s the link. I’ll be back on Chris’ show for episode #3 in April.

Mako Funasaka ( has a long and wonderful history of archiving so many blues, roots and other musicians on both film and audio. For a while now he’s been making his own podcasts sharing many excellent interviews.  We’ve worked together on a number of projects including my “You Better Mind” video but this was the first time we’ve had such an in depth talk. We had a great time taking a walk through some of my long musical history here.

Check back in April when I’ll have the next free song-of-the-month, “Farewell to Nova Scotia” and more news. In the meantime, through these troubled and troubling times, may my telling of these timeless stories in song be a vehicle for empathy, beauty, love and light for each other.

Ken talks about learning the song, how to play the autoharp, adding lap steel and how the song is a bridge to emapthy.

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