62 Mini Biographies of Scots and Scots Descendants - MacDonald, Johnny Archie

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Mini Biographies of Scots and Scots Descendants (Mc)
MacDonald, Johnny Archie


"This Hugh MacDonald was my uncle.  In 1939, at the age of 86, my uncle Hugh visited my home in Detroit and even then was able to play the old tunes very well.  He too recalled Angus R. Beaton and told me of what a fine violin player Beaton was."

Johnny Archie's fifty-odd years in Detroit include just as many cherished memories as his Judique days and every one of them is related to Scottish music, naturally.  Hi down east dances, which featured such Cape Bretoners as Angus Chisholm, Cameron Chisholm, John Campbell, Donald Campbell, Winston Fitzgerald, Donald MacLellan and Buddy MacMaster, have thrilled Detroiters on many a Saturday night.

Besides dances, J.A. has usually always had a hand in organizing Scottish concerts that have taken place in Detroit from time to time.  He was instrumental in the staging of a concert in Detroit in 1939 in which Mr. Mary (Beaton) MacDonald and the late Gordon MacQuarrie performed.  Another concert he recalls was in 1954 at which tie Fr. Hugh Allan MacDonald and Bill Lamey were guests.  Most recently, Johnny Archie played in a concert for Fr. Tim MacDonald of Forest Glade Mission parish in Windsor, Ontario.

One special memory for Johnny Archie is the period of time in the 1920's when he shared his home with the late 'Little Jack' MacDonald, often referred to as the "Bard of Scottish Music".  Little Jack was a great inspiration to J.A. and on many occasions, when Jack performed in his home, there wasn't a dry eye to be found.

In 1946, J.A. made three 78 rpm records for Mr. Bernie MacIsaac of Celtic Music store in Antigonish, N.S.  He was accompanied by Mrs. Bernie MacNeil, formerly Ann MacDonald of Whitney Pier, Cape Breton, who was an excellent pianist.  She accompanied all the fiddlers at dances and parties in and around Detroit and she was a favorite accompanist of the late "Little Jack" MacDonald.  Mrs. MacNeil, who is still one of J.A.'s dearest friends, was a great help to him in the recording of these records as well as other musical endeavors.

In 1960, J.A. recorded his first of three long play albums for George Taylor, president of Rodeo Records of Canada, Ltd. He was accompanied on the first LP by Mrs. Kathleen (MacMaster) Beaton of Halifax, N.S. and by his daughter Barbara, on the last two.

Music sessions, which used to be a regular "Sunday Afternoon in Detroit" affair, are still held occasionally in J.A.'s home.  It was at a music session in the early 1950's that Allan, Bernie, Dan R., Hugh, and Johnny Archie MacDonald, as wells as their accompanist, Joan (MacDonald) Boes played together.  To the listeners, it was a great sound and certainly a "different" sight.  J.A. then negotiated with Rodeo Records and through much organization, hard work and practice, was instrumental in the production of the "Five MacDonald Fiddlers" album, which quickly became so popular with lovers of Scottish music.

The music doesn't stop with J.A.  Most of his family are also musically inclined.  "I tutored my daughter, Barbara, on strathspeys and reels on the piano when she was six years old.  I am prejudiced I suppose, but I think that she is second to none today as a piano player of Scottish music - or any type of music."  Murdoch, J.A.'s oldest son, also plays the violin, as well as many other instruments and has composed some fine tunes.  J.A.'s daughters, Florence (Mrs. Ray Swetish), Margaret Ann (Mr. Harry Hogur) and Evelyn (Mr. David Phillips) all play the piano some, Ann, (Mr. Fraser Gillis) can step with the best of them.  

Neil and Grant, the two youngest boys confess to being "good listeners".  Another son, Charlie, who resides in Orting, Washington, has recently taken up the pipes.  During a recent trip back to Detroit, he fulfilled a life-long dream, he played the pipes for his father.  He has been studying only a short time - but according to J.A. (and again he says he is prejudiced) "Charlie plays quite well, he has good time and plays the types correct.  Since he did start to play later in life, his best asset is certainly that the music is in him."  Charlie's daughter Sandy is a highland dancer and has won many medals and awards for her dancing in different competitions throughout the West.  Of course, J.A. is quite proud of his offspring (12 children, 25 grandchildren and 8 great-grandchildren) are so fond of music.  He feels that music makes life much fuller and more enriched. (Besides, how many other families have their own 'Lawrence Welk Program" when they get together?).  As he so aptly put it, 'I love our Scottish music even more than the corned hake that is shipped to me every fall from Leslie Toby from Port Hood Island".

Johnny Archie's violin is a Roth which he bought from the late Danny MacDonnell, a former Cape Bretoner who lived in Detroit.  "It is a very fine violin.  The fiddle was in a freak accident when it fell on the ground and was driven over by a car, however, it was repaired by our local filled maker, Cleon Keply, who maintained that the fiddle (which was in a box in a million pieces) was too fine an instrument to throw away.  The fiddle is now as good as new.

On the subject of composing Johnny Archie says "Although I did compose a few strathspeys, reels jigs etc., through the years, since I couldn't read or write music, I would eventually forget them.  However, when the tape recorder came into vogue, I would record them for my own use."

J.A. is still quite active, and makes an annual trip to Cape Breton around July 1st and resides there for the summer in Little Judique Ponds.  He has obtained many recordings of the musicians down east, as well as Toronto and Boston, and Detroit.  One of his greatest pleasures is to sit and enjoy every note of every tune.  He still frequents the summer concerts in Cape Breton and likes nothing better than to sit and talk "old times" with the performers there.  It is the consensus of many that Johnny Archie is a "legend in his time" - always promoting festivities to keep Scottish music in the hearts of people everywhere - so that Cape Breton tradition will live on."


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