Biographies of Scots and Scots Descendants (Mc) MacDonald, Johnny
"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
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
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