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  • Smithsonian Folkways Director Daniel Sheehy, Artists Rahim AlHaj and Michael Alpert among 2015 NEA National Heritage Fellows

    Smithsonian Folkways is proud to recognize the inclusion of Folkways curator and director Daniel Sheehy, and artists Rahim AlHaj and Michael Alpert in this year’s list of NEA National Heritage Fellowship recipients. The fellowship is the National Endowment for the Arts’ recognition of master folk and traditional artists, honoring their contribution to the nation’s traditional arts heritage. It is the United States’ highest award in the folk and traditional arts.

    This year's Bess Lomax Hawes National Heritage Fellow, Daniel Sheehy, was appointed curator and director of Smithsonian Folkways in 2000. An ethnomusicologist and folklorist, he was recruited by Bess Lomax Hawes in 1974 to do research among Mexican American musicians in California. He was a Fulbright-Hays scholar in Veracruz, Mexico, and earned his PhD in ethnomusicology from UCLA. He is author of Mariachi Music in America: Experiencing Music, Expressing Culture (Oxford University Press, 2006) and co-editor of the South America, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean volume of the Garland Encyclopedia of World Music (1998). Under his direction, Smithsonian Folkways has published more than 200 recordings, including the ten-volume Music of Central Asia, the African American Legacy Series (co-sponsored by the National Museum of African American History and Culture), and the Tradiciones/Traditions Series of signature music from Latin America and Latino USA. The Bess Lomax Hawes Award recognizes Sheehy’s significant contribution to the preservation and awareness of cultural heritage.

    An internationally recognized oud player and composer, Rahim AlHaj integrates traditional Iraqi music with contemporary style and influences. He studied at the Institute of Music in Baghdad under the direction of renowned oud player Munir Bashir and composer-performer Salim Abdul Kareem, graduating with a degree in composition in 1990. Imprisoned twice for political activism, AlHaj was active in the underground revolutionary movement and composed the anthem “Why?” using the words of a friend’s poem. AlHaj has released nine CDs and performs internationally. When the Soul Is Settled: Music of Iraqwas released by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings in 2006 and was a 2007 GRAMMY Award Nominee for Best Traditional World Music Album.

    Michael Alpert is one of the finest musicians of the contemporary klezmer revival. A singer, multi-instrumentalist, and dancer, Alpert, while best known for his solo performance, is also a founding member of klezmer band Kapelye. Alpert served as musical director of the PBS Great Performances special Itzhak Perlman: In the Fiddler's House, bringing global attention to Yiddish and klezmer music.  He performs sekund on Steven Greenman’s Khevrisa ensemble on Smithsonian Folkways album European Klezmer Music, released in 2000.

    Sheehy, AlHaj, and Alpert will be recognized with the other awardees at the NEA Awards Ceremony at the Library of Congress on Thursday, October 1 and participate in a free concert at George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium on Friday, October 2, at 8:00 p.m. Both events are free and open to the public; the concert tickets are not yet available and will be first come, first served. The concert will also be webcast live at

    Smithsonian Folkways Director Daniel Sheehy, Artists Rahim AlHaj and Michael Alpert among 2015 NEA National Heritage Fellows | Smithsonian Folkways Recordings