First Published In The Music & Sound Retailer’s February 2007 Issue
Les Paul once said, “Just one hell of a great player…she plays the guitar like we all wish to play.” He was talking about Muriel Anderson, who I first met when she attended the 2005 Winter NAMM Samick press conference announcing me as the electric guitar clinician for Greg Bennett guitars. Greg introduced me to Muriel, calling her “a Chet Atkins prodigy.” While our guitar styles differ, we quickly found common ground in our goals to bring music education to underprivileged children. Six months later, I performed at her NAMM show event, Muriel Anderson’s All Star Guitar Night, and from that point on we have worked together to make her non-profit organization, the Music For Life Alliance, even more effective in accomplishing our mutual goal.
Muriel studied guitar with classical virtuoso Christopher Parkening and Nashville legend Chet Atkins. In 1989, she became the first woman to win the National Fingerpicking Guitar Championship. Her roughly 150 annual tour dates include both concerts and guitar workshops. She may be physically petite, but her virtuosity on the guitar and endearing sense of humor make her a giant on stage.
I picked her up at the airport upon her arrival in Charlottesville, Va., and we enjoyed some good conversation over lunch:
Ravi: How has All Star Guitar Night, now in its 14th year, impacted your music and career given that many great relationships have formed and grown based on your collaborations on that coveted stage?
Muriel Anderson: I’ve had the opportunity to play music with some great musicians both onstage and backstage. That’s always an inspiration and I’ve learned some cool ideas from some of the players there, like doing my twist on Pete Huttlinger’s arrangement of “Superstition” and Tommy Emmanuel’s “Day Tripper.” Producing All Star Guitar Night has been a great way to get together with other guitarists. Some of us have ended up recording together, and it has created new friendships as well. I think of it not as career building but as a social activity—that’s what it has been from the very beginning.
Ravi: All Star Guitar Night is a fund-raiser for your organization, the Music For Life Alliance. What was the inspiration for starting the organization?
Anderson: It’s a rather long story. Actually, the more detailed story is quoted in John Schroeder’s book Between the Strings. The inspiration started from a nearly daily series of crime on my block reported to be by young people looking for drug money. I met with some city officials and community leaders to discuss what could be done, and what I could do as an individual and a musician to address this problem. In speaking with them, I realized that the “just say no” campaign probably doesn’t work so well when arts and music programs have been cut from lower income school systems leaving little to “say yes” to. I realized that through the contacts I had made via All Star Guitar Night, the musicians union, and city officials; and with the success I’d had in teaching guitar to that age group, I could put together a program to get instruments and lessons to kids who might not otherwise get the chance to play music. This original program, “Music for Life,” was derailed due to the fact that the head of the juvenile court, Andy Shookov—my main proponent and organizational ally—lost the election that year. However, the seed was planted and its ideas floated around, eventually landing in the hands of Jessica Turner, who developed the highly effective program Guitars in the Classroom, as well as the Sheldon Concert Hall in St. Louis that developed the program Music for Lifelong Achievement. Now my nonprofit, the Music for Life Alliance, helps to support such programs by creating a national database and helping to unify our efforts. Ravi, I know you’re actively promoting the importance of playing music in the lives of young people. That’s why I asked you to represent us at NAMM. Thank you for that.