(Bio Highlights: HERE)
Laura has learned from many noted tradition bearers on both sides of the Atlantic, and has herself been recognized as a Master Folk Artist (Minnesota State Arts Board). Of Scottish heritage (through MacKenzies and Rankins), her people came to America by way of Nova Scotia and Northern Ireland. In St. Paul, Minnesota, Laura learned to play traditional music at ceilis (dances or social gatherings) within the local Irish-American community and soon became immersed in both the music and dance. Laura's powerful array of wind instruments now includes wooden flutes, many whistles, concertina, Scottish smallpipes, Border pipes, French Cornemuse, Spanish Gaita, Medieval English Greatpipes, Leicester smallpipes, gemshorn and voice
In particular, Laura is most grateful for the original mentorship in Irish music from Martin McHugh (of Co. Roscommon and St. Paul, MN), button accordion. Also for the early tuition received from Hamish Moore (Scotland) on Scottish smallpipes, and the wonderful music and lore learned directly from traditional Irish flute players PJ Crotty, Roger Sherlock, Conal O' Grada, Catherine McEvoy, Fintan Vallely, the rich music learned in the company of Irish fiddlers John Kelly Sr., Joe Ryan, Bobby Casey, James Kelly, traditional singer Rita Gallagher....and the English (and French) piping learned from Julian Goodacre and Jon Swayne, the Gaelic songs learned from Hector MacNeil, Angus MacLeod (Cape Breton, Nova Scotia) and Fiona Smith (British Columbia,CA), the dance steps learned from Bhreagh MacDonald and Jean MacNeil (Cape Breton, NS)...one could fill pages with these beloved mentors of traditional music!
Laura and her colleagues played a major role in the revival of Irish music and dance in the Upper Midwest as the Northern Star Ceili Band, steaming up dance halls for seven years. During this time, Laura was also a founding member of a dance performance ensemble, the Mooncoin Ceili Dancers, and studied Irish step dancing heartily. Along the way there was some measure of formal study in anthropology and music, but her best education has been with her comrades and favorite "teachers" - the players of traditional music - in kitchens, pubs, folk schools and dance halls across Ireland, Scotland and the United States.
Laura has enjoyed vast and varied experience in the world of music while developing as a performing artist. She has been a production assistant for "A Prairie Home Companion", partnered a rare music import business, worked for a folk instrument-building business, was employed as a teaching assistant in ethnomusicology and toiled happily in the archives of traditional music at the School of Scottish Studies, University of Edinburgh. Eventually, the role of performer won out.
In performance, Laura has worked with many ensembles, from Boiled in Lead (world beat rock 'n reel), Walking On Air (British Isles folk), and Macha Trí (Celtic trio) to Lorie Line's Pop Chamber Orchestra, with whom she toured nationally from 1997-2005. With Lorie Line, MacKenzie was able to add "stunt piping" to her resume. Laura has been privileged to perform with some of the great names in Irish music, including Dáithí Sproule (of Altan) Paddy O'Brien, Liz Carroll, Martin Hayes and Katie McMahon (of Riverdance). She has also been honored to share the stage with heroes of Scottish and English piping, Hamish Moore, Jon Swayne and Julian Goodacre. Her love for the music of various piping traditions and passion for playing these instruments has lead her more recently to the music of Central France and Northern Spain, all of which she encompasses in performance.
Laura has been a featured performer for the National Flute Association and for public radio, including appearances on A Prairie Home Companion and Voices of Minnesota. She has performed on stage in extended theatrical productions at the Guthrie Theater (with T.R. Knight of Grey's Anatomy) and with Pulitzer Prize winning Irish author Frank McCourt (of Angela's Ashes). Laura performed in the acclaimed world premier of "Steerage Song" with Theater Latte Da, Minneapolis. In 2016, MacKenzie founded her "big band" Brass Lassie, and continues as a featured performer with the ensemble. Solo and with bands, Laura has performed at folk festivals across the United States, including the Milwaukee Irish Fest, North Texas Irish Festival, Champlain Valley Folk Festival, the Great River Festival, Dublin Irish Festival, Winnipeg Folk Festival in Canada, the Pipers Gathering in Vermont, and the Bagpipe Society's Blowout in England.
HONORS AND AWARDS
A number of honors have been awarded to Laura over the years for her participation and dedication in this realm of music. She was selected to perform in the original Cherish the Ladies concert series in New York, featuring noted women in Irish music in America. She placed in traditional singing at the Chicago Fleadh Cheoil, which meant the privilege of singing at the annual Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann (in Ireland). In Minnesota, Laura has won MN Music Academy Awards in both Celtic vocal and Celtic instrumental music.
Laura was particularly honored to be awarded recognition as a Master Folk Artist by the State of Minnesota (through the Minnesota State Arts Board). Through a program supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, she was selected for the culturally diverse American Traditions roster. As a solo artist, Laura has been awarded a McKnight Foundation Performing Arts Fellowship, a Minnesota State Arts Board Performing Arts Fellowship, a Jerome Foundation grant, and was also awarded a Bush Foundation Fellowship in Traditional and Ethnic Performing Arts, one of the nation's most prestigious artists' awards.
In November of 2014, the Irish Music and Dance Association gave tribute to Laura with an event honoring her contributions and work in traditional music in Minnesota and beyond. November 22 was declared, by proclamation, "Laura MacKenzie Day" by St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman. In 2018, Laura was honored by the Minnesota Scottish-American community with a Lifetime Achievement award. Along with flutist Amy Shaw, in 2020 Laura was awarded an American-Scandinavian Foundation Fellowship.
RECORDING AND PRODUCING
As a player and producer, Laura is often engaged for live shows and studio projects, and can be heard on numerous recordings and on several documentary films. She has produced and co-produced a good number of commercial recordings (corporate labels) of traditional music, one of which sold over 585,000 copies. In 2003, MacKenzie produced and released two of her own recordings (simultaneously) on the New Folk Records label -"Evidence" and "Laura and The Lads" - with enthusiastic reviews. In 2013, Laura produced and performed on a recording ("The Master's Choice") featuring her original mentor in Irish music, Martin McHugh. Laura recorded, produced and launched "From Uig Duluth" in October 2014, a special project involving a Scottish Gaelic music legacy in Minnesota. In 2015, New Folk Records released her compilation CD, "Heigh Ho, The Green Holly". In 2018 Laura co-produced the debut album of her fantastic ensemble Brass Lassie. In 2022, Laura is producing a recording project titled "Ceòl-acanth".
As a guest artist, Laura has recorded with many singers, composers and instrumentalists, including Peter Ostroushko, Dean Magraw, Billy McLaughlin, Peter Mayer, Ann Reed, Diane Jarvi, Gary Rue, Chuck Suchy, Jeff Victor, Marc Anderson, Marty Haugen, Liam Lawton, Sunita Staneslow, Ann Heymann, Dáithí Sproule, as well as Katie McMahon, Lorie Line, Boiled in Lead, and many others.
Laura produced and performed in "Gaelfest!", part of The O'Shaughnessy's Women of Substance series, which also featured such notable artists as Natalie McMaster and Sweet Honey in the Rock. With seven musicians and eight dancers, these shows were a smashing success. Laura also co-produced the popular and festive "Charladies Christmas" shows, holiday celebrations of traditional music and dance.
MacKenzie currently performs solo and in duos with Dáithí Sproule, Gary Rue, Ross Sutter (as Ross & MacKenzie), and with harpist Andrea Stern (as Willow Brae). Laura also appears with the trio Laura MacKenzie and the Lads, The Frothy Band, Brass Lassie, SimpleGifts with Billy McLaughlin, and with Cumar - a West African/Irish collaboration. In St. Paul (Minnesota) she teaches students of Irish and Scottish music on whistle, flute, Scottish smallpipes and English concertina. One of her more recent CD releases hearkens to her Scottish heritage, celebrating a Scottish music legacy in Minnesota. Today, Laura fills life with performance, studio projects, teaching, show production and the imagining of pine forests. She delights in being a Bush Foundation Artist Fellow, a McKnight Fellow, and the recipient of an American-Scandinavian Foundation Fellowship in Folk Arts and Cultural Traditions.
"Northfield's Laura MacKenzie - Celtic Music Wizard"
by historian Susan Hvistendahl (2013)
"Catching Up with Celtic Music Wizard Laura MacKenzie" by Susan Hvistendahl (2016)
"Laura MacKenzie - A Bounty of Sound" by Siobhán Dugan (2012)