Tom Cunningham is a multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter, performer and teacher, and creator of FiddleTales. He has been instrumental in founding, playing and arranging for many of Pittsburgh’s best-known acoustic/bluegrass bands, including bluegrass bands The Flying Cunninghams, The Rank Strangers, swing band The Swing Shifters, and the contra dance band Band du jour. In Louisville, Tom has played with several top acoustic bands, including the midwest’s best contra dance band the Coffee Zombies, the gypsy jazz bands Gypsy deVille and the Hot Club of Derbytown, and Mickey Clark and the Blue Norther, as well as Flat Possum, Blue Murphy and the Doghouse Serenaders, and Next Exit.
In addition, he has played (and acted) in many theatre productions, including, most recently, A Christmas Carol at Actors Theatre of Louisville, for 2 seasons. Tom has also appeared in Woody Guthrie’s American Song, Grapes of Wrath, Christmas at Plum Creek, Quilters and Desire Under the Elms, at Pittsburgh’s City Theatre, Starlight Productions, Prime Stage Theatre and the University of Pittsburgh Theatre Department. The City Theatre production of Woody Guthrie’s American Song toured 4 states in 1995-96.
Tom currently teaches mandolin and fiddle at the Louisville Folk School, and privately at his home in Louisville. Previously, he taught for several years at the Sweetwater Arts Center in Sewickley, PA; and the Calliope Folk Music School in Pittsburgh, PA.Tom has also taught at the Augusta Heritage Center in Elkins, WV.
Along with Kathy Fallon, Tom performed Kathy’s program “From the Emerald Isle to the Shores of Amerikay” for school children in Western Pennsylvania. The program that taught Irish music, dance and culture was administered through Gateway to the Arts.
Tom has produced two albums of solo acoustic guitar music and the CD: Jasmine Jitterbug, with the Swing Shifters. On each of these recordings, he has contributed several original songs.
In creating FiddleTales, Tom has drawn from his myriad, diverse experiences in performing music and theatre, and his teaching, to bring a folksy look at the fiddle: history, sounds, stories, and fun.
More than you ever wanted to know about Tom:
Tom grew up in a musical family outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, or as we used to say, “in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains in southwestern Pennsylvania.” His parents met in the high school band room in Everett, Washington, and made beautiful music together for nearly 50 years.
Tom’s mother introduced Tom, (and most of his 4 siblings) to the violin, starting when he was about 5. His father played the trumpet and listened to New Orleans jazz and swing. By the time Tom was in junior high school, he was taking lessons on both instruments from members of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, and teaching himself guitar.
Tom is eternally grateful to have been exposed to all kinds of music as a youngster; Tom’s mom would cart the family around to bluegrass festivals, jazz concerts, musicals, and lots of classical music performances, in addition to other obscure musical events. The family would play together in church and at home and various combinations would play together in orchestras for local musical productions and other functions. When Tom was in high school, the family won the Musical Family of the Year award from the Amateur Music Makers of America. That led to a trip to New York and an appearance by the whole family on ‘To Tell The Truth’.
During high school, Tom played viola in the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony Orchestra, and played tours of Florida and Europe, including a performance for Princess Grace of Monaco. During college, Tom made a conscious decision to concentrate on acoustic guitar as a main instrument, after having played around with mandolin, banjo, bass and electric guitar, as well as violin, viola, trumpet and baritone horn. Music was only a sidelight at this time, as Tom pursued a career in molecular biology and biochemistry. Tom eventually received an MS degree in biological sciences from the University of Pittsburgh, and worked in several labs at various universities.
In 1995, Tom grew tired of the lab life, and decided to move out on his own as a musician.
Tom’s Senior Programs
Tom Cunningham has performed for hundreds of groups of seniors in: AARP chapters, church groups, retirement communities, adult daycares, assisted living facilities and nursing homes in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Louisville. He has been part of the Mayor’s SummerScene and WinterScene in Louisville, KY the past several years, performing his FiddleTales show as well as playing with the Hot Club of Derbytown.