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Mendhi hands by Pushpa Jain. Photographer unknown. All rights reserved.Fish decoy. Photo by Pearl Yee Wong. All rights reserved.Embroidered dress detail. Photo by Pearl Yee Wong. All rights reserved.Cedar bird by Glen VanAntwerp. Photo by Al Kamuda. All rights reserved.
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Photo by Al Kamuda

Margarette Ernst
1986-1987 awardee, Harrison (Clare County), piano player

Margarette Ernst, of Harrison and formerly St. Johns, was born April 16, 1915, and died June 23, 1991, at the age of 76. A piano player her whole life, Margarette skillfully and enthusiastically served as accompanist at traditional dances and music events. Although fiddle and guitar players and other instrumentalists receive much of the spotlight and are lauded for their solos, piano players tend more often to go unrecognized and overlooked. Margarette's piano playing was celebrated by her peers, who relied on her tempos and rhythms to provide the background for their performances.

As an advocate of traditional music who maintained and reinforced the traditions of her community, Margarette kept the beat for old-time Michigan round and square dances for 60 years with her precise piano playing. In her later years, she played with the Memory Lane Band for local senior citizen activities, and performed at Original Michigan Fiddlers' Association jamborees and dances across the state.

A master piano player recognized by other musicians, Margarette also found recognition by giving back to her community, where she regularly performed for numerous local service organizations. According to the St. Johns Reminder community newspaper, "Her piano playing at weekly meetings held by the St. Johns Lions, Rotary and Exchange Clubs contributed a special zest to those groups." (1) Through her performances, Margarette helped foster and encourage the preservation of old-time music and brought about a greater knowledge and appreciation of this music in Michigan.

(1) Obituary. St. Johns Reminder. 25 June 1991.


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