Barbara was born and brought up in Detroit, Michigan in a community of transplanted Cape Bretoners. Her father was the late John A. MacDonald, a Cape Breton fiddler and founder of the Five MacDonald Fiddlers. Her mother was born in Boston of Cape Breton and Irish parentage and was also a pianist.
Her father was her first teacher, teaching her by ear by slowly playing the tunes on the piano. (he was a fiddler and didn’t know much about the piano) She started formal music training starting at age seven, but admits to not being a very good student; her ear playing got in the way.
Her musical abilities were encouraged by the Cape Bretoners who came to her home for frequent music sessions. One of her mentors was the late Joan MacDonald Boes, noted pianist and composer who also lived in Detroit. Childhood summers spent in Cape Breton also gave her a firm footing in that traditional music. She played for dances, concerts, weddings accompanying such notable Island fiddlers as Buddy MacMaster, Carl MacKenzie, Cameron Chisholm, Theresa MacLellan and John Campbell.
In July of 1970, Barbara made her first of many trips to Ireland where she met such legendary musicians as (the late) Paddy O’Brien, accordion player; flute player and fiddler, Peter O’Loughlin; P.J. Hayes (father of Martin); and fiddler Paddy Canny, among others. She played in a music session in Limerick with all of these musicians and a very young Seamus Connolly. Seamus and Barbara became very good friends and performed together on three of the Masters of Folk Violin tours and at Gaelic Roots at Boston, and they have recorded together. Also in the 70’s Barbara played in an Irish band, The Jackets Green. Subsequently she has also accompanied Irish fiddlers James Kelly, Liz Carroll, Mairead Ni Mahonaigh, and has performed and recorded with Irish concertina player Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin.
She traveled to Ireland in September of 2000 to perform in “The Well,” a play written for the Dublin Theater Festival.
Her experience includes teaching and performing at The Festival of American Fiddle Tunes in Port Townsend, Washington; The California Traditional Music Society Summer Solstice Festival, the San Diego Folk Festival, Valley of the Moon Scottish Fiddling School, Celtic Week at Ashokan , New York, the Gaelic Roots Festival at Boston College and the Rocky Mountain Fiddle Camp .
She was the accompanist for three Masters of the Folk Violin tours sponsored by the National Council for the Traditional Arts and the Smithsonian.
She performed on the west coast of Scotland with Alasdair Fraser and Buddy MacMaster in the Driven Bow tour sponsored by Culburnie UK.
She is adept at accompanying many styles of music very well and according to the Boston Globe, “She is one of the most sought after Celtic accompanists in North America; powerful yet sympathetic.”
Summer Workshop Week