New Brunswick

Legendary fiddler Matilda Murdoch dies at 99

Miramichi's Matilda Murdoch was considered a fiddle legend. She received the Order of Canada and the Order of New Brunswick.

'She had many accolades and many awards but she would never brag about that,' says friend

Matilda Murdoch is a self-taught talent. At 10 years old, she picked up a fiddle and, 86 years later, she has yet to put it down. (Bridget Yard/CBC)

​Miramichi fiddle legend Matilda Murdoch died Saturday, just days after celebrating her 99th birthday with family and friends.

"She was known as the 'Queen of the Fiddle' here on Miramichi," said Susan Butler, longtime friend and director of the Miramichi Folk Festival.

"This past week, on Wednesday, she celebrated her 99th birthday. She played all evening with all the other musicians that were there."

Murdoch was a well-celebrated musician. In 2002, she received the ECMA Stompin' Tom Connors Award for lifetime achievement in music.

Self-taught

She was also inducted into the North American Fiddle Hall of Fame in New York and the New Brunswick Country Music Hall of Fame and is well remembered for her song Loggieville Twostep.

Self-taught, she first picked up the instrument as a child, when her father brought a fiddle home.

According to Connie Doucet, another longtime friend and fellow musician, she had written hundreds of songs since — songs that went on to be recorded by musicians such as Don Messer.

"She had many accolades and many awards but she would never brag about that," Doucet said.

"And when she would get together with other musicians she was always almost the first one there and the last one to leave — and she totally enjoyed it. Playing music was one of her true passions."

Matilda Murdoch wowed audiences young and old. (CBC)

Murdoch, as humble as she was, commanded a great deal of respect, especially from younger people, said Butler.

Butler recalls her walking down the street in Chatham, her fiddle over one arm and her purse in the other, heading for O'Donaghue's.

'The young crowd just idolized her'

"It was always common knowledge for her to go into O'Donaghue's Pub," Butler said. "It was quite a popular place for playing music.

"And when she'd walk into there everybody just stopped and just admired her and she'd be in the building no more than five or 10 minutes and then the music would start. The young crowd just idolized her."

Her accolades and achievements seem endless. She was inducted into the Order of Canada and the Order of New Brunswick and received a lifetime achievement award from Music New Brunswick in 2016.

But perhaps her greatest achievement was in bringing her community together through countless concerts and kitchen parties, and her kindness.

"She was genuine and she was kind and that's what I admired most about her," Doucet said. "And she always wanted to know about when you met her, how you were doing and it wasn't, 'Oh, look at me, I can play the fiddle and I've recorded this.' She was very down to earth and she will be missed."

Matilda Murdoch's violin case put in some miles. (CBC)

Doucet said musicians clamoured for a chance to play with her.

"During the Irish festival we had fiddlers that were coming over from Ireland and wanting to play with her. And so everybody knew her," she said.

She was well known, far and wide, but especially on the Miramichi, where she was known simply by her first name.

Like Cher

"When you said Matilda, you knew who — you know, like Cher," Doucet said.  

"Who doesn't know Matilda Murdoch," Butler said.

As a result, her death is a loss that will be shared by the whole community, said Miramichi Mayor Adam Lordon.

"That, I think, is the true testament of her character, to be a woman of such talent but still of such humility," he said. "And it just felt like she was born to play the fiddle.

"So when you got to see her do that you felt like you were just in the presence of something special."

But her legacy, he said, will certainly live on.

"No matter what part of the city or the region you're from you would speak of Matilda with great pride, as she truly was and will forever be, one of the iconic Miramichiers of the ages."

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