The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) honor is the nation’s highest in the folk and traditional arts.
Kevin Doyle, an Irish step dancer, is among a select group of artists and jazz musicians who are being honored for mastering the artistic skills and preserving the cultural traditions of their respective art forms.
Governor Lincoln Chafee had high praise for Doyle. “On behalf of the citizens of Rhode Island, I congratulate Kevin Doyle for his recognition by the National Endowment for the Arts,” he said. “As a retired RIPTA bus driver, he exemplifies the very best our state has to offer. His love for Irish Step Dancing and the arts is clear and should encourage others to pursue their passions.”
Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, and Representative David Cicilline, also offered their congratulations, with Reed noting that Doyle “makes Irish step dancing look easy, but he is someone who has poured many years of hard work, sweat, and soul into honing his craft. I think it is great that he is being recognized on a national stage and making Rhode Island and our Irish-American community proud.”
With more than five decades of Irish step dance under his feet, Rhode Island-born Kevin Doyle is a son of County Roscommon through his mother Margaret Taylor Doyle. He is a grandson of County Longford through his father John, whose Irish parents came to live in Providence, Rhode Island’s Fox Point in the early 1900’s.
At the age of eight, Doyle, along with his sister Maureen, began to learn their first Irish dance steps from their mother. He recalls his mother lilting (a way of vocalizing rhythmically using syllables rather than words) old tunes like “McLeod’s Reel,” which she had learned from her own mother in Ireland. In the 1960s, Doyle studied at the Pat Fallon School of Irish Dance with visiting Boston instructors Steve Carney and Mary Sullivan, and at the McCorry School of Dance in Pawtucket, where he learned steps traceable to the old dance masters of Ireland.
Through apprenticeship awards with the Southern New England Folk and Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program and Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, Kevin taught his daughter Shannon traditional Irish dance and she has gone on to become an Irish dance teacher herself. In 2013, Doyle was awarded a Folk Arts Fellowship from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts.
Doyle will be traveling to Washington, D.C. in September, where the 2014 NEA National Heritage Fellows will be honored at an awards ceremony on Wednesday, September 17, and a concert at George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium on Friday, September 19. Both events will be open to the public and the concert will be streamed live at arts.gov.