Kevin Burke was born in London, England, to parents who came from County Sligo in Ireland, an area known for its unique style of fiddle music. Frequent trips to visit relatives in Ireland immersed him in Sligo music and, by the age of 13, he was playing fiddle with Irish musical groups. In Ireland he ran into Arlo Guthrie, who heard him perform and invited him to Los Angeles to play on Guthrie’s Last of the Brooklyn Cowboys album in 1972. After performing with Irish musician Christy Moore, Burke joined the seminal group, The Bothy Band. In 1979, Burke left Ireland to re-settle in Portland, Oregon, and for the past 20 years he has been a fixture in the northwestern United States. Initially, Burke teamed up with former Bothy Band member Michael O Domhnaill, and then went on to form two influential bands: the traditional Celtic supergroup, Patrick Street, and the more eclectic ensemble, Open House. Today his name is synonymous with Irish fiddle music around the world.
In 2002, Burke was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts the highest honor given in the United States for folk and traditional arts. In 2016, he received the “Gradam Ceoil” (Musician of the Year) in the traditional-music awards presented by the Irish-language TV channel TG4.