Scott Skinner (biography)

James Skinner was born in a village called Arbeadie in the parish of Banchory Aberdeenshire, on the 5th August 1843.
He came from a musical family and his father William Skinner, was a dance teacher. Originally William had been a gardener but in an unfortunate accident he lost 3 fingers. After his accident, he learned to play his fiddle left handed and held the bow in his damaged hand. James was the youngest of six children.

William Skinner died in 1845 and after seven years his mother remarried and took the family to live in Aberdeen.
James played the cello a bit when he was younger being taught by his older brother. He was good at vamping and was at a very young age (8) playing cello at dances with local fiddler Peter Milne (1824–1908), who came from Kincardine oʼ Neill, Aberdeenshire.
At that time there were no village halls and dances were usually held in barns. Young James often had to trudge many miles to play at these dances. For this, Peter Milne paid him five shillings (25p) a month.

When he was 11 he auditioned and joined Dr Markʼs Little Men, a touring music group (similar in selection to a specialist music school today) and moved to Manchester where he was signed up as an apprentice cellist and violinist in return for food and clothing. Whilst he was there he took lessons with Charles Rougier, a French violinist who played with the new Hallé Orchestra and he taught James to read music and is credited with helping him with composition skills too.

In 1861 James returned to Aberdeen and there he took dancing lessons from William Scott and it is from this time that James added the Scott to his professional name and became James Scott Skinner. James was a champion dancer, winning many prizes and also trained as a dancing teacher. He married Jean Stewart from Aberlour in 1871 and they had a daughter Jeanie and son Manson. They moved to Elgin and set up a business from the dancing classes which covered many of the North of Scotland towns, especially those accessible by rail.

By the 1870ʼs Skinner was traveling widely including the USA and Canada, often accompanying champion dancers and he was doing well playing his own compositions and other show pieces such as those by Paganini so he decided to give up dance and perform full time.
He made his first recording in Glasgow, in 1899. He was one of the very first Scottish artists to be recorded and had to use a stroh violin due to poor recording techniques available at that time. By 1905 he had embarked on a recording career, which lasted until 1922. In this way, his music spread worldwide. During this time he continued to perform in concerts throughout Scotland and he became a household name, often walking from place to place to play music. He was a revered character by this time. In 1911, at Sir Harry Lauderʼs suggestion, he formed ʻThe Caledonian Fourʼ who performed in that year at the opening of the London Palladium. This was a touring concert party who performed dances and little sketches whilst James played fiddle.

In 1917 J. Young Hunter painted his famous portrait which now hangs in the McManus Galleries, Dundee. Six years later, his autobiography, ʻMy Life and Adventuresʼ which was serialised in the Peopleʼs Friend and made him even more famous, though it is not very well written.

He composed more than 600 tunes many of which he published himself in various collections. The Elgin Collection, 1884, bankrupted him and his wife ended up in an asylum through the stress of it and died there in 1899.

James married Gertrude Mary Park in 1899 and that lasted till 1909 when she left for her native Rhodesia.
He died in 1927 in Aberdeen where he lived with his housekeeper Lily Richards. His fitting memorial was erected by subscription and unveiled in 1931 by his old friend Sir Harry Lauder. The Scottish Violinist is one of his most popular books.

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