We’ve been playing Thile’s music on the Folk Show since he released his first CD at age 13 in 1994.
I thought this article from his hometown newspaper, the Murray (Kentucky) Ledger & Times told the story well:
Former Murray resident Chris Thile is awarded MacArthur Genius Grant
Posted: Wednesday, October 3, 2012 8:22 am
Former Murray resident Chris Thile is awarded MacArthur Genius Grant JOHN WRIGHT • Staff Writer murrayledger.com
Chris Thile’s recognition as one of 23 recipients of the prestigious MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” is validation of all of his years of hard work in music, as well as the teaching he received along the way, his father said.
“I don’t know anyone who has worked harder than he has to get to where he is. I’m very proud of him. He’s an amazing young man,” Scott Thile of Murray said Tuesday, one day after it was announced that Chris was one of the recipients of a $500,000 award that is paid over five years and gives the recipients freedom to pursue a creative vision. Chris Thile was a student at Murray State University in the 1990s, starting as a 16-year-old freshman, and staying a few semesters before leaving at 18 at pursue a professional career.
That career has resulted in acclaim as one of the top mandolin players in the music industry, with two Grammy Awards to his credit, one of which was with the standout group Nickel Creek. He is now a member of the progressive bluegrass outfit the Punch Brothers.
“He learned a tremendous amount during his time at Murray State, and he studied things like classical violin and theory that he had not had before,” Scott said. “The things he learned during his time here have freed him up to expand his musical interests.
“One thing that may come from the MacArthur award is something he’s mentioned recently. He likes the idea of writing chamber music for a bluegrass quintet (which the Punch Brothers is) so that would seem to be a logical conclusion. And there are other things, too, but what this is going to do is give the chance to facilitate his creative endeavors. Plus, he has tried to step out and help other musicians like he was helped in his earlier years.”
An Associated Press story published this week noted that the foundation had a problem in trying to contact the mandolin player about his honor. It stated that Thile did not immediately receive phone calls from the group because he did not recognize the number on his cell phone and was thinking the calls were from telemarketers promoting candidates for political elections. Scott said one of those phone calls came when his wife, Kathy, was driving their son to Nashville from Murray at the end of a recent visit.
“He wasn’t picking up, and I think that comes from him having to be more careful than others (as a public figure),” he said. “I imagine it was pretty tough (for the MacArthur informers) because you know they must have been pretty excited because it is such a big thing, but it was a little with Chris.
Thile then received an ominous message: “Don’t tell anyone about this call.”
“Finally, after they called several times, his road manager looked up the number on Chris’ cell phone and found that it was MacArthur,” Scott said. “Needless to say, Chris was calling them back very quickly after that.”
“I think I must have turned white,” Thile told the AP. “I’ve never felt so internally warm. My heart was racing. All of a sudden, I felt very askew physically. I was trying to catch my breath. ... I thought, ‘Oh my God, did I win a MacArthur?’”
Associated Press reporter Carla K. Johnson contributed to this story.