Orrin Star was the first musician from New England to win a National Flatpicking Championship. He triumphed at the competition held in Winfield, KS, in 1976, only seven years after first seeing Doc Watson perform and drawing such inspiration from the performance that he decided he wanted to excel at flatpicking, too. Star, who plays the mandolin, banjo, and guitar, first became acquainted with roots music through the tapes played at home by his family. Star and his brothers shared their father's love for the music of the Clancy Brothers, as well as the songs of Joan Baez. Star developed an interest in making music during his teen years, when he spent time at a Connecticut summer camp, where one of the counselors would take out a guitar and strum some Delta blues. Another camp inspiration was the Rev. Gary Davis, who appeared in concert. Inspired, Star returned to his New Jersey home and started transcribing songs from ancient blues recordings. He also began going to folk festivals and to meetings held by the Princeton Folk Music Society.
In 1969, he first spied Watson flatpicking at a festival. After taking the championship in 1976, Star teamed with Boston-based musician Gary Mehalick. Over the course of eight years, the duo issued a pair of albums. Star and Mehalick also performed on A Prairie Home Companion and toured frequently before Star broke away to go solo. He worked in the Boston area, doing both musical gigs and stand-up comedy for five years. In addition to performing and recording, Star has penned a book of instruction, Hot Licks for Bluegrass Guitar. He also offers instruction on the guitar, both in workshops and privately, and he contributes a column to Flatpicking Guitar Magazine. The musician, based in Brooklyn since 1993, also leads his own band, Orrin Star & the Sultans of String. ~ Linda Seida