Renee Vaughan plays traditional Scandinavian music on the nyckelharpa, an instrument that has been around in one form or another for over 700 years. She effortlessly captures the rustic charm and ethereal essence of the Nordic tradition.
Her dedication to nyckelharpa and traditional Swedish folk music earned her a prestigious fellowship from the American Scandinavian Foundation in 2022, providing her with the opportunity to study extensively under the guidance of master nyckelharpist Cajsa Ekstav.
In addition to her regular performances at American Swedish Institute, Norsk Høstfest, and the Nisswastämman (now DuluthStämman,) she has led numerous workshops aimed at fostering interest, participation and ultimately connection to Scandinavian folk music.
A versatile collaborator, Renee lends her talent to a diverse array of musical projects throughout the northern heartland area, ranging from intercultural and intergenerational bands to educational presentations and storytelling performances.
Beyond her artistic endeavors, Renee is deeply committed to community building within the Scandinavian folk music scene. She co-hosts the monthly Nordic social dances along with the annual Twin Cities Nordic Ball, and she organizes many concerts and workshops for touring Scandinavian Artists.
During her upcoming Musician-in-Residence at the UW-Madison, Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures,(Spring 2024) Renee will focus her research on uncovering the contributions of previously unknown first-generation Swedish immigrant musicians (1885-1910) to Minnesota. Another project will be to trace the journey of the nyckelharpa from its Swedish roots to the Upper Midwest. Finally, Renee has a keen interest in creating an online catalogue of Upper Midwest Scandinavian Allspel tunes to facilitate learning and preservation of this rich musical tradition.
"In 2009, I studied Swedish folk painting and borrowed a recording of Swedish folk tunes from the local library to fuel my inspiration. When I heard Eric Sahlström playing a bondpolska on nyckelharpa, it was an instant love for both the rhythm and the instrument."
Renee Sunflower Vaughan was born in a VW van headed for Woodstock. Members of the commune doted on the budding musician and encouraged her interpretation of Tracy Partridge’s game-changing tambourine work.
Young Renee had a difficult transition to life on the outside. At the impressionable age of 16, she hitchhiked along the famed Route 66, when the first car to stop for her was a lime-green 1972 Ford Pinto--and inside, Sammy Davis Jr. and Carol Channing.
The trio toured the country playing their vaudeville revival act to second-rate hotels and casinos. At some point during their journey, Carol began the daunting task of taming and refining the free-spirited young lady. She instructed Renee in the art of social graces, teaching her how to dress gorgeously and walk steadily. Carol also shared her unique lipstick application techniques with the yet-to-blossom-beauty.
Sammy's role in Renee's education was more simple, yet immeasurably more difficult--he instructed the young beauty in the tender arts of love. At last, when they could teach her nothing more, Renee, Carol, and a broken-hearted Sammy parted ways the best of friends.
Renee traveled to the Land of 10,000 Lakes to see if it was indeed as unforgettable as her future musical trophy husband, Prince (RIP) had described.
Once in Minnesota, she learned how to make a Swedish nyckelharpa from an old tree stump, goat entrails and a discarded typewriter. This new instrument allowed Renee to further pursue her creative vision. She forged ahead into the wild of her new home state, armed only with a nyckelharpa, and an abundance of confidence.
Success came quickly and she found herself overwhelmed by the enthusiastic, and slightly aggressive nyckelharpa aficionados. Renee had no choice but to retreat into the woods, broken in body but happy in spirit.
Renee can be found in her home, (which she made entirely out of pine needles, including the indoor plumbing,) biding her time quietly playing polskas, a subdued and thoughtful woman.