Joe Derrane, a Boston-born button accordionist and composer, has been named top traditional artist of 2010 by the Irish Echo, the largest circulation Irish-American weekly newspaper. He is the first to receive this honor twice since its inception in 1993.

In addition, Grove Lane, an album Derrane recorded for Compass with guitarist John McGann that features seven of the master button accordionist’s original tunes was named the paper’s traditional recording of the year. The Irish Echo’s Earle Hitchner also tagged “A Concert for the Ages” tribute to Derrane — a sold-out Nov. 13 show at the Fairfield Theatre Company’s Stage One in Fairfield, CT, featuring more than 30 musicians and dancers — as the paper’s concert of the year.

Joe Derrane

Derrane, 80, was born into a musical family in 1930. His father played the accordion and melodeon, his mother, the fiddle. His interest in the accordion spurred at an early age, Derrane was actively playing house parties by the time he was 14. An active participant in Boston’s flourishing Irish ballroom scene during the late 1940s and 1950s, Derrane impressed the Irish music world when he made his first 78 rpm records as a teenager. With the demise of the ballroom scene in the late 1950s, Derrane felt compelled to veer towards “pop” and ditched his beloved button box for a new piano accordion. Although his love for Irish traditional music never waned, he had pretty much retired from music by 1990.

The re-issuance of his 78 rpm recordings on CD by Rego Records in 1993 prompted a resurgence of interest in Derrane, and he was invited to perform during an Irish Folk Festival at Wolf Trap in Vienna, Virginia in 1994. The warm response to his comeback prompted Derrane to return to performing, recording, and influencing other players. In 1998, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame of Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eiereann (North American Provinces) for contributions to Irish traditional music. Six years later, he was awarded a prestigious National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts.

“I’ve been covering Irish traditional music for more than 32 years, and in all that time I have never encountered a talent like his,” writes Hitchner in the Jan. 19 issue of Irish Echo. “Another brilliant Irish-American button accordionist, Billy McComiskey, put it succinctly: “Joe Derrane is absolutely as good as it gets.’ “