Susan Alcorn was at a hair salon when she got the call. And when she heard the news, she was dumbfounded.
Alcorn, the noted Baltimore pedal steel guitarist, had won the top, $40,000-prize at this year’s Baker Artist Awards, which recognize artists in any medium who reside in Baltimore City and five surrounding counties.
“All of a sudden, your reality changes,” Alcorn said. “Now, it’s ‘What am I going to do now, and with all this money?’”
Alcorn is being recognized along with five other artists, who won $10,000 prizes: dancer Naoko Maeshiba (who was also a recipient last year), visual artist David Marion, filmmaker Theo Anthony, writer Elizabeth Dickinson, and interdisciplinary artist Sara Dittrich.
Alcorn said she was first attracted to the steel guitar by its floating, iridescent sound. “There’s just something magical about it that drew me to it,” she says. “As my relationship with the steel guitar has progressed, I listen to the instrument more and try to feel what it’s telling me.”
She started playing in bands that specialized in pop, country, and western music, where the instrument is more commonly heard, but soon found herself pulled into the worlds of free jazz and experimental classical music. Alcorn has released six albums and toured the world, collaborating with artists from a variety of genres (including the Baltimore Boom Bap Society).
In addition to sprucing up her home studio, Alcorn said she will use the prize money to start a collaboration with Swedish singer Hanna Olivegren.
It’s exciting “to get recognition here in Baltimore from my colleagues and the arts community,” she said. “This process was validating in ways I didn’t imagine.”
The 2017 Baker Artist Awards: An Artworks Special airs on MPT-HD Saturday, May 27, at 8 p.m. and on MPT2 on Sunday, May 28 at 6:30 a.m.