Museum display features Peerie Willie

THE SHETLAND Museum has unveiled a new display to commemorate the late Peerie Willie Johnson on what would have been his 88th birthday.

Willie (1920-2007) was from a musical family, but nobody could have guessed he was to become Shetland’s best-known guitarist.

Born in Yell, his family moved to Lerwick when he was four. At the age of 12 illness confined Willie to bed for almost a year, and his mother bought him a ukulele to help him pass the hours. This set his feet on the musical path that he trod for nearly 70 years.

Completely self-taught, he was a talented musician who played several instruments well, from the mouth organ to the piano, as well as the guitar, for which be became so famous.

His talents became known worldwide and Willie was sought by musicians, accompanying them to festivals and appearing on albums. In 2005 he was enrolled into the Scottish Traditional Music Hall of Fame, for which he was typically modest.

The display includes pictures and items from throughout his life, such as RAF service papers and identity discs, music programmes, a mouth organ (one of the first instruments he taught himself to play) and his guitar.

The show was initiated by Willie’s sister Evelyn Leask, who loaned the objects for the display and helped the museum with biographical details.

Curator of collections Ian Tait said: “Although Willie was well-known locally, and renowned internationally in the music scene, putting up this display was quite difficult.

“All his life, Peerie Willie was very modest about his talent, and he was the most self-effacing musician Shetland has ever produced.

“In some ways his distinctive guitar style is his best memorial, but we hope this display can evoke memories for those who knew and loved this humble star who never sought his well-deserved fame.”

The display is at the top of the stairs in the upper gallery until next summer.


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