Thomas Fraser lived from 20 March 1927 to 6 January 1978. He was a fisherman who, since his death, has become internationally famous as a country and western singer. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Thomas Fraser was born in Outterabrake on Burra, a collection of islands and islets which parallel the western shore of Mainland Shetland and whose main settlement is Hamnavoe. He was the youngest of six children and became interested in music after being given a fiddle by his brother and, later a guitar by his brother in law. He performed as a musician at family events and gave one of his first public performances in Hamnavoe in 1948. Despite an innate shyness, his country and western style of music soon became widely appreciated across Shetland. Thomas met and married his wife Phyllis, another enthusiastic Shetland musician, in 1955, and the two went on to record and play together.
Thomas had begun to earn his living as a fisherman on locally based boats at the age of 16. By the late 1950s he was operating his own lobster boat, still in the waters he had known all his life, while also working the family croft. On 19 October 1973 Thomas's boat ran aground on rocks off Burra. After spending some time in the icy water he was rescued by other fisherman, but his uninsured boat was wrecked. Early in 1977 Thomas was injured while dredging for scallops and flown to Aberdeen for treatment. Although still clearly unwell after his return to Shetland he refused to seek medical assistance, and died on 6 January 1978.
During his lifetime Thomas Fraser has made many recordings of his work on a reel to reel tape recorder, often for family and friends. After his death, requests for copies of his recordings increased. His nephew made some available on cassette during the 1980s, but it was his grandson who began to appreciate the lasting value of Thomas Fraser's music. This lead to the release in 2002 of a 25 track CD, Long Gone Lonesome Blues. A series of further CDs followed, together with a BBC TV documentary Shetland Lone Star, while the National Theatre of Scotland has mounted a stage production of the Thomas Fraser story. Meanwhile Thomas Fraser has gone from someone virtually unheard of outside Shetland to a country music legend with an international following. It's just a shame he isn't here to see it.