James Scott Skinner lived from 5 August 1843 to 17 March 1927. He was a famous fiddle player and dancing master. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
James Scott Skinner was born in Banchory where his father was a dancing master. His father died while James was still a baby, but from the age of seven he was given music lessons on the violin and cello by his brother Sandy. As a teenager he joined a travelling youth orchestra "Dr Mark's Little Men", spending the next six years rehearsing at their base in Manchester and touring with them throughout Britain. On 10 February 1858 the orchestra performed before Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace. While in Manchester he also studied classical music performance and dancing.
Skinner returned to Scotland to try to establish himself as a dancing master in Aberdeenshire, literally in his father's footsteps. He also became involved in dance competitions. In 1862 he won a sword-dance competition in Ireland, and the following year he won a strathspey and reel competition in Inverness. His growing fame on Deeside caught the attention of Queen Victoria, and she hired him to teach dancing to the royal household at Balmoral. It is said that by 1868 he had 125 pupils there. He published a collection of his own musical compositions in the same year.
By 1870 Skinner was married and living in Elgin, where he taught dance and music, often accompanied by his stepdaughter on the piano. Skinner's wife died in 1883, and he went back on the road as a touring dance master and musician. In 1893 he toured the USA with Willie MacLennan, the celebrated bagpiper and dancer. On his return to Scotland he gave up dancing to concentrate on the fiddle. Skinner remarried in 1897, and two years later made his first cylinder recordings. Skinner and his second wife settled in Monikie in Angus. Money was apparently tight, and Skinner was developing a strong sense of his own genius: both reasons suggested for his wife "resigning" in 1909 and moving to Rhodesia.
Skinner responded by returning to the 1910 equivalent of the recording studio: and some of the recordings he made of traditional tunes and his own compositions at this time are still available on CD. He also toured widely, still topping the bill on a series of UK tours in 1925, when he was 74 years old. He died in 1927, having published 600 compositions and made 80 recordings.