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Santander Bank’s Joanna Ridgway Fiddles in a DFW Bluegrass Band

The banking executive and classically trained violinist learned to embrace a new sound with fiddle duo June Blount and applies lessons from her band to the boardroom.
By Catherine Rosas | |Photography by Mandy McGeath
Joanna Ridgway violin
Mandy McGeath

Joanna Ridgway, managing director and head of the southwest region for Santander Bank, began playing classical violin at the age of 3. But after graduating from Rhodes College with a business administration degree and as her finance career began to flourish, she found herself with less time to dedicate to her musical craft.

In 2012, Ridgway was selected to join a group of emerging leaders from the United States and visit Europe through the German Marshall Fund’s prestigious Marshall Memorial Fellowship. Inspired by its Celtic roots, Ridgway also began exploring playing the violin outside of classical settings.

Growing up in Arkansas and embracing her father’s love for country music, Ridgway became enthralled with the fiddle, comparing the shift from classical violin to the more bluegrass fiddle playing as learning a new language. “I knew the language, but it was a whole new dialect for me to learn,” she says. “Playing fiddle is a constantly exciting and fun challenge.”

Ridgway says the most significant difference between playing classical violin and fiddle, besides the more colloquial term, is retraining your body. “It’s all about your right arm,” she says. “You’re bowing, and that’s how you really get the sound of different styles.” 

While searching for a fiddle teacher, she found Roberta Rast Smith, a World Champion fiddler and six-time national champion. She began taking lessons from Rast Smith before they realized their potential as a duet. “Roberta and I became very close friends and play often—one of us as melody and the other as rhythms or harmonies,” Ridgway says.  

The two quickly recognized they had strong playing chemistry and formed a duo, June Blount, using a combination of their family names. They specialize in bluegrass, Celtic, folk, and contemporary hits and have played at numerous local events. They’ve even given a TEDx talk on fiddle playing. “Whenever we have an opportunity, we like to share our music,” Ridgway says. 

These days, she can’t imagine her life without music. “Fiddling is part of my heart, part of who I am,” she says. “I love it so much. It makes my heart sing.” She’d like to follow in Rast Smith’s footsteps to compete in a local or statewide competition—as there are more than 25 in Texas alone. 

Ridgway also wants to help grow the art of fiddle playing locally. “I hope that more people come to recognize how exciting fiddle styles are,” she says. “They are living culture, living history, and evolving musical language. I hope someday we have more folk music opportunities for students and schools. Eventually, I’d love to help promote that.”  

From Band to Boardroom

The lessons Ridgway has learned as a musician parallel those learned as a banker, including innovation, adaptability, and teamwork. “As a musician, there are times when you’re the lead, and there are times when it’s best to collaborate. That’s applicable in the boardroom or a business: You are better together with a lot of different inputs,” she says. Rest is important, too, Ridgway adds. “If you are listening to a performance, a pause at the right time can be more moving than a note. Stopping to think about a situation and just taking a minute to rest is important to remember and a valuable part of any decision-making process.”

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