Kendall Morse, a renowned Maine humorist, folk singer and Grammy-nominated musician, died Wednesday. He was 86.

Kendall Morse in a family photo

Morse, who most recently lived in Scarborough, spent more than 40 years performing around the country and recording his songs and stories. In 1995, he was inducted into the Maine Country Music Hall of Fame. In 2009, he received a Grammy nomination for his role as co-producer of the folk album “Singing Through the Hard Times: A Tribute to Utah Phillips.”

“He was a legend to the world, but he was always my dad,” said Elaine Hodnette, the oldest of his three daughters.

Morse grew up in Machias, one of nine children. He was a 1952 graduate of Machias High School. From 1953 to 1957, he served in the Coast Guard on a vessel based in Portland.

Following his discharge, Morse joined the then-Maine Department of Sea and Shore, now the Department of Marine Resources. He rose through the ranks to captain a patrol boat that protected Penobscot Bay. He held the post until the early to mid-1960s.

Morse then worked for the U.S. Department of Fish & Wildlife’s National Marine Fisheries Service. According to his obituary, he was responsible for enforcement of international fishing regulations and the Marine Mammals Protection Act. He retired in 1974 because of a back injury, his daughter said.


Hodnette said her father knew at age 6 that he wanted to be a conservation officer. “He was a conservationist. He was a sailor. He had a great love for the sea,” she said.

In the mid-1960s, Morse had chance meeting on the waterfront with folk singer and songwriter Gordon Bok, who encouraged him to pursue a career in music. When Morse retired, he took up storytelling and specialized in Maine humor.

His passion for music began at age 16, when he received a secondhand guitar for Christmas. He taught himself how to play and slowly built a collection of stories and songs. He occasionally played gigs around town.

In his early years, he played bluegrass with his brothers, who sang and played the guitar, Hodnette said.

“When I was a kid, this was such an amazing way to grow up,” she said. “We would get together at my Nana’s camp every Saturday night and the boys would hoot and holler. They would play into the dark hours of the night. … Oh, my God, it was a glorious way to grow up. Music was the essence of our family.”

Morse began telling stories in the early 1970s and hosted a show on Maine Public Television called “In the Kitchen.” He wrote a book by the same name.


He also released a few albums, including “Seagulls and Summer People” and “Lights Along the Shore.” He performed in venues across the country and shared the stage with veteran storytellers such as Tim Sample and Marshall Dodge, and musicians including Bok and the late Utah Phillips.

Morse was a three-time recipient of the Folk Singer of the Year award by the Maine Country Music Association.

Hodnette said he was a great speaker, who fed on the energy from the crowd.

“He loved telling stories,” she said. “Dad was so incredibly well-known. He’s going to leave a massive hole in the universe.”

Morse fought a yearslong battle with throat cancer that included at least nine operations to remove vocal cord tumors since 2004. The cancer took away his ability to sing, though it didn’t stop him from getting on stage. His voice was reduced to a hoarse whisper.

“It was extraordinary,” Hodnette said. “On occasion, he still found himself on stage. He couldn’t sing, but he could speak. And people forgave him for that and were still entranced by him.”


Morse authored three books. The second, “Father Fell Down the Well,” is a collection of traditional Down East stories from his years performing. He recently finished writing the third, “True Enough,” which will be published posthumously.

His daughter Rebecca Morse said her father accomplished a lot in his life.

“In his later years, he kind of became this curmudgeon old grump, but given the opportunity to perform or make someone laugh, it was like flipping a light switch,” she said. “He became this persona, and he went out of his way to make somebody laugh every day. It was really satisfying to him to be able to do that.”

Morse was remembered his daughters Thursday as a strict but loving father who was always there for them. Another daughter, Deb Roberts, said he was a wonderful father and they talked about everything.

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