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NJ Artist Named Recipient of Nation’s Highest Honor in the Folk and Traditional Arts

The National Endowment for the Arts recently announced the recipients of its 2020 National Heritage Fellowships. Onnik Dinkjian of Fort Lee is among the nine recipients to be honored this year. These lifetime honor awards of $25,000 are given in recognition of both artistic excellence and efforts to sustain cultural traditions for future generations.

Dinkjian is hailed as one of the most beloved and influential Armenian singers in America, with an expressive voice said to convey both the joy of his Armenian heritage and the deep sorrow of its painful history.

He was born in 1929 in Paris, France. His parents, born in Dikranagerd (Diyarbekir), Turkey, were survivors of the 1915 Armenian genocide from Dikranagerd, adopted him and they immigrated to America in 1946. The Armenian dialect from Dikranagerd is unique and Dinkjian is one of the last remaining Armenians who speaks and understands it, and perhaps the last who sings in this ancient dialect.

Apart from the sacred music of the Armenian church, Dinkjian’s repertoire consists of mainly folk and popular songs from the Anatolian (Eastern Turkey) villages, Armenia, and the Armenian diaspora. Dinkjian is also a composer and lyricist, whose songs have become standards in the American Armenian community.

When asked what receiving this honor means to him, Dinkjian said, “Not only did America give my people a safe haven, it also provided me the opportunity to keep the dialect and songs of my ancestors alive, which I have strived to do for over 70 years. My goal was not to be recognized, but rather to pass our rich Armenian culture down to future generations. Receiving the NEA Heritage Fellowship is an honor beyond my wildest dreams. I am truly humbled and appreciative.”

A brief documentary captured Dinkjian recording his latest album, highlighting the importance of continuing and sharing this unique cultural art form. Watch the documentary here:

“For years, Onnik Dinkjian has used his talents to share the proud history of the Armenian people through traditional music,” said Gov. Phil Murphy. “His work is an inspiration not only to the Armenian Diaspora, but to artists across the world. We are proud of his many accomplishments and success in using his music to promote and preserve Armenia’s rich cultural heritage.”

“The State Arts Council is proud to support and celebrate the various art forms rooted in cultural heritage – art forms that can be found in communities throughout New Jersey,” said Council Chair Elizabeth Mattson. “We congratulate Mr. Dinkjian on this significant lifetime accomplishment and are honored to count him among the many talented and passionate artists who call New Jersey home.”

“I applaud the National Endowment for the Arts for recognizing Mr. Dinkjian for a lifetime of artistic and historical contributions through his music,” said Secretary of State Tanesha Way. “We are proud that New Jersey has been home for Mr. Dinkjian as he preserved the artistic heritage of his ancestors and shared his gifts with the world.”

The National Heritage Fellowships are the nation’s highest honor in the folk and traditional arts. Visit to learn more.

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