Louisville Folk School is eager to produce new programs exploring the influence of Black musicians and African aesthetics and practices on bluegrass and American roots music, as well as examining racism in and around the music. Bill Monroe credited Black blues musician Arnold Shultz as one of his main influences and teachers. In what other ways have Black musicians informed string-band and bluegrass music traditions? We know that the banjo originated in Africa, coming from slave ships to the Caribbean and into the southern part of the United States; but, how does bluegrass, a genre of music so reliant on the distinctive sound of the banjo, evolve by the second half of the 20th century to include so few African Americans? Or, as Rhiannon Giddens so deftly put it in her 2017 IBMA keynote speech, “Are we going to acknowledge the question is not ‘How do we get diversity into bluegrass?’ but ‘How do we get diversity back into bluegrass?’” In an effort to better understand the history of the music we teach and to enhance the diversity of participation in bluegrass music, we will provide a platform for investigating and exploring these questions and others during our 2021 season of special programming.
As an organization based in Louisville, the 4th most segregated city in the US and a place currently dealing with its own struggles of racism and inequality, the Folk School hopes to contribute to the dialog of understanding and healing in our city.
By working with our presenting partner, Kentucky Performing Arts, we will create a series of virtual edutainment sessions that will engage viewers with the vital topic of reclaiming bluegrass music’s multiple roots. We will feature some of the top BIPOC folk musicians as presenters for the programming, and a host will lead the discussions. The series will provide a platform for some of the upcoming BIPOC in the genres we celebrate and show through performance that the music’s future is both vibrant and inclusive.
Funded by Louisville, KY (February 2021)