Bluegrass Hall of Fame to publish Bluegrass Unlimited magazine

Chris Joslin in the Bluegrass Unlimited exhibit at the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum

Big news today in the bluegrass publishing world.

The Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum has announced the acquisition of Bluegrass Unlimited, and will take over as publishers beginning with the November 2020 issue. Those who knew the late Pete Kuykendall, founder and long time publisher of the magazine, will recognize that he was a dedicated patron of the Museum, located in Owensboro, KY, and that he would surely approve of having his beloved creation under its umbrella.

His wife, Kitsy, was likewise an avid Museum supporter, who served out his Board term there after his passing in 2017, staying on to serve a term of her own. They also endowed the Katherine E. and Peter V. Kuykendall Research Library in the Hall.

We spoke earlier today with Chris Joslin, Executive Director of the Hall of Fame, who told us that a new editor will be named shortly, as the current BU staff in Warrenton, VA plan to retire once they assist with the transition. This includes Linda Shaw, who had edited the magazine since Pete’s daughter, Sharon McGraw, left that position in 2010, and Advertising Manager Patty Jeffries who had held that job for decades.

In fact, Kitsy told us that it was the staff there in Warrenton that suggested that the Museum might be the right people to take over operations.

“A new editor will be announced soon,” said Joslin, “and some existing Hall staff will take over tasks like promotion and subscriber support. I will be involved in editorial and sales decisions, but at the 30,000 foot level.”

The monthly issue frequency will be retained, as well as the heralded name of the venerable publication, which has been in existence since 1966. Those of us who were active in bluegrass in that era recall that the arrival of a new copy of Bluegrass Unlimited was like a lifeline of information on artists, festivals, and new recordings. Of course this was long before the Internet, personal computers, or smart phones were even considered by most of the public. 

“To be in this position… to be able to innovate and grow this publications is a great honor for us. The time is just perfect for everyone.

Kitsy Kuykendall allowed us to purchase it on very favorable terms. Her objective is to make sure the publication continues in print form, under the direction of people who could maintain and grow its base.”

Chris also mentioned that they will roll Bluegrass Unlimited into the Hall of Fame’s non-profit corporate structure rather than creating a separate charter. He plans to take on outside vendors to assist with the production and printing of the magazine, and to take on advertising sales.

“We will launch a new web site, but are not going digital with the publication. We think we can offer readers some new options for interacting with us. Still talking/walking through all that, but web visitors will be able to find the Hall of Fame from the BU site, and vice versa.

The preservation side of this is the biggest challenge for me. Receiving an archive like 60 years of Bluegrass Unlimited, we wonder, ‘How do we make that accessible to people?’ We’ve recently been able to bring our audio archive of artist interviews to visitors at the Hall. Maybe we could do something similar in time.”

Joslin anticipates some changes to the look of the magazine, with enhancements in the layout and design contemplated over time. But the Hall of Fame intends to keep the personality and content in the same vein as it was under Kuykendall’s direction. Though discussions are ongoing, they also hope to keep the current writers and contributors during the transition and beyond.

“We see our purpose as to preserve and perpetuate, retaining Pete’s vision for the magazine. His personality was so tied to it, and I believe that Kitsy and Linda trust us to maintain that.”

Existing subscribers should see a seamless transition, with issues continuing to arrive by mail as before. A statement to subscribers is anticipated in the September issue outlining all this.

Kitsy Kuykendall says that she is delighted with how this has all turned out.

“I’m extremely pleased that the Museum and the Board are willing to take the magazine on. We want to preserve Pete’s legacy and his love of bluegrass music, and I love the idea of a museum having it. The Smithsonian has one, and so do many others.

Chris is coming to pick up everything we have. He was drooling over some of the old posters, and now it will all have a home at the Museum.

This is a very good fit.”

And she also stressed how hard Pete, and his first wife, worked to get Bluegrass Unlimited established.

“Pete and Marion had a lot of guts to start this project, and they did a great deal of work to make it a success. And it turned out pretty well I think!

The debut issue under the Hall of Fame’s aegis will be the November issue, which will contain the annual Talent Directory, a month later than usual as it seemed too big a task to compile and publish it during the transition to new ownership.

A new chapter for BU.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.