Capitol Bluegrass by Kip Lornell covers history of bluegrass in DC

Here’s a new book on bluegrass music in our nation’s capitol that is likely to turn up under a lot of trees this Christmas, all over the US.

Capitol Bluegrass – Hillbilly Music Meets Washington, D.C. was written by award-winning George Mason University professor Kip Lornell, and will be released on December 11 by Oxford University Press. It documents the presence of bluegrass in the capitol region starting in the 1950s, and traces its history in the area up to the present day. Prominent bands are featured, like The Country Gentlemen and the Seldom Scene, along with locally popular acts like the Happy Melody Boys, Benny and Vallie Cain and the Country Clan, and Foggy Bottom. Buzz Busby is noted for his mandolin playing and tenor singing from the time he arrived from Louisiana, as is Connie B. Gay for his pioneering radio career and eventual founding of the Country Music Association in Nashville.

Important institutions in the area also receive their credit for the popularity of bluegrass in DC, including the iconic Birchmere Music Hall, and WAMU-FM which broadcast the music up to 40 hours weekly starting in 1967, before being moved to an online format in 2007.

A full chapter is dedicated to Bluegrass Unlimited magazine, launched in northern Virginia by Pete Kuykendall in 1966. Initially Pete’s newsletter was meant as a source of information on bluegrass in the capitol region, but grew into a full color print monthly that covered bluegrass music worldwide.

Dozens of photographs are included in the book, many of which have not been widely circulated before now.

Cornell is a recognized figure in the folk and Americana scene in DC, frequently appearing on NPR and other media to comment on the local music community, and American music more generally. He has written more than a dozen books on US folk and roots music, and his look at bluegrass in DC is highly anticipated.

Pre-orders are available now from the publisher, and from many online booksellers.

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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.