Recently the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) announced the names of the two inductees to the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame for 2008. In the non-performing category is the renowned author, the late Charles K. Wolfe.
A self-described “cultural historian,” Charles K. Wolfe was born August 14, 1943, in Sedalia, Missouri, and earned a Ph.D. from the University of Kansas. His intense interest in old-time fiddle music, plus a desire to learn more about Southern popular country music, led Wolfe to accept employment at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) in Murfreesboro in 1970, where he taught English, science fiction and folklore until his retirement in 2005.
Gifted and well-respected in all genres of traditional country and bluegrass music as a writer, historian and storyteller, Dr. Wolfe documented musical histories and wrote liner notes for scores of albums. His work is an integral part of several collections released by Bear Family Records, including the last set of Bill Monroe recordings and the Mac Wiseman box-set, Tis Sweet To Be Remembered.
Wolfe was the author or editor of 21 books, focusing mainly on early bountry and bluegrass music, providing a priceless written and photographic documentation of the early days of Southern country music and its people. Titles include Classic Country: Legends of Country Music, A Good-Natured Riot: The Birth of the Grand Ole Opry, The Bristol Sessions: Writings About the Big Bang of Country Music, Tennessee Strings: The Story of Country Music in Tennessee, Kentucky Country: Folk and Country Music of Kentucky, The Devil’s Box: Masters of Southern Fiddling (1997), DeFord Bailey: A Black Star in Country Music (1991), The Women of Country Music: A Reader, Grand Ole Opry: The Early Years, 1925-35 and a definitive study, The Music of Bill Monroe, co-authored with Neil V Rosenberg and published in 2007.
A Good Natured Riot won both the prestigious Ralph Gleason Award and the BMI award for the best book on American music.
In addition he wrote numerous of articles for a variety of scholarly journals and music industry magazines, such as the Journal of Country Music, while also acting as the editor of the Tennessee Folklore Society Bulletin.
An avid collector, he validated the study of old time and bluegrass music, writing in an entertaining style that demonstrated a genuine love for his subjects.
Middle Tennessee was like paradise for Wolfe – a 30-minute drive from Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry, 15 miles from the birthplace and home of the legendary Uncle Dave Macon in adjoining Cannon County, and with easy access to numerous musicians and entertainers who lived in the area. Here he did invaluable research and interviews with surviving members of the early bands that were preserved in his later writing. In the process he became the most recognised authority on string band music of the 1920s and 1930s.
Soon after moving to Tennessee, Wolfe joined the Tennessee Valley Old-Time Fiddlers Association, judging many of their contests, contributing to their quarterly magazine and getting to know many of the fiddlers personally.
For more than 25 years Wolfe was active in the production of the Uncle Dave Macon Days celebration, held each July in Murfreesboro, and he received three Grammy nominations for his work in producing and annotating albums, including a set of obscure, previously unknown Macon recordings.
One of his last projects was the writing of the script for the PBS television series American Roots Music.
Dr. Wolfe served for several terms on the IBMA Board of Directors, representing the print media and education constituency. The IBMA honoured him in 1990 with its Distinguished Achievement Award.
Also he was recognised with several lifetime achievement awards for music scholarship and received the Governor’s Award in the Arts in 1988 for helping to preserve Tennessee’s folk heritage.
To emphasise the fact that Wolfe was not forgotten, the International Country Music Conference remembered him when they held a discussion group in his name during the 25th Anniversary International Country Music Conference (ICMC) in May this year.
He died prematurely on February 9, 2006, in Murfreesboro. He was 62 years old.
Wolfe’s wife Mary, who learned of the honor a week before the official announcement, was understandably delighted, speaking on behalf of their two daughters, Stacey and Cindy ‚Ä¶‚Ä¶.
“We are very pleased and grateful that Charles is being recognized by the IBMA in this way. He was a long time supporter of the IBMA and its efforts. Were he alive we think he would rank this honor among his most treasured accomplishments and recognitions.”
Paul Wells, director of the Center for Popular Music at MTSU, says of his former colleague’s induction ‚Ä¶‚Ä¶.
“It’s terrific to see Charles Wolfe being inducted into the IBMA Hall of Fame, and is remarkable recognition. I can’t think of another case in which a music hall of fame has honored a writer alongside the performers. That the IBMA is honoring Charles in this way is testimony not only to his contributions to research and writing about bluegrass, but also to the lack of distance between him and the music and people of bluegrass. Charles was no Ivory Tower academic. His love for the music and its players was deep and genuine, and this affection was returned by both the serious fans of bluegrass who read his work, and by the people he wrote about.”
The Hall of Fame inductions will be one of the high points of the International Bluegrass Music Awards, scheduled for October 2, 2008 at the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee
Tickets go on sale to the public on Friday, September 19, by calling the Ryman box office at 615-889-3060 or Ticketmaster at 615-255-9600.
For more information, contact IBMA at 1-888-438-4262 or visit www.ibma.org.
The Hall of Fame is housed in the International Bluegrass Music Museum in Owensboro, Kentucky.