Dr. Richard Blaustein passes

East Tennessee State University Professor Emeritus Richard Blaustein, a fine old time fiddler, banjo player, and prolific scholar, has passed away after a protracted illness. He was professor of sociology and anthropology at the university and served as the director of ETSU’s Center For Appalachian Studies and Services. He wrote dozens of articles for academic journals and founded ETSU’s respected Appalachian magazine, Now and Then. Dr. Blaustein taught old time fiddle and banjo at ETSU, and later formed the first ETSU Old Time String Band.

Richard and ETSU Bluegrass alumnus Tim Stafford collaborated on the documentary recording, Down Around Bowmantown—A Portrait of a Musical Community in Northeast Tennessee, which was placed on the Library of Congress American Folklife Center’s Selected List of American Folk Music Recordings for 1989.

On stage, Dr. Blaustein could be quite engaging. At shows in East Tennessee he frequently honored his northern roots, introducing himself as being “from the hills of Brooklyn, New York.” Starting in 1982, Dr. Blaustein played fiddle for several years in the first configuration of the ETSU Bluegrass Band, and then with the local old time string band, the Dixie Dew Drops. He is heard on the ETSU group’s first album, East Tennessee, released in 1988 playing two of his signature compositions Possum In the Mash Barrel, and Boozy Creek.

Old time and bluegrass icon John Hartford—composer of Glen Cambpell’s big hit, Gentle On My Mind—pronounced the project “hot stuff,” in his enthusiastic liner notes for the album. Hartford concluded with “P. S. . . . Anything with Richard Blaustein on it has to be OK!”

At Dr. Blaustein’s well-attended ETSU retirement party, Raymond McLain and I offered to back him if he would sing Boozy Creek for the audience. Richard decided not to sing, so with his blessing, Raymond and I had a wonderful time performing the best version of it we could muster. His assembled colleagues seemed to enjoy it quite well.

Richard’s rendition of Boozy Creek included herewith features:

Richard Blaustein, fiddle and vocal
Adam Steffey and Jack Tottle, twin mandolins
Tim Stafford, guitar
Glen Rose and Beth Stevens, banjos
Bill Dunham, bass

In addition to his family, Richard’s many friends, fellow students, and admirers will profoundly miss him.

With all good wishes to his family, especially Rachel and Jessica.

R.I.P., Richard Blaustein.

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About the Author

Jack Tottle

Jack Tottle was the founder of the bluegrass program at ETSU and has been a life long mandolinist. The author of the critically-acclaimed book for Oak Publications, Bluegrass Mandolin, he is now retired and living in Hawaii.