IBMA Foundation adds J.D. Crowe Banjo Scholarship

The IBMA Foundation, the charitable, philanthropic, and educational arm of the International Bluegrass Music Association, has announced a new J.D. Crowe Banjo Scholarship for those planning to study the five string banjo in college, or who play banjo in a college bluegrass ensemble.

The scholarship was launched through an initial $20,000 endowment from Arthur Hancock III, fellow Kentuckian and lifelong friend of J.D. Crowe. His son, Arthur Hancock IV, who serves on the IBMA Foundation Board, was an important conduit for the creation of this fund in honor of the banjo legend.

No one who follows bluegrass music needs an introduction to J.D. Crowe, either as a banjo performer or as a bandleader. From the time he played shows with Mac Wiseman as a teenager, to touring with Jimmy Martin just after high school, on through to his many years with his own groups, The Kentucky Gentlemen and The New South and his membership in the Bluegrass Album Band, there have been nothing but superlatives issued to describe his career. We lost Crowe on Christmas Eve 2021 after a prolonged illness.

Hancock was born into Kentucky horse racing royalty. His family owns Claiborne Farm, where young Arthur III learned the trade. Following graduation from Vanderbilt University, he studied under noted trainer Eddie Neloy. Shortly thereafter Arthur bought Stone Farm in Paris, KY, which has produced a number of champion racehorses. But he is also a devoted musician, songwriter, and banjo player whose songs have been recorded by top artists like Ray Price and Willie Nelson.

He says that he first discovered Crowe after being exposed to bluegrass in college.

“Being around Peter Rowan and going with him to a few of the rehearsals of the Blue Grass Boys really inspired me to become much more of a bluegrass addict than I already was. When I came home from college for the Christmas break in 1964, I asked if there was any bluegrass music in Lexington, and I was told that there was a great banjo player who had a band playing at Martin’s Place on North Limestone. I went over there on a Saturday night and was floored. He was the best I’d ever heard other than maybe Earl Scruggs, and his name was J.D. Crowe. During the break, I introduced myself to him and he asked if I would like to get up and do a couple of numbers.

We were good friends ever since, and he played banjo on my CD, Sunday Silence. J.D. is a legend in bluegrass music, and I followed him all those years since the ’60s, watching him inspire and put together bands with so many important and influential musicians. Outside of Nashville, Lexington became the mecca for bluegrass music, and it was all spearheaded and organized by J.D. Crowe. I am proud to have called him my friend and take great pleasure and pride in having seen this original art form flourish and become world famous, in no small part due to the lifelong dedication and expertise of J.D.”

Arthur IV reports having been captivated by the banjo music of J.D. Crowe since he was in eighth grade, and first encountered him at the sessions for his dad’s album. He has gone on to play bluegrass professionally in Kentucky in both The Wooks and currently with Wolfpen Branch.

The first J.D. Crowe Banjo Scholarship will be awarded in August of this year for the Fall 2022 semester. An application will be available next month, with a June 1 deadline for submission. The value of the annual scholarship will be dependent on the health and growth of the fund that subsidizes it.

Foundation Chair Fred Bartenstein expresses the delight of the organization in seeing this scholarship under their purview.

“We are so pleased about the establishment of a scholarship specifically for bluegrass banjo players in memory of the great J.D. Crowe. He taught and mentored so many banjo players during his lifetime; it is appropriate that a scholarship named for him will continue to educate and influence bluegrass banjo players for generations to come. We thank the Hancock family for their generous donation to found the J.D. Crowe Banjo Scholarship, and it is our hope that other bluegrass colleagues, friends and fans of J.D. Crowe will also support this scholarship.”

To keep this scholarship fund healthy going forward, other donors are encouraged to also contribute, either in one time or ongoing gifts of any size. The benefit of the IBMA Foundation is their ability to effectively bundle donations from all sorts of people who value the continuation of bluegrass music, and serve as steward for the funds so they will grow over time.

You can learn more about contributing to The IBMA Foundation online. Most will be tax deductible.

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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.