Elephant Grass in Nairobi, Kenya, a recipient of a 2022 Arnold Shultz Fund grant
The IBMA Foundation has announced the distribution of more than $19,000 in 2022 grants from its Arnold Shultz Fund, dedicated to educational activities to increase the participation of people of color in bluegrass music. Shultz was an early influence on the music of Bill Monroe, giving him the blues side of bluegrass. Arnold is also known for having giving Monroe his first paying gig when he was a teenager.
Since its inception in 2020, the Foundation has seen a strong uptick in earmarked donations, and Fund co-chair Dr. Richard Brown, says that they have high hopes going forward.
“We’re proud to announce a significant increase in the amount of Shultz Fund grants in 2022, compared to the $12,050 we awarded last year. We hope to keep doing this for many years to come, and we’re pleased to include two international programs this year. The IBMA Foundation seeks to offer a proactive, helping hand to individuals who come from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups in the bluegrass community. Bluegrass music belongs to everyone. We are grateful to donors who continue to support the Arnold Shultz Fund and all the other Foundation initiatives, especially during the COVID pandemic. Their generosity has made it possible to award grants to these very deserving musicians and program organizers.”
Seven organizations have been chosen for support this year, from five US states and two different countries.
2022 Arnold Shultz Fund project grant recipients are:
- Dancing with the Spirit (Fairbanks, AK): Bluegrass Song Videos & Curriculum for Alaskan Village Schools
- Jam Pak Blues ‘N’ Grass (Chandler, AZ): Fair Black Rose Band World of Bluegrass Performance CD
- The Kealakai Center for Pacific Strings (Kailua, HI): Dreadnought Hawai’i – The Royal Hawaiian Roots of America’s Acoustic Heart documentary film
- Oscar Chilumo Mbwana and Stephanie Waithera Mwaura (Nairobi, Kenya): Zoom music lessons
- The Oakland Public Conservatory of Music (Oakland, CA): Banjos & Fiddles for Students
- PineCone (Raleigh, NC): Arnold Shultz Tribute Performance at IBMA’s World of Bluegrass and Documentary Video
- Eric Shi (Liang Shi) (Zhejiang, China): Educational Bluegrass Videos for China
The IBMA Foundation provided these thumbnail descriptions of the various grantees.
Belle Mickelson, director of Alaska-based Dancing with the Spirit, is continuing work on a video collection of bluegrass songs with lyrics, chords, and fiddle tabs that can be used virtually. Since 2006 Dancing with the Spirit has traveled to 55 remote Alaskan Native villages with a planeload of guitars and fiddles. A week is spent teaching at schools, with local elders providing cultural and language connections. By the end of the program, students are ready to perform for a community concert and dance. During the pandemic they’ve been sending instruments and providing song videos, curriculum, and Zoom lessons to keep the music going. The 2022 grant continues work begun last year.
The Jam Pak Blues ‘N’ Grass program directed by Anni Beach in Chandler, Arizona, will produce 150 CDs to promote the music of the Fair Black Rose band, using video and audio recordings from performances of the band at World of Bluegrass 2021 in Raleigh, North Carolina. The members of Fair Black Rose are young people of color from the Chandler neighborhood, invited to showcase last year at the International Bluegrass Music Association’s annual convention.
The Kealakai Center for Pacific Strings in Kailua, Hawaii, will use their Shultz Fund grant to help complete post-production work on the film Dreadnought Hawai’i – The Royal Hawaiian Roots of America’s Acoustic Heart, about the history of Hawaiian music and its key role in shaping the design of the Kealakai acoustic guitar, ancestor to the dreadnought. The one-hour documentary captures legendary musicians from the worlds of country, bluegrass, jazz, and blues. It shares a new perspective on the earliest roots of bluegrass and the role people of color have played in the history and evolution of modern American popular music—dating back to a century ago on the island of O’ahu with Mekia Kealakai and his Royal Hawaiian Troubadours.
Violin/bluegrass fiddle students Oscar Chilumo Mbwana and Stephanie Waithera Mwaura will take lessons on Zoom from two accomplished bluegrass fiddlers in the US and Canada, supported by a Shultz Fund grant. Tom Wolf, a U.S. citizen who has resided in Kenya on and off since 1967, submitted the request on behalf of the two musicians who perform with him in a Nairobi-based multi-national ensemble, Elephant Grass Musical Chairs. This is the first bluegrass band in Kenya and as far as Wolf knows the only one currently active in Africa. The grant will support Mbwana and Mwaura’s development as bluegrass fiddlers, including twin/harmony fiddling.
The Oakland (California) Public Conservatory of Music operates the Black Banjo and Fiddle Fellowship, an old-time music program. The Shultz Fund grant will be used to purchase banjos and fiddles, strings, capos, and for maintenance of instruments loaned to students. The program centers African American culture in the development of American musical culture and identity. The goal of the Black Banjo and Fiddle Fellowship is to have black musicians and scholars mentor and train black musician-teachers, thus repatriating old-time music.
PineCone, the Piedmont Council of Traditional Music, will use its grant to assemble an Arnold Shultz tribute band, Dom Flemons and Shultz’s Dream. The group, also featuring Brian Farrow, Dante’ Pope, and Tray Wellington, will perform at IBMA’s Bluegrass LIVE festival in Raleigh, North Carolina, September 30 – October 1, 2022. The project’s goal is to create shareable video content of a historically accurate performance of how a band with Arnold Shultz might have sounded in rural Kentucky during the 1920s. The performance and video will spotlight contributions of black musicians in the development of old-time and bluegrass music.
Chinese bluegrass musician Eric Shi (Liang Shi) met the late Saburo Watanabe Inoue (Bluegrass 45, Moonshiner magazine) at a music/instrument convention in Shanghai. In 2010 Eric began banjo lessons with Sab and in 2017 travelled with the Bluegrass 45 when they toured the US. Shi has since published two banjo books for the Chinese market, provided in-person and online banjo instruction, and formed a bluegrass band. Eric will create four music videos in the bluegrass style, incorporating traditional Chinese instruments and songs and bluegrass classics, as well as his own original compositions. His goal is to increase the popularity of bluegrass in China with the videos, which he will upload to YouTube and major Chinese video platforms like Bilibili.
Donations to the IBMA Foundation fund these various programs by investing the monies received, and supporting grants with income from investments. More information about supporting these efforts can be found online.