IBMA Foundation announces 2023 Arnold Shultz grant recipients

The IBMA Foundation, the philanthropic and educational arm of the International Bluegrass Music Association, has announced the recipients of their 2023 Arnold Shultz Fund grants to encourage participation in bluegrass music by people of color.

Dr. Richard Brown, co-chair of the Arnold Shultz Fund advisory committee, says that they are thankful for all the support the Fund has received since its launch in 2020.

“We’re proud to announce a continuing pattern of strong support for Arnold Shultz Fund grants in 2023. The Shultz Fund committee has awarded over $50,000 in grants since the program began in 2020, plus an additional $10,000 in each of the past two years for the Black Banjo Reclamation Project, which came from proceeds from the annual Pisgah Banjo Company fundraising raffle.

We’re pleased to include two recipients this year from India and Kenya. 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 who wants to listen to it or play it. We are grateful to donors who continue to support the Arnold Shultz Fund and all the other Foundation initiatives. Their generosity has made it possible to award grants to these very deserving musicians and program organizers.”

Arnold Shultz Fund recipients for 2023 (descriptions provided by the IBMA Foundation):

  • Dancing with the Spirit (Fairbanks, AK) – Assistant instructor training and travel for young native musicians who will eventually be taking over as future instructors for Dancing with the Spirit. Twenty-three Alaskan villages were reached in 2022, and instruction was offered on fiddle, guitar, mandolin, banjo, bass, and ukulele. 
  • Decolonizing the Music Room (Ft. Worth, TX) – The Fort Worth African American Roots Music Festival, which highlights the central role of blackness in early American music, features award-winning artists and scholars from across North America who gather for a day of music, jamming, learning, and dancing.
  • Elephant Grass Musical Chairs (bluegrass) band (Nairobi, Kenya) – A series of educational bluegrass concerts/programs at four high schools in the Nairobi area from April to November 2023. Elephant Grass is the only known bluegrass band in Africa, and two members are Kenyan fiddlers in their 20s (Oscar Chilumo Mbwana and Stephanie Mwaura), both of whom are currently benefiting from a 2022 Arnold Shultz Fund grant for (Zoom) fiddle lessons.
  • Grassy Strings (W. Bengal, India) – Travel grant to help bring the first bluegrass band from India as a part of an international bluegrass outreach program sponsored by the La Roche Bluegrass Festival in France, free to the public.  
  • JamPak Blues & Bluegrass (Chandler, AZ) – Scholarship for JamPak member Gieselle Tambe-Ebot to attend Leadership Bluegrass 2023 in Nashville, TN.  
  • Montgomery Museum of Art & History (Christianburg, VA) – The “Cultural Crossroads in Traditional Music” concert program explores interactions and intersections between bluegrass music and African American, Indigenous First People, Hispanic/Latino, and European cultures. Junior Appalachian Musician programs are included, with music, dance, and storytelling. The grant will fund additional staff time, travel stipends for committee members representing various cultures, and a marketing plan to reach an inclusive audience with emphasis on children and young people.
  • Lamont Pearley (Bowling Green, KY) – Funding for five months of weekly lessons from Kentucky banjo teacher Jordan Reihm, culminating in a performance in tribute to Arnold Shultz. Pearley performs original acoustic music, shares stories, sings, and engages audiences through the oral history of African American traditional/tribal music called “the blues,” with authentic-style field hollers accompanied by Southern-influenced guitar playing.
  • Nelson Williams (New Orleans, LA) – Within a calendar year Williams will take a month’s worth of lessons from four different established acoustic bass players within the bluegrass community. Williams currently tours with Jake Blount. 
  • Azere Wilson (Santa Margarita, CA) – Funding assistance for her debut Roots/ Bluegrass/ Americana album, The Rock The Root The Lean On Me, a culmination of Azere’s research on traditional black music, African American spirituals, bluegrass music, and the blues. Wilson’s unique voice and take on Black Americana are based on the discovery of a connection to her ancestors through music. 
  • Individual Arnold Shultz Fund Grants – An additional $2,000 will be set aside to use for scholarship requests that come in throughout the year to assist people of color with funding for bluegrass music lessons, instrument repair, bluegrass camps and workshops, and other educational needs. 

Arnold Shultz occupies an important place in bluegrass history as the mature black artist who instructed a young Bill Monroe in the ways of blues music, which Monroe eventually incorporated into his vision of bluegrass. Shultz is also remembered for giving Bill his first paying gig as a young man, and Monroe recalls seeing Arnold often playing guitar at dances with Bill’s Uncle Pen Vandiver on fiddle.

The IBMA Foundation and Pinecone, the Piedmont Council of Traditional Music, are happy to share the release of a music video for the song, Shultz’s Dream, written and performed by Dom Flemmons, with Tray Wellington on banjo, Richard Brown on mandolin, Brian Farrow on bass, and Dante Pope on percussion. The video was produced in part through an Arnold Shultz Fund grant in 2022.

The IBMA Foundation is funded through donations of all sizes from people who want to contribute to their vision, but may not be aware of the best avenues of support. Full details on tax deductible donations can be found online.

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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.