IBMA Foundation announces 2023 scholarship/award winners

Lucy Howe Becker and Cade Botts, recipients of IBMA Foundation awards

The IBMA Foundation, engaged in philanthropic and educational wok within the bluegrass world, has announced the 2023 winners of their five college scholarships for the academic year beginning this fall, as well as the Neil Rosenberg Bluegrass Scholar Award.

These students are chosen in a highly competitive process, with awards endowed by members of the professional bluegrass community and such others who may choose to donate to these individual scholarship funds. While there are five separate named awards, we have four recipients this year as one student received two.

Here re the 2023 recipients, with biographical information provided by the Foundation:

  • Lucy Howe Becker originally from Lexington, Kentucky, and now living in Morehead, Kentucky, is the 2023 recipient of both the Sally Ann Forrester Scholarship and the Rick Lang Music Songwriter Scholarship. Lucy is a senior at Morehead State University, majoring in Traditional Music. She plays the fiddle, sings, and writes songs. In addition to her studies, Lucy enjoys teaching private lessons, writing, and performing with different bands. Her goal is to be a performer, to compose songs, and to be a teacher who inspires young people interested in bluegrass music. 
  • Alaina Majkrzak, a sophomore at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tennessee, is the recipient of the Katy Daley Broadcaster & Sound Engineering Scholarship. Originally from Kenosha, Wisconsin, Alaina is a guitarist and singer working on a Bluegrass Music Industry major at ETSU. Her academic focus is on learning production and performing in bluegrass and Celtic groups. When she completes her degree, Alaina hopes to combine her passion for music with teaching. She’s interested in performing with a group and contributing her production skills in the areas of running live sound and engineering/producing in the studio. 
  • Liam Purcell, a senior at Berklee College of Music in Boston, will receive the IBMA Bluegrass College Scholarship for 2023. The IBMA Bluegrass College Scholarship is awarded to a student who plans to be involved in the bluegrass music industry on a professional level and who shows evidence of talent in a bluegrass-related field. Liam is majoring in Performance, with a concentration on Bluegrass and American Roots Music. His goals at Berklee are to expand his technical knowledge of music, learn production and business skills, and be a part of an environment that constantly challenges his musicianship. Liam’s primary instrument is mandolin, but he also plays banjo. He is interested in sound engineering and is also a songwriter. Purcell fronts his own band, Liam Purcell and Cane Mill Road, based in Deep Gap, North Carolina. The group plays 85-100 dates a year. 
  • Jack Rehbeck, a freshman at Denison University in Granville, Ohio, will receive the J.D. Crowe Banjo Scholarship this year. Originally from Newark, Ohio, Jack plays banjo, as well as mandolin and guitar. He is pursuing a degree in American Roots Music, and his goal is to work as a professional bluegrass musician. 

More information on all of these scholarships, the people who inspired and/or funded them, and how to apply for 2024, can be found online.

It is also announced today that Cade Botts receives the 2023 Neil Rosenberg Bluegrass Scholar Award, given to a rising bluegrass scholar in a graduate program (masters of doctoral), or recent graduates with such degrees. Cade is set to graduate this summer from the University of Tennessee with a masters in music theory. The topic for his thesis is Bluegrass: A Voicing.

Growing up in Huntsville, TN, Botts recalls being bitten by the bluegrass bug at age 10.

“After hearing my cousin’s bluegrass band, I knew I had to learn banjo. My grandma bought me my first banjo, and she took me to a local Christian bookstore where I got some Dr. Ralph Stanley CDs. I was in my high school’s bluegrass band, but when I went to UT, I focused more on piano and classical music. Fortunately, once I went into quarantine due to COVID, I did what the average musician does and bought an extremely expensive instrument to encourage me to play more, and I have been completely immersed with bluegrass music since.”

His thesis advisors recommended that Cade move away from the classical idiom in his research, and focus where he had the greatest personal interest and knowledge. Once he met with Fred Bartenstein at World of Bluegrass last year, and learned about the academic paper Fred had written on bluegrass harmony, he decided to follow up and expand on that topic.

“Trio harmonies are crucial to bluegrass music, so discovering the combinations and their use in the genre became my topic. I read all kinds of articles and books while also listening to bluegrass vocals for hours each day. I was also going to bluegrass festivals interviewing singers.

My grandpa would always sing to me the old hymn, Farther Along, and there are hundreds of covers of the tune. I thought surely if there are this many different versions then I should find some sort of pattern. I chose some of the most notable bluegrass renditions of the song, transcribed them to study, and used the information to create a list of part-writing conventions for bluegrass vocals.”

Congratulations to all the 2023 winners, and to the IBMA Foundation for the work they do spurring on the next generation of bluegrass artists, writers, broadcasters, and scholars.

Given the way the Foundation works, anyone can make donations at any time to any of these scholarship programs, which not only assures their continuation into the future, but can affect the amount dispersed each year.

Full details on donating to the IBMA Foundation can be found on their web site.

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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.