IBMM honors The Godfather

And we’re not talking pizza, or anyone in the Corleone family.

The International Bluegrass music Museum has announced a partnership with the H.L. Neblett Community Center in Owensboro for the Arnold Shultz String Music Project. Shultz was a musical contemporary of Bill Monroe, who Monroe had claimed as a major influence and mentor. He was a black blues musician who played banjo, guitar and mandolin and is said to have hired Big Mon for his first gigs, playing square dances as a young man.

Arnold has picked up the sobriquet “Godfather of Bluegrass” owing to his close relationship with Monroe, the unchallenged Father of Bluegrass.

Last April, during his I’m Going Back To Old Kentucky series on Bill Monroe’s life, Richard F. Thompson posted this:

Monroe once said of Shultz…

“There’s things in my music, you know, that come from Arnold Shultz; ½ runs that I use in a lot of my music. I don’t say that I make them the same way that he could make them, ’cause he was powerful with it. In following a fiddle piece or a breakdown, he used a pick and could just run from one chord to another the prettiest you’ve ever heard. There’s no guitar picker today that could do that.”

While Richard D. Smith wrote in his book about Bill Monroe, Can’t You Hear Me Callin’, that had he been recorded by field folk recorders or race record labels…

“Arnold Shultz would today share the pantheon of African-American country blues greats with Mississippi John Hurt, Son House, and even Robert Johnson.”

The Arnold Shultz String Music Project in Owensboro seeks to expose inner city children (7-10) to bluegrass music, and give them the opportunity to learn to play bluegrass instruments. The example of a master black musician like Schultz partnering with a white icon like Monroe is the model they will use to encourage youngsters of all races to embrace the music those two legends created. Lessons will be offered at the Neblett Center one day each week, with a goal of eventually putting together a multiracial youth band to perform at the IBMM’s annual festival, ROMP.

This new partnership was announced at a press conference yesterday (2/13), timed to occur during Black History Month as a tribute to Hattie Neblett, a pioneering force for after school programs for black youth in Owensboro. More details can be found in a full report from the city’s Messenger-Inquirer newspaper.

Just imagine what these sorts of programs the museum has spearheaded in Owensboro could accomplish if they were recreated across the country – and the world!

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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.