Pete Kuykendall passes

We have just learned of the passing of Pete Kuykendall, surely among the most consequential figures in bluegrass music during the 20th century. According to his wife, Kitsy, Pete passed in his sleep last night at the nursing facility where he was living in Warrenton, VA. He was 79 years of age.

Most people in bluegrass know Pete as the founder and Executive Editor of Bluegrass Unlimited, the first wide circulation periodical for and about bluegrass music. The magazine was launched in 1966 as a typed and mimeographed newsletter, but has grown steadily since that time to a glossy, full-color publication read around the world.

But Pete was also active as a performer, songwriter, publisher, recording engineer, radio host, and discographer in his native Washington, DC. He was instrumental in creating and managing the Indian Springs Bluegrass Festival in Maryland, and produced and recorded a number of albums in his basement studio during the 1960s. Later he served as one of the founders of the International Bluegrass Music Association in 1988.

Though largely retired in recent years, Pete remained active in bluegrass circles, and was always present at festivals along the mid-Atlantic region, and at the annual IBMA World Of Bluegrass convention, until he started having trouble with balance making it difficult for him to walk. Even living with nursing care, he continued to receive friends and share stories until the end.

It would be hard to overstate the importance of Pete Kuykendall’s contributions to our music. Bluegrass Unlimited alone would qualify him for heroic status, coming as it did when the music was in danger of being overshadowed by the growing folk and rock n roll booms in the ’60s. It became the primary source of information for fans, artists, and business people around the world, with news about recordings, artists, festivals, and products introduced to a large and devoted following each month.

He was also an avid collector of instruments, with a treasure trove of fine banjos, mandolins, and guitars in his possession.

It has been said that no one had a better grasp of the history of our music than Pete, and now that precious resource is gone. Let’s all hope that the magazine he founded will continue on in his absence.

We’ll update with further information about arrangements as they are announced.

R.I.P., Pete Kuykendall. A true soldier gone.

UPDATE, August 25 – The Kuykendall family has announced that Pete’s funeral will be held on Wednesday (August 30) at 10:00 a.m. at the Moser Funeral Home in Warrenton, VA. Visitation will be on Tuesday evening from 3:00-5:00 and 7:00-9:00 p.m. at the funeral home.

In lieu of flowers, the family is asking for donations in Pete’s name to the Bluegrass Trust Fund or the International Bluegrass Music Museum.

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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.

  • Terrible news. I have treasured memories with Pete at the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival. Here’s my tribute page that I put together as soon as I saw this article.

  • Kevin L.

    Pete befriended me when I was a young, feeling out of place hippie-type at a festival in 1970.
    I always made a point to seek him out at events or downtown for some talk, advice, food and drink. There were times when I offered to buy the meal just so I could hear some of his awesome stories and correct recollections of history.

    When I received the phone call about Pete’s passing last night, here in the land of his ancestry (Netherlands), the first thing that came to mind was his laugh; my next thought was of Kitsy who stayed at his side and even did some of his ‘fighting’ for him throughout the past several decades.

    All of Pete’s monumental talents aside (musical, administrative, and otherwise) I have known few — very few — people of such excellent impartial judgement, always the bi-partisan thinker, his ability to agree-to-disagree without malice, willing to give you a moment even when he didn’t have the time… the list goes on. Most of all, he remained humble as hell throughout, and sincerely so. That’s just who he was.

    Arguably not many have consistently contributed on a higher plain, for so long, as Pete did for Blue Grass music. No one can argue that Pete has been a most integral part of Blue Grass History.

    So many fine attributes for a human being who found himself immersed in a complicated, often controversial American music genre throughout most of its history.

    In my eyes, Pete Kuykendall was every bit an icon as Bill Monroe, in that he took the Bluegrass Reigns early on and drove that horse and wagon to much success at many levels both for himself and others crazy enough to get too close to this musical genre.

    I have missed not meeting up with him these past 8 years. I miss him now.

    No way I can pick a favorite song written by Pete.
    But I’m going to read some of his lyrics now…
    and then I’m going to listen to Suzanne Cox sing “I Am Weary (Let Me Rest)”.