Red Shipley remembered

Thanks to Richard F. Thompson for putting together this lovely remembrance of Red Shipley.

Red ShipleyRobert Grant ‘Red’ Shipley: September 4, 1937 – October 6, 2007

Legendary radio personality Red Shipley passed away in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Saturday, October 6, due to cancer. He had just recently retired from being the host of WAMU’s Stained Glass Bluegrass program, a show he hosted for 25 years. His last show was on September 16.

Shipley’s career as a bluegrass DJ has spanned more than 50 years, with the common factor throughout being the songs that serve as the foundation for his bluegrass gospel programs. He began his career at WJMA-AM in Orange, Virginia, on Memorial Day 1956. Later, during his time at WPIK-AM/WXRA-FM in Alexandria, Virginia, he began a program called Inside Bluegrass, and met Jerry Gray, who was instrumental in taking him to WAMU 88.5. Red filled in initially for Jerry and other bluegrass hosts, and in August 1982, took his place a the host of Stained Glass Bluegrass, where he remained until his recent retirement. Red’s reputation for his partiality for great music has spread world wide via the Internet and the show continues to be heard on BluegrassCountry.org.

Listeners in the Washington, DC area can also hear Stained Glass Bluegrass on WAMU’s 88.5 HD-2 (the hyper digital channels which parallels the bluegrass programming on BluegrassCountry.org.)

After his retirement from the trade show industry in late 1995, Shipley returned to Orange, Virginia., to be closer to his family. This move brought about a unique partnership between WAMU 88.5 and commercial station WJMA-FM in Orange that has allowed Red to continue to serve his regular listeners and has added even more loyal Stained Glass Bluegrass fans in central Virginia.

In September 2006, the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) named Red as its Broadcaster of the Year.

In a formal announcement on the WAMU 88.5FM website, Caryn G. Mathes, General Manager for WAMU 88.5, commented on Sunday ……

“Radio lost one of its own legends last night. I’m deeply saddened by the news of Red’s passing, but grateful that he was able to spend 25 years on the air with us at WAMU, and heartened that he was able to continue doing what he loved for so long.”

Bass player, Kip Martin, who has toured and recorded with a variety of very well known names in bluegrass music and who founded the DC Bluegrass Union in 2001, adds his sentiments at this very sad time ……

“Personally, as a bluegrass and Southern Gospel performer, I was in complete awe of Red’s encyclopedic knowledge and passionate dedication to the inspirational music he loved. Quite simply, no one on Earth knew more about Bluegrass Gospel music than Red! I also admired Red’s ability to bring the Word of God to his fellow man without employing the ‘hard sell’ tactics prevalent in today’s modern media ministries. Red gently and subtly changed this world by doing what he loved to do.

Red was a good man who loved his work, his fellows, and above all, God. If we all followed Red’s example, this world would be a brighter, gentler, and less troubled place.”

Personal friend and compiler of the Bluegrass Unlimited column Notes & Queries, Walt Saunders shares with us a few of his thoughts …………..

“As my buddy Harold ‘Butch’ Smith of the East Virginia band told me yesterday, ‘Red Shipley was one of the good guys.’ I remember him as a DJ and MC for at least 40 years or more in and around northern Virginia and D.C.. He was a great friend to bluegrass.

About three years ago, Red was MC at the Graves Mountain Festival in Syria, Virginia. When he came off stage after working for several hours, I walked up to him to just say ‘Hi,’ because we hadn’t talked for a few years. We ended up having a wonderful chat, sitting and talking for about two hours, and reminiscing about the old days. I consider his passing a great loss to the bluegrass community, as well as a personal one. He was a great friend.”

Bob Webster, who has been co-host and engineer supporting Red in the production of Stained Glass Bluegrass since Spring 2002, offers some insight into Red’s character ‚Ķ‚Ķ.

“Red stood his ground when it came to music and didn’t always go along with the crowd. If he heard potential in a band, he would play their music even if it didn’t fit the classic formulas for bluegrass or gospel quartets. He could hear something in those sounds that audiences would appreciate and he thought the listeners should have the opportunity to experience the group. He also developed a very succinct way of describing the artists and the songs. Often his wit was floating just beneath the surface of those descriptions if one listened closely. He had a deep and respectful love of the bluegrass and southern gospel songs and artists. His hosting of Stained Glass Bluegrass for just over 25 years was a true labour of love. He also produced other weekly gospel shows for smaller audiences on other stations without compensation as a way of giving back to the community. Red’s presence and insights will be greatly missed.”

Some additional memories of Red Shipley can be found in The Washington Post, while fellow WAMU host Rob Bamberger has added a footnote to The Washington Post’s obituary.

See also this previous post on Bluegrass Today.

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics.

A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe.

He wrote the annotated series I’m On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.