Russell Johnson to lead UNC bluegrass band

Russell JohnsonThe Music Department at the University of North Carolina has announced the creation of The Carolina Bluegrass Band, open to all students enrolled in classes at their primary Chapel Hill campus. It’s part of the newly-created Bluegrass Initiative within the Department to incorporate more opportunities for students to pursue the music while studying at UNC.

To lead the band, the Department has chosen Russell Johnson, UNC grad and recognized bluegrass performer, bandleader, and songwriter. Russell has been active in a number of nationally recognized groups, most notably New Vintage, The Grass Cats, and Diamond Creek. He resides in nearby Four Oaks, NC.

The Carolina Bluegrass Band will debut during the upcoming Fall 2016 semester. Johnson will conduct auditions, assemble a band, and run rehearsals during the semester. A concert will be presented at the end of the year, along with others both at the school and in the community.

Auditions are scheduled at the start of the semester and students will have the opportunity to sign up in mid-August.

Even before this official recognition, bluegrass music has thrived on the UNC campus. The Steep Canyon Rangers were formed while its members were enrolled there, as were Big Fat Gap and Americana groups Mipso and Mandolin Orange. Who knows what awaits alumni of the Carolina Bluegrass Band?

The Bluegras Initiative also sees the introduction of a new course on the history of bluegrass music, taught by Professor Jocelyn Neal, which will also examine what defines the music and how it has interacted with the regional culture. The Department has also scheduled a symposium for November 11-12 in collaboration with the Southern Folklife Collection and Carolina Performing Arts. Steep Canyon Rangers and Carolina Bluegrass Band will appear at a concert during the symposium.

UNC recognizes 1977 graduate John A. Powell whose generosity has enabled them to launch the Bluegrass Initiative and the Carolina Bluegrass Band.

Prospective students interested in auditioning are requested to contact the Music Department 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.