Sharon Horovitch and Jim Muller to RIBA Hall of Fame

New England bluegrass stalwarts and mainstays of the group Southern Rail, Sharon Horovitch and Jim Muller are to be inducted into the Rhode Island Bluegrass Alliance’s Hall of Fame.

Horovitch shared this about their reaction to getting news of the honour ….

“Jim and I found out about the induction around Christmas, when we got a call from Bill Thibodeau and Deborah Hall. (Bill is the RIBA vice president, and Deborah is a RIBA board member). We were absolutely floored. This was an unexpected honor.”

Horovitch hails from Montreal, Quebec, and grew up listening to folk and classical music, that was until she attended her first bluegrass concert, which featured Joe Val & the New England Bluegrass Boys. Her first instrument was guitar, but that was soon replaced by the acoustic bass.  

Muller hails from Richmond, Virginia, born into a musical family. He fell in love with bluegrass banjo as a young child when his family watched locally-produced TV shows featuring bands from the Richmond area. His first instrument in grade school was the trumpet, but by the age of 14 he turned to the guitar, and after finishing college at Virginia Tech he started playing banjo. He is the band’s principal lead singer and song-writer. 

Some of Muller’s most popular songs are I Didn’t Ask (a love song that he wrote for Horovitch), Carolina Lightning (which he wrote during a tour to North Carolina during a thunderstorm), as well as two contemplative songs; Just a Little Man and My Old Friends.

Horovitch and Muller met as graduate students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where they both earned their doctorates, she in molecular biology and he in geophysics. They married in 1977 and decided to stay in New England. At that point, Muller had been doing a lot of song-writing and in 1978 Horovitch and Muller co-founded Southern Rail.

During the ensuing 41 years, Southern Rail has produced 13 recordings (two LPs, 10 CDs and a DVD) on a several record labels; Turquoise, Pinecastle, as well as on their own labels, Track Records and Railway Records. 

Their 1995 bluegrass Gospel compilation entitled Glory Train was a finalist for IBMA’s Gospel Recording of the Year award. The group has toured extensively, and over the years they’ve taken their music to 26 US states and Canadian provinces.

Since Muller and Horovitch came from very different musical backgrounds, their goal from the outset was to reach as broad and as diverse an audience as possible across the US and Canada. They wanted to expand the audience for bluegrass. This was the task that Horovitch undertook in managing and booking the band’s appearances. In addition to performing at bluegrass festivals, Southern Rail has appeared at Folk and Cajun music festivals; in Performing Arts series, churches, at coffeehouses, house concerts and town concerts; on educational TV; doing school programs, at Boston’s First Night events, and even on a Mississippi riverboat cruise that Horovitch organised in the late 1990s. 

Also, Southern Rail has collaborated with countless choirs and large chorale groups, performing such pieces as The World Beloved: A Bluegrass Mass by Carol Barnett.

Muller’s lead singing was described in an early Bluegrass Now magazine review as “one of the most distinctive voices in bluegrass today.” Horovitch’s tenor and high baritone lines help further define the group’s trademark close harmonies. The band is often asked to present vocal harmony workshops at festivals. One of their most memorable vocal workshops was at the Strawberry Music Festival in California, where they led over 400 people in four-part a cappella Gospel harmony. 

Also, Muller has extensive experience in acoustics and had shared that knowledge by writing a regular advice column, Plugged In, about sound reinforcement for bluegrass musicians for the now-defunct Bluegrass Now magazine. Muller is often asked to give sound reinforcement workshops at festivals. He has managed sound systems at festivals and major concert events as well. 

A Bluegrass Canada magazine review described Southern Rail as a group that, “brims with contemporary energy, harmonies and nuance while featuring lots of original material. A bluegrass band with the total package of style, material, vocals and picking.”

Another review, this in Baltimore’s Dirty Linen magazine, stated, “There’s a renewed exuberance in Southern Rail’s harmonies and playing that seems to emanate from meticulous attention to composition and a sheer joy in picking.”

Southern Rail’s music, as well as their performances, really connects with audiences.

Deborah Hall, Board Member of the Rhode Island Bluegrass Alliance, explained the process and how it relates to Horovitch and Muller …..

“We started the Rhode Island Bluegrass Alliance Hall of Fame in 2016 to recognize individuals who distinguished themselves in the field of bluegrass music by virtue of influence and impact on our community of Southern New England. Annually, members are asked to nominate people, and a committee made up of several bluegrass enthusiasts and historians select inductees. 

There are dozens of people in our local community that have been justly nominated by our members for the RIBA Hall of Fame. We are saving the qualified candidates and for the next decade or so, will be the ‘go big or go home stages’ of inductee selection. Sharon and Jim were nominated by members and met the slam dunk, no questions category. Quite openly, their influence and impact personally touched most of our board members and all of the folk on this year’s 2019 HOF selection committee. It is with great pleasure that I personally know and admire these two folks. There was no need to probe deeper.”

In addition to the induction of Sharon Horovitch and Jim Muller there will be a posthumous induction of Charlie Pike Sr., one of the Rhode Island Bluegrass Alliance founders and former Vice President and organizer of the Podunk Bluegrass Kids’ Academy. 

The Induction Ceremony will be held on Friday, April 5, 2019, The Imperial Room at One Rhodes Place, Cranston, Rhode Island, from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Doors open at 6:00 with the presentations to start at 7:00. 

The event is open to the public. Hors d’oeuvres, dessert, and coffee will be served, and a cash bar will be available. 

Following the ceremony there will be a huge jam session, so if you’re a picker, take along your instrument(s) and join the celebration! 

Tickets are $12 for RIBA members and $15 for non-members in advance, and $20 for everyone at the door.

RIBA serves to promote bluegrass music and its education in the southern New England area.

A Discography:

  • Looking for the Lighthouse (Track Records Track-0587, released in 1987)
  • Home (Track Records Track-0589), 1989
  • The Early Years (1987-1989)
  • Drive by Night (Turquoise Records TR-5047) 1991
  • Roadwork (Turquoise Records TR-5083) 1992
  • Carolina Lightning (Turquoise Records TR-5090), 1993
  • Glory Train (Pinecastle Records PRC-1050), 1995 – this bluegrass Gospel compilation was nominated for Gospel Recorded Performance of The Year (1996) by IBMA
  • Wasting My Time (Pinecastle Records PRC-1080, 1998)
  • Coal Tattoo (Railway RRCD 91101, 2002)
  • Live! At the Linden Tree (Railway, 2008)
  • On the Road from Appomattox (Railway SRCD 0609, 2009)
  • Voices in the Wind (Railway, 2016)
  • Southern Rail Saturday Night – Live in Concert, DVD 

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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.