The Foundation for Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) Foundation has announced the establishment of an Arnold Shultz Fund to support activities increasing participation of people of color in bluegrass music. Arnold Shultz (1886–1931) was an African American musician from western Kentucky who had a profound influence on Bill Monroe’s music and the development of bluegrass.

The idea for the fund grew out of an online conversation in June 2020 among alumni of IBMA’s Leadership Bluegrass program. In just a week—before it had been formally announced—word of mouth spread awareness of the Arnold Shultz Fund internationally, generating considerable enthusiasm and $1,400 in donations. In less than two months after the Shultz Fund was announced, more than $31,000 had been raised–thanks in part to a generous donation from comedian/banjo player Steve Martin. In 2017 Rhiannon Giddens, in a keynote address at World of Bluegrass in Raleigh, challenged the bluegrass music community to “tear down those artificial divisions and let bluegrass and string band music be the welcoming place that it has, and can be, and, in more ad more places.”

The IBMA Foundation is in the process of appointing an advisory committee to make decisions about how funds donated to the Arnold Shultz Fund may best be used. Such uses might include scholarships, awards, or projects. Richard S. Brown, DMD, a nationally known mandolinist in the Bill Monroe style, a member of the IBMA Foundation’s board of directors, and an African American, will co-chair the advisory committee with noted bluegrass historian, author, banjoist, and Bluegrass Hall of Fame member, Neil V. Rosenberg. Erika Brady a professor in the Department of Folk Studies and Anthropologies at Western Kentucky University, and Trisha Tubbs, retired founder of SoftResources LLC, have also agreed to serve on the advisory committee.

“We have to see where bluegrass music can go, where it hasn’t gone before,” Dr. Rosenberg said, “by paying attention to people who are sometimes seen as on the fringe or outsiders. The Arnold Shultz Fund seeks to welcome people of color into bluegrass. As a musician I’ve always appreciated the progressive nature of this music. It’s never the same. Here’s an important opportunity for us to develop, to take new directions.”

“Of course I think the Arnold Shultz Fund is a great idea,” Dr. Brown said. “Arnold Shultz is long overdue for recognition because of his influence on bluegrass music. Arnold played with Bill Monroe’s fiddling uncle Pen Vandiver as a guitarist. Shultz was also a sought-after fiddler and later hired Bill to play guitar for him at dances. Bill Monroe told me about Arnold Shultz and their dance gigs more than 50 years ago, when I was in my twenties. The stories would always end with Bill saying, ‘Now, isn’t that something?’ Yes, it’s time to take Arnold Shultz, one of our hidden legends, out of obscurity and into the mainstream.”

Born near Cromwell in Kentucky’s Ohio County, Shultz was the son of a former slave. He died at the age of 45 of a mitral lesion in his heart, although legend persists that he died as a result of poisoned whiskey given to him by a white musician who was jealous of his talent. Born into a family of musicians, Shultz first learned guitar from an uncle. He also worked as a laborer in coal mines and as a deck hand on riverboats, traveling from the Ohio River in Kentucky down the Mississippi to New Orleans. In the early 1920s Shultz performed in hillbilly and Dixieland bands with both black and white musicians, including a group headed by Forest “Boots” Faught. Rhiannon Giddens concluded her 2017 keynote address, “As Boots Faught said when he was confronted about Arnold Shultz being a colored fiddler in his band, ‘You don’t hear color. You hear music.’

Bill Monroe said that his first paying gig as a musician came when Shultz hired him to play guitar for a square dance. Though Shultz never recorded, Bill Monroe credited him as a powerful influence on bluegrass music, saying that was where the lonesome, blues feeling in bluegrass came from.

To help build awareness and support for the Arnold Shultz Fund, a super group of some of Denver, Colorado’s best bluegrass musicians organized a fundraising concert June 26, 2020. The Denver Bluegrass Allstars, featuring Andy Hall and Chris Pandolfi (the Infamous Stringdusters), Paul Hoffman (Greensky Bluegrass), Greg Garrison (Leftover Salmon), and flatpicking champion Tyler Grant made their debut with a free livestream from Denver’s Mighty Fine Productions.

The IBMA Foundation supports the following vision statement of the International Bluegrass Music Association: Diversity and inclusion are essential to the well-being and continued growth of bluegrass music. We encourage, embrace and celebrate the participation and involvement in bluegrass by people of all abilities, genders, orientations, identities, faiths, culture and backgrounds.