The IBMA (International Bluegrass Music Association) Foundation recently awarded $12,050 in Arnold Shultz Fund grants to eight programs and individuals in Alaska, Arizona, California, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. The Arnold Shultz Fund was established in 2020 by the IBMA Foundation to encourage participation in bluegrass music by people of color.

“We’re proud to announce the first round of Arnold Shultz Fund grant recipients, and we hope to keep doing this for many years to come,” said Dr. Richard Brown, co-chair of the Shultz advisory committee. “We are pleased to offer a proactive, helping hand to individuals who come from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups in the bluegrass community. Bluegrass music belongs to everyone. We are grateful to our donors who continue to support the IBMA Foundation and this initiative, especially during the COVID pandemic. Their generosity has made it possible to award grants to these very deserving musicians and program organizers.”

Arnold Shultz Fund grant recipients:

  • BASEArizona and Jam Pak Band, BanJam 2021; Chandler, AZ
  • Bluegrass Pride and Decolonizing the Music Room, “Juneteenth: A Rainbow Revival”; San Francisco, CA and Fort Worth, TX
  • Dancing with the Spirit, Bluegrass Song Videos & Curriculum for Alaskan Village Schools; Fairbanks, AK
  • Nokosee Fields, recording project; Lafayette, LA
  • Louisville Folk School, “Black Voices in Kentucky Music History”; Louisville, KY
  • NorthStar Church of the Arts, “Country Soul Songbook”; Durham, NC
  • Stephen Wang, guitar lessons; Los Gatos, CA
  • Tray Wellington, audio and visual gear upgrade; Johnson City, TN

Anni Beach, the leader of the Chandler, AZ-based Jam Pak Band afterschool bluegrass program, is launching a community outreach program April 5 – October 29, 2021 called BanJam 2021. In collaboration with BASEArizona (Black Alliance and Social Empowerment), the Jam Pak Band will organize and lead a weekly group banjo and bass class for 6-10 youth and adults from the African American community. Instruments will be provided at no charge and the weekly one-hour classes will be free. The two BanJam instructors are of African American heritage and have grown up in the Jam Pak Band program. The history and joy of making bluegrass music will be taught to a group of people who likely will have no experience with the genre or the instruments.

San Francisco-based Bluegrass Pride, in collaboration with Fort Worth-based Decolonizing the Music Room (DTMR), will present “Juneteenth: A Rainbow Revival,” a three-hour digital concert and showcase featuring six acts, on June 19, 2021. Curated by DTMR’s executive director, Brandi Waller-Pace, the event will highlight the music of Black LGBTQ+ roots artists and collaborators. Joining a larger suite of Pride Month programming from Bluegrass Pride, “Juneteenth: A Rainbow Revival” seeks to elevate historical awareness of Juneteenth as a date of national importance and highlight the Black and trans roots of the modern Pride Movement. In doing so, these nonprofits hope to make the bluegrass music community and industry a more inclusive place for Black LGBTQ+ musicians and fans and help to revive the often obscured presence of Blackness in bluegrass, old-time, and American traditional music. 

Belle Mickelson, director of Alaska-based Dancing with the Spirit, is creating a video collection of bluegrass songs with accompanying song words, chords and fiddle tabs that can be used virtually. Since 2006, Dancing with the Spirit has traveled to 55 remote Alaskan Native villages, flying in with a planeload of guitars and fiddles to spend a week teaching at schools, with local elders providing cultural and language connections. By the end of the week, students were ready to perform for a community concert and dance. Due to the pandemic, they’ve been sending instruments and providing song videos, curriculum, and Zoom lessons to keep the music going. Teachers are mostly Native Alaskan, and the program goal is to encourage healthy choices—preventing suicide, drug and alcohol use—as they bring joy, happiness, and hope to villages by connecting students with elders through music. 

Nokosee Fields of Lafayette, LA is planning a new recording that will feature the Cherokee fiddling tradition he grew up with. Fields is a member of the Osage, Creek and Cherokee Nations. The project will feature contemporary indigenous fiddling, early Black indigenous string band repertoire, and a mixture of old-time music with bluegrass songs and instrumentals. Fields hopes the recording will spark conversations about indigenous contributions to bluegrass music and that his visibility will help to inspire younger indigenous players to explore string band music.  

Dave Howard, Executive Director of the Louisville Folk School in Kentucky, is planning a program called “Black Voices in Kentucky Music History” that will explore the critical role of African Americans in the emergence of American string band music. In collaboration with Kentucky Performing Arts, Louisville Folk School will create a three-part series of virtual educational and entertaining sessions with a focus on reclaiming bluegrass music’s multiple roots. Each program will combine elements of under-told stories of Black musicians in folk music traditions, audience Q & A, and performances by the segment’s featured artists. Presentations will be available free online to the general public. Presenters for the 2021 series include Dom Flemons, Rachel Grimes, Michael Jones, Keith Lawrence, and Leyla McCalla.

Kamara Thomas presents the “Country Soul Songbook,” a creative community and online platform that features performances, interviews, conversations, and cultural offerings which seek to amplify historically marginalized voices in country and Americana music. A segment of programming will be devoted to the presentation of BIPOC bluegrass artists, a tribute to Arnold Shultz, and the contributions of artists of color to the bluegrass lineage as part of the Country Soul Songbook Summit conference and festival planned for fall 2021. The initiative is affiliated with NorthStar Church of the Arts, a Durham, NC-based organization committed to centering BIPOC and LGBTQIA voices in the arts.

Stephen Wang, a young California-based, Chinese-American musician with first-generation parents, will use his Shultz grant to take guitar lessons from Jack Tuttle, beginning in March 2021. In his application Stephen said, “I am not a professional musician, but I wonder how far I can take my guitar playing with dedicated practice and quality mentoring. As a person of color, I also realize that representation is important. My presence and involvement alone would benefit the bluegrass community simply for the unique perspective I would bring to the table. I hope to be skilled enough to be able to inspire other people of color.” 

Trajan (Tray) Wellington, an African American banjo player, will use his Shultz grant for an audio and visual gear upgrade. Wellington (21) has been playing Scruggs-style banjo since age 14 and is currently a senior at East Tennessee State University with a major in Bluegrass, Old-Time and Country Music Studies and a minor in Marketing. He plans to take a gap year before pursuing a master’s degree. Tray was the 2019 IBMA Momentum Award Instrumentalist of the Year and Cane Mill Road, his band at the time, was named IBMA Momentum Band of the Year. In 2020 he signed a recording deal with the Mountain Home Music Company, and his second album will be released this year. In his application Tray said, “My journey in bluegrass has been great so far, though I hope to see more diverse artists in the future of the music.” 

Arnold Shultz (1886 – 1931) was an African American musician from western Kentucky. Shultz, best known as an extraordinary guitarist and fiddle player, often played guitar with Bill Monroe’s fiddle-playing uncle, Pendleton (“Pen”) Vandiver. It was at these gigs that Monroe met Arnold Shultz and began to emulate Shultz’s backup guitar style. Shultz was impressed enough with Monroe’s progress that he hired Monroe to play guitar with him at dances, thereby giving Monroe his first professional music jobs. Arnold Shultz was a mentor to Bill Monroe, who also credited Shultz with influencing his approach to playing music.

The deadline to apply for the next round of Arnold Shultz Fund grants is December 1, 2021. Qualified applicants may also inquire throughout the year about support, on a case-by-case basis. For information on applying for an Arnold Shultz Fund grant, becoming a sponsor of an IBMA Foundation grant, or making a donation to the IBMA Foundation, please visit https://bluegrassfoundation.org or email info@bluegrassfoundation.org.

Photos, L-R: Tray Wellington; Jam Pak Band instructors for BanJam program Lucy Tanyi (banjo) and (Joelle Tambe-Ebot (bass), with Giselle Lee and Ryland Ellersby not pictured; Stephan Wang, Nokosee Fields; (second row) Dancing with the Spirit bluegrass class in Hughes, AK