On February 15, the IBMA Foundation announced the launch of the J. D. Crowe Banjo Scholarship. Longtime friend and fellow Kentucky bluegrass musician Arthur Hancock III made the initial $20,000 donation to create the fund and endow the scholarship for the benefit of banjo players for generations to come. Hancock’s son, Arthur Hancock IV, a member of the IBMA Foundation board of directors, was instrumental in creating the scholarship in Crowe’s memory.
The first J. D. Crowe Banjo Scholarship will be awarded in August 2022 for the fall semester of study. The deadline for applications for all IBMA Foundation – hosted scholarships is June 1. Apply for the J. D. Crowe Banjo Scholarship and other IBMA Foundation-hosted scholarships at this link.
Legendary banjo stylist and Bluegrass Hall of Fame member J. D. Crowe (1937-2021) was one of the most influential banjo players in the history of bluegrass music. Originally from Lexington, Kentucky, and inspired by the banjo playing of Earl Scruggs, he began performing as a teenager first with Esco Hankins, Benny Williams, Curly Parker and Pee Wee Lambert before joining Jimmy Martin’s Sunny Mountain Boys in 1954. After a 1955 stint with Mac Wiseman, J. D. re-joined Martin’s band in 1956. In 1961 Crowe formed the Kentucky Mountain Boys, changing the band name to J. D. Crowe and the New South in 1971. He received a Grammy award in 1983 and an honorary doctorate from the University of Kentucky in 2012. J. D. had a profound influence on a number of his band members over the years, including Tony Rice, Ricky Skaggs, Jerry Douglas, Doyle Lawson, Keith Whitley, Jimmy Gaudreau, Gene Johnson, Don Rigsby, Ron Stewart, Phil Leadbetter, Rickey Wasson and many more. He was also a member of the landmark Bluegrass Album Band with Lawson, Rice, Douglas, Bobby Hicks, Todd Phillips, and later, Vassar Clements and Mark Schatz.
J. D. Crowe Banjo Scholarships will be awarded to individuals planning to study the banjo at the college level or play the banjo in a college-level bluegrass ensemble. Applicants must already demonstrate a high level of performance skills on the five-string banjo and plan to become involved in the bluegrass music industry on a professional level.
Born into one of the most respected families in horse racing, Arthur Hancock III is the grandson of the founder of Claiborne Farm. His father, Arthur B. “Bull” Hancock Jr., grew the farm to international status. Arthur honed his skills on the family farm and, after graduating from Vanderbilt University, worked for Hall of Fame trainer Eddie Neloy before taking ownership of Stone Farm. There he has been involved in breeding, raising, and racing a number of Champions and Classic winners. An accomplished musician, Arthur is a devotee of bluegrass music and has written songs which have been recorded by Willie Nelson, Ray Price and other artists. He and wife Staci have six children and three grandchildren.
Hancock and Crowe were friends for more than 50 years. “Being around Peter Rowan and going with him to a few of the rehearsals of the Blue Grass Boys really inspired me to become much more of a bluegrass addict than I already was,” Hancock recalled. “When I came home from college for the Christmas break in 1964, I asked if there was any bluegrass music in Lexington, and I was told that there was a great banjo player who had a band playing at Martin’s Place on North Limestone. I went over there on a Saturday night and was floored. He was the best I’d ever heard other than maybe Earl Scruggs, and his name was J. D. Crowe. During the break, I introduced myself to him and he asked if I would like to get up and do a couple of numbers.”
Hancock continued, “We were good friends ever since, and he played banjo on my CD, Sunday Silence. J. D. is a legend in bluegrass music, and I followed him all those years since the ’60s, watching him inspire and put together bands with so many important and influential musicians. Outside of Nashville, Lexington became the mecca for bluegrass music, and it was all spearheaded and organized by J. D. Crowe. I am proud to have called him my friend and take great pleasure and pride in having seen this original art form flourish and become world famous, in no small part due to the lifelong dedication and expertise of J. D.”
J. D. Crowe was an inspiration to Arthur Hancock IV, from the first time they met at his father’s Sunday Silence recording sessions. The eighth grader couldn’t take his eyes off J. D. or his banjo. The younger Hancock went on to play banjo professionally in bands like the Wooks, an award-winning group he put together in 2014. His current gig is on guitar and vocals with the Wolfpen Branch band.
IBMA Foundation board chair Fred Bartenstein said, “We are so pleased about the establishment of a scholarship specifically for bluegrass banjo players in memory of the great J. D. Crowe. He taught and mentored so many banjo players during his lifetime; it is appropriate that a scholarship named for him will continue to educate and influence bluegrass banjo players for generations to come. We thank the Hancock family for their generous donation to found the J. D. Crowe Banjo Scholarship, and it is our hope that other bluegrass colleagues, friends and fans of J. D. Crowe will also support this scholarship.”
Return to the March 2022 issue of The Cornerstone.
Photo above: L-R, Arthur Hancock III and J. D. Crowe (courtesy of the Hancock family)