The IBMA Foundation has awarded a total of $19,170 in Arnold Shultz Fund project grants to programs and individuals in Alaska, Arizona, California, China, Hawaii, Kenya, and North Carolina. 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 a significant increase in the amount of Shultz Fund grants in 2022, compared to the $12,050 we awarded last year,” said Dr. Richard Brown, co-chair of the Arnold Shultz Fund advisory committee along with Neil Rosenberg, Ph.D. “We hope to keep doing this for many years to come, and we’re pleased to include two international programs this year. The IBMA Foundation seeks 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 donors who continue to support the Arnold Shultz Fund and all the other Foundation initiatives, 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 project grant recipients:

  • Dancing with the Spirit (Fairbanks, AK): Bluegrass Song Videos & Curriculum for Alaskan Village Schools
  • Jam Pak Blues ‘N’ Grass (Chandler, AZ): Fair Black Rose Band World of Bluegrass Performance CD
  • The Kealakai Center for Pacific Strings (Kailua, HI): Dreadnought Hawai’i – The Royal Hawaiian Roots of America’s Acoustic Heart documentary film
  • Oscar Chilumo Mbwana and Stephanie Waithera Mwaura (Nairobi, Kenya): Zoom music lessons
  • The Oakland Public Conservatory of Music (Oakland, CA): Banjos & Fiddles for Students
  • PineCone (Raleigh, NC): Arnold Shultz Tribute Performance at IBMA’s World of Bluegrass and Documentary Video
  • Eric Shi (Liang Shi) (Zhejiang, China): Educational Bluegrass Videos for China

Belle Mickelson, director of Alaska-based Dancing with the Spirit, is continuing work on a video collection of bluegrass songs with lyrics, chords and fiddle tabs that can be used virtually. Since 2006 Dancing with the Spirit has traveled to 55 remote Alaskan Native villages with a planeload of guitars and fiddles. A week is spent teaching at schools, with local elders providing cultural and language connections. By the end of the program, students are ready to perform for a community concert and dance. During the pandemic they’ve been sending instruments and providing song videos, curriculum, and Zoom lessons to keep the music going. The 2022 grant continues work begun last year.

The Jam Pak Blues ‘N’ Grass program directed by Anni Beach in Chandler, Arizona, will produce 150 CDs to promote the music of the Fair Black Rose band, using video and audio recordings from performances of the band at World of Bluegrass 2021 in Raleigh, North Carolina. The members of Fair Black Rose are young people of color from the Chandler neighborhood, invited to showcase last year at the International Bluegrass Music Association’s annual convention.

The Kealakai Center for Pacific Strings in Kailua, Hawaii, will use their Shultz Fund grant to help complete post-production work on the film Dreadnought Hawai’i – The Royal Hawaiian Roots of America’s Acoustic Heart, about the history of Hawaiian music and its key role in shaping the design of the Kealakai acoustic guitar, ancestor to the dreadnought. The one-hour documentary captures legendary musicians from the worlds of country, bluegrass, jazz and blues. It shares a new perspective on the earliest roots of bluegrass and the role people of color have played in the history and evolution of modern American popular music—dating back to a century ago on the island of Oʻahu with Mekia Kealakai and his Royal Hawaiian Troubadours.

Violin/bluegrass fiddle students Oscar Chilumo Mbwana and Stephanie Waithera Mwaura will take lessons on Zoom from two accomplished bluegrass fiddlers in the U.S. and Canada, supported by a Shultz Fund grant. Tom Wolf, a U.S. citizen who has resided in Kenya on and off since 1967, submitted the request on behalf of the two musicians who perform with him in a Nairobi-based multi-national ensemble, “Elephant Grass Musical Chairs.”  This is the first bluegrass band in Kenya and as far as Wolf knows the only one currently active in Africa. The grant will support Mbwana and Mwaura’s development as bluegrass fiddlers, including twin/harmony fiddling.

The Oakland (California) Public Conservatory of Music operates the Black Banjo and Fiddle Fellowship, an old-time music program. The Shultz Fund grant will be used to purchase banjos and fiddles, strings, capos, and for maintenance of instruments loaned to students. The program centers African American culture in the development of American musical culture and identity. The goal of the Black Banjo and Fiddle Fellowship is to have Black musicians and scholars mentor and train Black musician-teachers, thus repatriating old-time music.

PineCone, the Piedmont Council of Traditional Music, will use its grant to assemble an Arnold Shultz tribute band, “Dom Flemons and Shultz’s Dream.” The group, also featuring Brian Farrow, Dante’ Pope, and Tray Wellington, will perform at IBMA’s Bluegrass LIVE festival in Raleigh, North Carolina, September 30 – October 1, 2022. The project’s goal is to create shareable video content of a historically accurate performance of how a band with Arnold Shultz might have sounded in rural Kentucky during the 1920s. The performance and video will spotlight contributions of Black musicians in the development of old-time and bluegrass music.

Chinese bluegrass musician Eric Shi (Liang Shi) met the late Saburo Watanabe Inoue (Bluegrass 45, Moonshiner magazine) at a music/instrument convention in Shanghai. In 2010 Eric began banjo lessons with Sab and in 2017 travelled with the Bluegrass 45 when they toured the U.S. Shi has since published two banjo books for the Chinese market, provided in-person and online banjo instruction, and formed a bluegrass band. Eric will create four music videos in the bluegrass style, incorporating traditional Chinese instruments and songs and bluegrass classics, as well as his own original compositions. His goal is to increase the popularity of bluegrass in China with the videos, which he will upload to YouTube and major Chinese video platforms like Bilibili.

Arnold Shultz (1886 – 1931) was an African American musician from western Kentucky. Best known as an extraordinary guitarist and fiddle player, Shultz often played with Bill Monroe’s fiddle-playing uncle, Pendleton (“Pen”) Vandiver. It was at these gigs that Monroe met Arnold Shultz and began to emulate his 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 jobs as a professional musician. Monroe often credited Shultz with influencing his approach to playing music.

The deadline to apply for the next round of Arnold Shultz Fund grants is January 31, 2023. Qualified individual 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 Arnold Shultz Fund project or individual grant, or making a donation to the Arnold Shultz Fund, please visit bluegrassfoundation.org or email info@bluegrassfoundation.org.

RETURN to the April 2022 issue of The Cornerstone.