There are no guarantees for how long our individual journeys will last. On June 17, the bluegrass music community was saddened to hear about the unexpected death of James Reams, the Arizona-based bandleader, association leader, event producer, and film producer who succumbed to a six-month battle with cancer.

Two years earlier, it was Reams who triggered the idea for the Arnold Shultz Fund during an online conversation among Leadership Bluegrass alumni. The topic of the Sally Ann Forrester Scholarship for female bluegrass musicians came up, and James said he wished for something similar for African American bluegrass musicians. IBMA Foundation chair Fred Bartenstein replied with, “Great idea!” and pledged to match the first $300 for a new Fund to encourage participation in bluegrass music by people of color. Reams and several others instantly pledged the full amount and, since then, more than $104,000 has been donated to the Arnold Shultz Fund. An agency endowment to fund Shultz Fund grants in perpetuity has been established, and $34,690 in grants have been awarded.

Originally from Kentucky, James Reams moved to New York City as a young adult, launching his own band, James Reams & the Barnstormers, in 1993. While working as a high school teacher with special needs students, James continued to perform, recording a total of 10 albums for the Copper Creek and Mountain Redbird labels, and releasing documentary style videos in 2013 and 2022. In recent years he served as president of the Arizona Bluegrass Association and performed regularly with his band in Las Vegas.

Since 2012 James was an enthusiastic supporter of Anni Beach’s Jam Pak Blues & Grass Neighborhood Band in Chandler, Arizona, a program which involves children from non-traditional communities in bluegrass, supporting them in many ways behind the scenes. “Jam Pak was blessed to have James Reams as our friend and dear mentor for almost exactly 10 years,” Beach said. “All we can do right now is to continue to honor his legacy of downhome music and a ready smile. We love you, James Reams. Thank you for giving us of yourself.”

An active member of IBMA’s Leadership Bluegrass alumni group, Reams had a natural talent for promotion—whether for his own projects, the Jam Pak Band program, or for bluegrass music in general. James Reams ended up with just 66 years to accomplish his work, but he used his time wisely and with great passion, creating, promoting and sharing the bluegrass music he loved so dearly. The bluegrass family is richer for his contributions, and his influence will continue to be felt for decades to come.

During this season of sadness after his passing, let’s be inspired by James Reams’s generosity and do likewise, supporting and helping in our own ways the effort to keep bluegrass music growing for generations to come. James would like that.

Return to the July 1, 2022 issue of The Cornerstone. 

Photo above: James Reams donates a guitar to the Jam Pak Band of Chandler, AZ at a meeting of the Arizona Bluegrass Association.