Congratulations to Cade Botts, the 2023 recipient of the IBMA Foundation’s Neil Rosenberg Bluegrass Scholar Award. Botts will be graduating in August with a master’s degree in music theory from the University of Tennessee – Knoxville, and his thesis is titled “Bluegrass: A Voicing.”

The review committee commended Botts’s careful attention to the musical details of bluegrass voicing, which reveals a sensitivity to the various nuances of vocal stacking, harmonic vocabulary, and timbre matching that make bluegrass distinctive as a musical genre and that distinguish one band from another. The 2023 Rosenberg Bluegrass Scholar Award is co-sponsored by Trisha and John Tubbs and Jon Weisberger. Cade’s presentation may be read here.

In addition to a cash honorarium of $500, Mr. Botts will be invited to be the IBMA Foundation’s guest at the IBMA Business Conference September 26-30, and also at the IBMA Bluegrass Music Awards, scheduled for September 28, both in Raleigh, North Carolina. 

Originally from Huntsville, TN, Cade said his family would build a makeshift stage in the yard at their reunions so the various family bands could play.  At age 10 he remembers, “After hearing my cousin’s bluegrass band, I knew I had to learn banjo. My grandma bought me my first banjo, and she took me to a local Christian bookstore where I got some Dr. Ralph Stanley CDs. I was in my high school’s bluegrass band, but when I went to UT, I focused more on piano and classical music. Fortunately, once I went into quarantine due to COVID, I did what the average musician does and bought an extremely expensive instrument to encourage me to play more, and I have been completely immersed with bluegrass music since.” 

Cade’s mentors at UT encouraged him to go outside the canon of classical music to write about topics he was interested in. “Trio harmonies are crucial to bluegrass music,” he notes, “so discovering the combinations and their use in the genre became my topic. I read all kinds of articles and books while also listening to bluegrass vocals for hours each day. I was also going to bluegrass festivals interviewing singers.” After meeting Fred Bartenstein at the 2022 World of Bluegrass in Raleigh and discovering an academic paper Fred had already written on the topic, Cade decided to build on that research and focus on the voicings in bluegrass music. 

“My grandpa would always sing to me the old hymn, ‘Farther Along,’ and there are hundreds of covers of the tune,” Cade adds. “I thought surely if there are this many different versions then I should find some sort of pattern. I chose some of the most notable bluegrass renditions of the song, transcribed them to study, and used the information to create a list of part-writing conventions for bluegrass vocals.”

The IBMA Foundation presents an annual award to the developing academic scholar who presents the best paper at a juried academic conference on an aspect of bluegrass music. The objective of this award is to grow the academic awareness of bluegrass music by encouraging developing academic scholars to present research of high quality to fellow scholars on any aspect of the genre. Developing academic scholars eligible for this award are defined as graduate students in MA or PhD programs and recent PhDs (within five years of degree completion).

The committee tasked with overseeing the 2023 Rosenberg Bluegrass Scholarship Award was headed by Dr. Travis Stimeling (University of West Virginia) and included Tim Stafford (East Tennessee State University/Blue Highway) and Sophia Enríquez (Duke University).

The award, originally known as the “IBMA Academic Prize,” was presented in 2011 to Benjamin Krakauer, who has joined the faculty of Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa, North Carolina. The IBMA Foundation assumed responsibility for the award in 2019, re-naming it in honor of renowned bluegrass music historian, author, scholar and banjo player Neil Rosenberg, who was inducted into the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame in 2014. Jordan Laney, who currently teaches at Virginia Tech, was the Rosenberg Bluegrass Scholar Award recipient in 2019. The 2021 award was presented to Heather Grimm, a PhD candidate at Northwestern University, and Gabby Cameron, an MA Ethnomusicology student at the University of Maryland, received the award in 2022.

For more information about the award, please email Nancy Cardwell at the IBMA Foundation (

Return to the August, 2023 issue of The Cornerstone.