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Bluegrass Music: Resources in the American Folklife Center

This research guide focuses on activities such as fieldwork, interpretation, and programming relating to bluegrass music as it is documented in the collections of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.


Thomas A. Adler, photographer.13th annual fiddlers contest, Beulah School, Beulah, North Carolina. 1978. Blue Ridge Parkway Folklife Project collection, 1977-1981. Library of Congress American Folklife Center.

This guide provides an introduction to doing research on bluegrass music in American Folklife Center collections. The Collection Policy Statement for the American Folklife Center identifies American traditional music as an area of distinction for our collections. About this genre, Neil Rosenberg noted in his Bluegrass: A History,

Bluegrass, which takes its name from the Grand Ole Opry star Bill Monroe's band, the Blue Grass Boys, is a type of 'hillbilly'/'country and western'/'country' music initially most popular in the rural upland South, particularly the Appalachians, in the decade following the Second World War. 

Bluegrass has remained vibrant through the past 75 years by growing and changing, each artist working within a common repertoire and sound while contributing their own creativity. Alan Lomax simply called it "Folk Music with Overdrive" in his 1959 Esquire magazine article. Comparing it to jazz, he wrote,

The mandolin plays bursts reminiscent of jazz trumpeter choruses; a heavily bowed fiddle supplies trombone-like hoedown solos: while a framed guitar and slapped base make up the rhythm section. Everything goes at top volume, with harmonized choruses behind a lead singer who hollers in the high, lonesome style beloved in the American backwoods.

The American Folklife Center has enjoyed an constant interaction with bluegrass, from programming our first-ever outdoor concert in 1977 with the Bluegrass Cardinals, to hosting the Ola Belle Reed symposium in 2009. Perhaps the Center's most rooted bluegrass collections are recordings Mike Seeger made of the Maryland scene during the 1950s and Neil Rosenberg's collection of the Bean Blossom, Indiana, Bluegrass Festival recordings from the 1960s.

The following guide offers general research strategies for use of the American Folklife Center collections.