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Todd Harvey, Reference Librarian, American Folklife Center
Created: August 12, 2022
Last Updated: August 12, 2022
The American Folklife Center (AFC) produces guides for the purpose of directing users to resources and collections in support of research on a range of topics connected to folklife, cultural heritage, and ethnographic documentation.
This guide is part of a series of topical guides focusing on "areas of distinction" within AFC collections, as articulated in the Center's Collection Policy Statement. These topical guides are intended to be curated access points for AFC's rich resources, rather than comprehensive of definitive listings.
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.