Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Bluegrass Symposium Revives Genre and Class Debates

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Bluegrass Symposium Revives Genre and Class Debates

Article excerpt

BOWLING GREEN, KY.

Bluegrass music has taken a long road to the ivory tower from its hardscrabble roots in the rural South.

But 50 years after mandolin player Bill Monroe, often credited as the father of bluegrass, broke from country traditions and melded breakneck instrumentais with unique melodies, academics are coming around.

A symposium that began in September at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Ky, brought together scholars from 17 states and three countries to discuss bluegrass and why its fast pickin' banjos have been so slow to take root in academia.

A dozen or more universities have folk studies programs that include classes on bluegrass, but outside of a folk revival in the 1960s that led some to seriously look at the subject, most academics haven't embraced the genre as they have jazz and blues.

"Poor rural Whites are in a sense the last examined minority," says Dr. Erika Brady, a professor of folk studies at Western Kentucky who helped organize the symposium."It's a group that it's taken the academic world a long time to get around to."

It is impossible to ignore social groups and race when asking about the development of bluegrass studies, Brady says, and too often there are misconceptions that bluegrass' early practitioners were backward country folk incapable offmesse.

Bluegrass rose from the musical traditions of the downtrodden - southern workers, farmers and families who took to song in hard times. Monroe, a native of Rosine, Ky., about 40 miles northwest of Bowling Green, blended the blues, ragtime and folk songs he heard while growing up to fuel his driving performances on the mandolin at the Grand Old Opry in Nashville. …

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