Doyle Lawson & Ralph Rinzler Welcomed to Bluegrass Hall of Fame

Doyle Lawson, backstage at the Loveless Barn, August 15, 2012 (photo by D. Lambeth)

What a wild week for Doyle Lawson!

Just a couple days earlier, Doyle had attended the 50th reunion of Hancock County High School, class of 1962, in Morristown, TN. As he’d written on his Facebook page, “It brought a realization of how quickly 50 years can get past you.”

On the evening of August 15, 2012, Doyle and his wife, Suzanne, were unsuspecting members of the audience at the Loveless Barn for the IBMA Awards Nominees Press Conference. As they watched, bluegrass radio personality Cindy Baucom took the stage and began talking about the late Ralph Rinzler, founder of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, a man who might be called the Johnny Appleseed of traditional music.

Then she announced that Ralph would be inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame at the IBMA Awards Show at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium on Thursday, September 27, 2012.

When Cindy began talking about Doyle Lawson, it was a lovely moment indeed, as the crowd – and the Lawsons themselves – realized that Doyle would be the second 2012 inductee into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame.

Almost two weeks later, it’s still sinking in. “I am still pretty much astounded at the news of being elected to the Hall of Fame,” Doyle told us as this issue of IB went to press. “I wish I could verbally relate just how I feel, but right now I can't seem to put it into words. Just know that I am honored to be there alongside my heroes!”

About Doyle Lawson

One of bluegrass music’s most accomplished and respected bandleaders, Doyle Lawson was born in Ford Town, TN on April 20, 1944, grew up listening to the Grand Ole Opry and taught himself how to play mandolin at age 11, influenced by Bill Monroe. His piercing, crystalline tenor vocals and crisp musicianship would help him launch his career with jobs in three superb and accomplished bands. When he was just 18, Lawson went to Nashville to play banjo with Jimmy Martin and the Sunny Mountain Boys. Three years later, he started working with J.D. Crowe and the Kentucky Mountain Boys (later the New South). On September 1, 1971, Lawson joined the Country Gentlemen, where he helped create a new distinctive sound for the band, and one of its finest eras. He stayed for almost eight years before leaving to found his own band in 1979. For more than three decades, Quicksilver has been one of bluegrass music’s most important “farm teams,” helping to launch the careers of dozens of future bandleaders and sidemen. The band is known for its delivery of intricate a cappella gospel numbers that regularly bring awestruck crowds to their feet, roaring with approval.

Since 1977, Lawson’s discography has grown to more than 40 bluegrass and bluegrass gospel recordings, supported by a busy touring schedule that includes the Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver Festival in Denton, NC each year. Along with Quicksilver, which USA Today called “one of bluegrass’ finest bands,” Lawson has received numerous nominations and awards, including the International Bluegrass Music Award for Best Vocal Group an unprecedented seven years in a row. In 2006 he received the National Endowment for the Arts’ National Heritage Fellowship, granted to traditional and folk artists for career accomplishments. A year later he was awarded an honorary doctorate by King College in Bristol, TN.

Known as one of the best-dressed men in bluegrass, Lawson has a closet full of Manuel jackets and is likely one of the few professional bluegrass musicians with his own signature pair of cowboy boots.

About Ralph Rinzler

The late Ralph Rinzler (July 20, 1934 – July 2, 1994) was a scholar, musician, writer, promoter, producer, and social activist whose vision and life’s work inspired the passion, and launched the careers, of generations of musicians and artists. Born in Passaic, NJ, Rinzler learned to play mandolin and banjo at Swarthmore College. He was a member of the legendary Greenbriar Boys, guest-starred on recordings with Clarence Ashley and Joan Baez, and later won a Grammy award for his production work on Folkways: A Vision Shared.

His generous relationships with the brightest lights in American music were fluid and adapted themselves to the artist and the adventure. He accompanied Mike Seeger on his travels through Appalachia; produced events with Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan and Mary Travers; was David Grisman’s first teacher; and managed Bill Monroe. On a trip to western North Carolina in 1960 to make field recordings of rural folk musicians for Folkways Records, he visited Doc Watson and arranged bookings for him all over the country, thus helping gain national recognition for the guitarist.

“Ralph was a single-minded individual who once he became passionate about anything – bluegrass music, or Appalachian pottery, or old cars – he just totally became overwhelmed by it,” commented Jeff Place, who worked with Rinzler on various projects for the Smithsonian. “He and his friend Mike Seeger spent a lot of time going down South to try to hear and record a lot of bluegrass and old-time musicians. Ralph was so passionate about this music! Once he found musicians that interested him, he never was one to leave them behind. Everybody needed to hear these people. It wasn’t for money. It wasn’t for money or anything besides a passion for the music to be known.”

After he helped co-found the Festival of American Folklife, now the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, on the Mall in 1967, an annual event featuring musicians and craftspeople from across a broad spectrum of international cultures, Rinzler became curator of American folk art, music, and folk culture at the Smithsonian. Within about a decade, the Festival’s profound success prompted the creation of the office that ultimately became the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, with Rinzler at its helm. In 1987 he received IBMA’s Distinguished Achievement Award. The Smithsonian Institution named the Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections in his honor in 1998. His priceless field recordings have been used to create a number of releases on the Smithsonian Folkways label.

Place, who now heads the Rinzler Archives, actually lived with Rinzler for several years and remembers his friend as a missionary for traditional music. “He was a good person to have as a manager for Monroe and Watson, except Ralph decided he didn’t want to spend his life managing and being a businessman and all that stuff. He’d rather be out there finding the next Doc Watson! That’s what he was about.”

About The International Bluegrass Hall of Fame

Founded in 1991, the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame, housed in the International Bluegrass Music Museum in Owensboro, KY, is an institution devoted to the recognition of noteworthy individuals for outstanding contributions to bluegrass music. Each year a nominating committee, consisting of music industry leaders, creates a slate of 10-15 candidates. From these names, a panel of more than 200 electors in the music industry cast ballots to narrow the nominees to five finalists. The panel votes a final time to select the inductee(s) for the year.