Five Bluegrass Music Leaders Named For 2021 Distinguished Achievement Award.
Five people who have made significant contributions to bluegrass music were recently named to become recipients of the IBMA Distinguished Achievement Award. They are:
- Nancy Cardwell Webster, industry leader
- Lee Michael Demsey, broadcaster
- Jaroslav Prucha, Czech luthier/performer
- Cliff Waldron, musician/performer
- Stan Zdonik, Boston Bluegrass Union
Plaques will be presented to recipients on Thursday, 30th September, during a luncheon at the IBMA Business Conference. Specific times and additional details for this event, and for other IBMA World of Bluegrass events will be announced closer to the date.
More on This Years IBMA’s Distinguished Achievement Award Nominees
Nancy Cardwell Webster:
Nancy Cardwell Webster has devoted much of her life to bluegrass as a leader, writer, educator, musician, mentor, and executive director of both IBMA and the IBMA Foundation. Cardwell grew up in a family bluegrass band in the Missouri Ozarks and has written about music since her college days.
Before joining IBMA, Nancy was a foreign language teacher and a Girl Scout field executive. She brought her passion for education and leadership development to IBMA in 1994 and was instrumental in developing such programs as Bluegrass in the Schools, Leadership Bluegrass, the International Committee, the IBMA Youth Council, and the Songwriter Committee. During Nancy’s tenure as IBMA’s Executive Director, the organization successfully moved its annual conference from Nashville to Raleigh.
Since Cardwell Webster joined in 2017, the IBMA Foundation has also flourished. Four new bluegrass music college scholarship funds, the Arnold Shultz Fund, the Rosenberg Bluegrass Scholar Award, and the Bluegrass College Band Showcase have been initiated, and the Foundation’s project grants have been enhanced. Until recently a bass player with Jesse McReynolds, Cardwell Webster is known for her calm and positive professionalism, tireless work ethic, and dedication to making the world a better place by sharing bluegrass music with the next generation.
Lee Michael Dempsey:
Lee Michael Demsey is a veteran of the DC area radio scene, including longtime work at public radio station WAMU, as well as WHFS, WGTB and WMZQ. He started working at WAMU in 1975, in his senior year at American University, doing rock and roll shows. However, in 1982 when the station decided to expand its flourishing Bluegrass programming, they turned to Lee Michael to switch to hosting a weekday afternoon contemporary Bluegrass show which he hosted five days a week from 1982 to 2018. Lee Michael Dempsey is a mainstay at Bluegrass Country Radio and was honored with the IBMA Broadcaster of the Year Award in 1991.
In 1990, Lee Michael introduced the Bluegrass Unlimited Magazine’s National Bluegrass Survey, a listing of the top thirty current songs in Bluegrass and is about to begin his 32nd year of compiling this monthly Bluegrass chart. Not only does Dempsey put the chart together to be published in the magazine, The National Bluegrass Survey Top 30 countdown show can also be heard on the “Lee Michael Dempsey Show” on Bluegrass Country Radio.
Demsey was born in San Bernardino, CA, and moved to the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC where he still lives today along with his wife, Laurie and daughter, Rachel. In addition to his broadcasting work, Lee Michael also spent several years working for Smithsonian Folkways Recordings as well as working at the House of Musical Traditions, a music store catering to traditional music and instruments.
Jaroslav Prucha ranks at the top of a short list of important figures in the history of Czech bluegrass. He is one of the most gifted banjo builders of his generation, turning out 50 exquisitely made instruments each year from the Prucha Banjo workshop in the suburbs of Prague. Jaroslav (he goes by Jarda) grew up in the ‘60s and ‘70s against the backdrop of communism and the Russian occupation of Czechoslovakia. The fact he became one of the world’s greatest contemporary banjo makers despite such odds almost seems like a fairy tale.
When Jarda was a teenager, he bought an illegal, black market copy of Earl Scruggs’ instructional book. The book had been translated into the Czech language and had no photos, just tablature and text. From that book, Jarda learned how to play and, following the directions in the book, figured out how to build a banjo. When he finally was able to travel to the US after the Velvet Revolution, the luthiers he met were astounded by the quality and precision of the instrument he had built.
Since that time, Jarda has achieved an international reputation for his banjos which have made their way into the hands of some of today’s most celebrated players including Alison Brown, Greg Cahill (Special Consensus) and Russ Carson (Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder). Through his work, Jarda has also helped to expand the international footprint of bluegrass music by fostering a love of the music in his native Czech Republic.
Cliff Waldron was born in Jolo, West Virginia. Playing guitar and mandolin and singing, Waldron joined the Southern Ramblers, playing bluegrass at local venues and on radio. In the early ‘60s, Waldron settled in Virginia and there and elsewhere found a larger audience for bluegrass. He played mandolin with the Page Valley Boys until the more popular Buzz Busby’s Bayou Boys ran into difficulties. That band’s banjo player, Bill Emerson, took over from Busby and brought in Waldron on guitar. At first, the band was named the Lee Highway Boys, then became known as Emerson And Waldron. Their repertoire centered upon traditional bluegrass, but Emerson and Waldron were open to change. An early example of this was their rendition of ‘Fox On The Run’, with which they had considerable success (which was also recorded later by Charlie Waller’s Country Gentlemen). This song, which had been a hit for Manfred Mann in the UK, became a bluegrass standard. Among other songs in the band’s repertoire were ‘If I Were A Carpenter’, ‘Early Morning Rain’ and ‘Spanish Grass’. Sidemen in the Waldron and Emerson line-up included Mike Auldridge and Bill Poffinberger.
In 1970, Emerson joined Waller, replacing Eddie Adcock, and Waldron played for a while with the Shenandoah Cut-Ups. He then formed a new band, the New Shades Of Grass, which included in its ranks over the following years Auldridge, Poffinberger, Dave Auldridge (brother of Mike), Ben Eldridge, Jimmy Arnold, Ed Ferris, Akira Otsuka and Gene Johnson. The band made several well-received albums into the mid-70s, which is when Waldron quit music. For the next two decades he worked for the National Park Service, playing in church and making some private recordings of gospel music.
In 1996, Waldron retired from the Park Service and soon afterwards returned to music, forming a new edition of the New Shades Of Grass. He also met mandolin player Paul Williams with whom he played and recorded. Back on the road again, at a more leisurely pace, Waldron’s music in the early 2000s vividly displays his joint commitment to the traditions of bluegrass and alertness to new trends. In 2004, Waldron was elected to the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America’s Hall of Greats.
Stan Zdonik attended his first bluegrass concert at Passim’s in Cambridge in the early 1970s and supporting bluegrass music instantly became his passion. He started playing the mandolin, attended concerts regularly and became good friends with Joe Val.
In 1976, Stan was part of a small group of volunteers who founded the Boston Bluegrass Union (BBU), an all-volunteer non-profit organization formed to promote and preserve bluegrass music throughout the Northeast. Stan was the first President of the BBU, and he has been an active leader of the organization ever since. The first BBU concert season began in 1976 with Stan as the talent buyer (and included concerts by Joe Val and the New England Bluegrass Boys, Ted Lundy, Bob Paisley and the Southern Mountain Boys, Tasty Licks, Marie Rhines and Tony Rice, and Del McCoury and the Dixie Pals). The BBU worked with the town of Waltham and other organizations to produce the Joe Val Benefit and Appreciation Day in 1985 and continued memorializing Joe with yearly, one-day outdoor festivals until the late 1990s, when the event moved indoors. This indoor festival evolved into the current Joe Val Bluegrass Festival, the 2006 IBMA Event of the Year.
As talent buyer for the BBU and emcee for the Joe Val Bluegrass Festival (and other festivals, such as Winterhawk/Grey Fox and Podunk), Stan has been an ambassador for BBU and Northeast bluegrass throughout the past 45 years. The BBU strives to hire established as well as upcoming bands, to coordinate with other organizations in concert planning and to introduce “new” talent and Northeastern bands locally and within the IBMA community. Stan joined the IBMA in late 1980s and served on the IBMA Board of Directors as Vice-Chairperson (2007-2010) and Chairperson (2010-2013). As IBMA Board Chair, he helped negotiate the move of the World of Bluegrass event from Nashville to Raleigh. Stan is a Lifetime Member of the IBMA.
About IBMA’s World of Bluegrass:
IBMA World of Bluegrass is the most important week in bluegrass. The week encompasses four events: the IBMA Business Conference, September 28-30; the IBMA Bluegrass Ramble, an innovative series of showcases taking place September 28-30 in downtown Raleigh and at the Raleigh Convention Center; the 32nd Annual IBMA Bluegrass Music Awards presented by Yamaha, scheduled for Thursday evening, September 30; and IBMA Bluegrass Live! powered by PNC, October 1-2, a two-day festival. IBMA Bluegrass Live! features the best of the best in bluegrass today, benefiting the IBMA Trust Fund—a 501(c)(3) charitable organization that assists bluegrass professionals during financial emergencies—and introducing the music to thousands of new fans every year.
More About IBMA:
IBMA – the International Bluegrass Music Association – is the non-profit music association that connects, educates, and empowers bluegrass professionals and enthusiasts, honoring tradition and encouraging innovation in the bluegrass community worldwide.