The “wild and crazy guy” that is Steve Martin continues to build his music résumé up to that of his comedy credits. The actor has been playing banjo since he was a teen and incorporated a little picking into his standup shows in the Seventies, along with memorable musical interludes on Saturday Night Live and on his comedy albums, among many public performances. But it wasn’t until the last few years that he really started to get critical acclaim for his musicianship. And now, on top of his five Grammy awards and three International Bluegrass Music trophies, the iconic entertainer is once again being honored by the IBMA, this time with one of five Distinguished Achievement awards.
That coveted trophy is given to artists and organizations for their significant contributions to bluegrass music. Other 2015 recipients of the Distinguished Achievement award are Alison Brown, Murphy Henry, “Bashful Brother” Oswald Kirby and the International Bluegrass Music Museum.
Brown, a Grammy-winning banjo player and founder of Compass Records, is being honored for her individual music achievements, as well as those of her label group, which has released more than 700 roots music songs by its artist roster. In addition to her solo work, the Harvard graduate has played with the Northern Lights, Alison Krauss and Union Station and Michelle Shocked.
Henry developed the “Murphy Method” of teaching that has been a popular bluegrass music learning tool since the early Eighties. In addition to performing, she’s also a music journalist for various publications and penned the 2013 book, Pretty Good for a Girl: Women in Bluegrass.
Kirby, who passed away in 2002, receives his posthumous award for pioneering contributions to the genre, particularly with the resonator guitar and Dobro. The Grand Ole Opry member was a solo performer, a sometime-comedian and also a member of Roy Acuff’s Smoky Mountain Boys. An in-demand session musician during his time off the stage, Kirby’s many album credits include playing on the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s historic 1972 album, Will the Circle Be Unbroken.
Owensboro, Kentucky’s International Bluegrass Music Museum is the final recipient of the IBMA’s 2015 Distinguished Achievement award, recognized for being the only museum in the world devoted to preserving the worldwide history of the genre. In addition to its many exhibits and archives, the museum hosts concert series, festivals and other community programs.
The IBMA’s Distinguished Achievement awards will be presented on October 1st during the annual World of Bluegrass event in Raleigh, North Carolina. The honor is considered the second highest of the genre, just behind induction into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame. Bill Keith and Larry Sparks are the recipients of that honor this year, and will be inducted at a special awards show also to be held on October 1st.
Keith is one of the most prominent musicians of the so-called “newgrass” movement, with his highly influential, modern banjo playing. But it was back in the Fifties and Sixties that he developed his signature style, which was groundbreaking enough for the legendary Earl Scruggs to enlist him to form the tablature for the instructional book, Earl Scruggs and the 5-String Banjo. Keith has played with the Kentuckians, Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys and Ian & Sylvia, among many other big names of bluegrass.
The self-taught multi-instrumentalist Sparks began his career with the Stanley Brothers, and later played guitar and sang with Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys. His own band, the Lonesome Ramblers have been playing together since the late Sixities and have recorded more than 60 albums.