Folk Music & Culture
by Judy Bolyard Purdy

Art Rosenbaum likes his music to have roots.

“As a kid I listened to labor union songs, Burl Ives, Pete Seeger and the Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk Music,” said the UGA art professor and self-taught folk musician. “Fairly early on I realized the most exciting music was that music developed in a style and passed on to the next generation,”

While living in New York City, he and friend John Cohen, the filmmaker and Beat generation photographer, thought pop music “was kind of bland.” So they and their like-minded friends organized concerts of traditional and folk music. Rosenbaum and Cohen began collecting folk music in the field. In his home state of Indiana Rosenbaum rediscovered blues guitarist Scrapper Blackwell and recorded fiddler John W. Summers.

“We were talking about bringing these musicians we’d heard on the anthology to New York. We were coming to realize America had these voices that worked like great art, poetically and musically,” he said. “One old-time banjo player, Clarence Ashley, brought a group from North Carolina that included the then-unknown blind guitar player Doc Watson.”

Another concert Rosenbaum organized for Friends of Old-Time Music was a program of ethnic New York music with Puerto Rican, Yiddish, Galician Spanish and Irish singers and dancers.

Along the way, he learned a lot of good songs and unusual banjo tunings, recorded and performed at folk festivals and coffee houses in Europe and the States, and cultivated a deep appreciation of traditional folk heritage.

“It was like delving into culture but doing it in a hands-on way with an awareness of what we thought was exciting. And we’re still doing it. We’re still tinkering around with the same tunes we were tinkering around with 40 years ago,” he said.

Rosenbaum has written, illustrated and recorded a small slice of what he’s learned of folk music and culture in a number of books, sound recordings and concerts.

Rosenbaum Bbooks

Shout Because You’re Free: The African American Ring Shout Tradition in Coastal Georgia, University of Georgia Press 1998 (photographs by Margo Newmark Rosenbaum)
The Art of the Mountain Banjo, Mel Bay Publications, revised edition, 1999
Folk Visions and Voices: Traditional Music and Song in North Georgia, with two companion Smithsonian Folkways cds (34161, 34162), University of Georgia Press, 1983 (photographs by Margo Newmark Rosenbaum; foreword by Pete Seeger)
Old-Time Mountain Banjo, An Instruction Method, Oak Publications, 1968 (still in print)

Field Recording Archives
Ballads, blues, spirituals, work songs and slave songs, religious singing, such as the African-American ring-shout, and other traditional folk music from Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, New York and Scotland performed with voices and stringed instruments such as banjo and fiddle.

  • Rosenbaum Collection, Archives of Traditional Music, Indiana University
  • Archive of American Folk Song and Archive of American Folklife Center, Library of Congress
  • Georgia Folklore Society Archives, University of Georgia

Selected Performances and Recordings
Art Rosenbaum Georgia Banjo Blues, Global Village (compact disk 313), 2003
Centennial Olympic Games performances, with the Skillet Lickers string band, 1996
Down Yonder, three Georgia Public Television documentaries on Georgia folk music, produced with Clate Sanders
Howard Finster, Man of Many Voices, recorded and produced for Folkway Recordings (F7471), 1985
“In Concert” BBC London and the Kicking Mule Tour of England and France, 1976
Newport Folk Festival, 1968
Lalo Schiffrin’s score for the movie, Cool Hand Luke, Warner Brothers; 1966, featured banjo player
Jean Ritchie’s Precious Memories recording, Folkways, 1964, banjo accompanist

While a high school student in the 1950s, Art Rosenbaum won an art show and used the prize money to buy his first banjo. Later the self-taught banjoist played banjo for Lalo Schiffrin’s score for the movie Cool Hand Luke. He also published a banjo-playing instruction book, which is still in print.

For more information, contact Art Rosenbaum at or access

Judy Bolyard Purdy edits Research Magazine and directs the UGA Office of Research Communications.