Dr. Thomas Adler announced today that the University of Kentucky Board of Trustees has designated bluegrass music banjoist and bandleader J.D. Crowe as one of the recipients of an honorary doctorate. The Doctor of Arts degree will be conferred at the upcoming Commencement ceremony in Lexington, Kentucky, on December 14th, 2012.
Adler wrote, "To my knowledge, Crowe will be only the second bluegrass musician to receive such an honor from the University of Kentucky -- the first was Bill Monroe, who was granted the degree in 1984 and received it at the June, 1985 UK Commencement ceremonies. Crowe has told me that he is very pleased, but does NOT want anyone to publicly address him as "Dr. Crowe" -- still, I hope all will join me in offering their congratulations to this great artist and exemplary bluegrass leader."
Last year J.D. announced his intention to retire. After a professional career that has spanned six decades, J.D. Crowe has decided it's time to retire from the road. He committed to play out the dates on his 2012 calendar. J.D. would like to thank the musicians he has worked with and his fans for their support over the years.
On September 26, 2011 the University of Illinois Press published the late Marty Godbey's book Crowe on the Banjo: The Music Life of J.D. Crowe. The book charts the life and career of this celebrated banjoist and Bluegrass innovator from Lexington, KY. The book ordering information is now on the University of Illinois Press catalog web page. The volume is 272 pages including 25 black & white photographs. The book is "A musical biography of one of bluegrass's true pioneers." This is just another addition to the University's Music in American Life series which has included works on the National Barn Dance, Bluegrass legend Hazel Dickens, Bluegrass Odyssey, Bill Monroe, WSM and others who were either a part of bluegrass, influenced by bluegrass or the roots of the genre.
Banjoist J.D. Crowe was one of the most influential progressive bluegrass musicians of the '70s. Initially influenced by Earl Scruggs, as well as rock & roll and the blues, Crowe worked his way through several bands during the '60s, developing a distinctive instrumental style that melded country, bluegrass, rock, and blues. Crowe didn't receive national exposure until the early '70s when he formed the New South, but after the release of the band's eponymous debut in 1972 he became a fixture on the bluegrass scene for the next 20 years.
Born and raised in Lexington, KY, Crowe picked up the banjo when he was 13 years old, inspired by one of Flatt & Scruggs' performances on the Kentucky Barn Dance. After that show, he regularly attended the duo's performances, sitting down in the front row to study Scruggs' revolutionary picking. Soon, Crowe was playing with various groups in Kentucky, including an outfit that also featured Curley Parker and Pee Wee Lambert.
The young banjo player frequently played on local radio stations, and that is where he got his first major break in 1956. Jimmy Martin was driving through Lexington when he heard Crowe on the radio station, and was so impressed with what he heard that he drove to the station and asked him to join his band, the Sunny Mountain Boys. Crowe immediately accepted and began touring with Martin. While he was in the Sunny Mountain Boys, Crowe didn't stick to a strict bluegrass set list -- he often added rock & roll songs to his repertoire.