Bill Keith and Larry Sparks - New IBMA Hall of Famers!

BILL KEITH & LARRY SPARKS 2015 IBMA HALL OF FAME INDUCTEESThe International Bluegrass Music Association announced that revered musicians BILL KEITH and LARRY SPARKS will be inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame at its Awards Show in Raleigh, North Carolina on Thursday, October 1, 2015.

Bill KeithBill Keith, who was a Distinguished Achievement Award recipient in 2014, has had a great impact on modern banjo playing, particularly in what is often termed “newgrass.” Last month at Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival, as part of a tribute to Keith that included such distinguished banjo performers as Bela Fleck, Noam Pikelny and Tony Trischka, Trischka said simply, “Most of us wouldn’t be here today without Bill.”

Keith began taking banjo lessons at a young age, and by the late '50s became interested in folk music after listening to such inspirational artists as Pete Seeger and Earl Scruggs. Influenced by both, Keith developed his own unique style - born of his desire to play fiddle melodies on his instruments - became known as the melodic, chromatic or “Keith”- picking style. His proficiency on that instrument was so strong that in 1963, Earl Scruggs contacted Keith to lay out the tablature for the instructional book Earl Scruggs and the 5-String Banjo. Later that year, Keith helped develop a new tuning peg (which now bears his name) that allows banjo players to quickly change from one open tuning to another while playing.

Besides being one of the original members of the Kentuckians, Keith has toured and performed with top bluegrass bands – including a brief stint with Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys in the early 1960s – and with artists like Jonathan Edwards, Ian & Sylvia, Judy Collins, The Jim Kweskin Jug Band, and Muleskinner.

Larry Sparks Larry Sparks grew up in a musical family of nine children; he taught himself to play guitar, mandolin and banjo, developing the eclectic, bluesy style of lead guitar that has long been part of his sound. He began his career in the 1960s as guitarist with the Stanley Brothers, and later became lead vocalist for Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys. Sparks formed his own band, The Lonesome Ramblers, in 1969; he has recorded and toured with his band for more than four decades, releasing over 60 albums and earning his reputation – with his soulful vocals and unparalleled musicianship – as one of the most respected musicians in bluegrass and gospel music today.

Sparks’ distinctive country/bluegrass voice and song stylings, as well as his lead and rhythm guitar embellishments, made classics of his hit recordings that include “John Deere Tractor,” “Natural Thing To Do,” “A Face In the Crowd,” “Tennessee 1949,” “Smoky Mountain Memories” and “Blue Virginia Blues.” His signature vocals, engaging stage presence and unique guitar style helped Sparks earn much critical acclaim, including IBMA Awards for Male Vocalist of the Year, Recorded Event of the Year and Album of the Year.

In addition to his induction into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame, Sparks has previously been inducted into the Bill Monroe Bluegrass Hall of Fame and The George D. Hays Hall of Fame.

About The International Bluegrass Hall of Fame & IBMA

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 that year. Inductees for 2015 are in the “Open” and “Earlier Contributions” categories.

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