Bluegrass Music

Youth Scholarships Available from SEMBMA

Since 2020, the Southeast Michigan Bluegrass Music Association has offered scholarship money to deserving youth ages 12-18 for use with lessons on stringed instruments or vocals (either online or in-person) to help promote bluegrass and old-time music with the younger generation. The COVID pandemic did a lot to get people, especially kids, to get interested in learning musical instruments since they would be stuck at home. However, SEMBMA has had a difficult time finding qualifying youth for these scholarships, even after many internet blasts and mailings to area music stores and schools.

As a member of the Scholarship/Education Committee for SEMBMA, it amazes me how something like this is is being passed on by qualified students. We have had a few applicants, but most of them have wanted to use the funds for non-educational purposes. We do have restrictions, but if that student can show that they are truly interested in improving on his/her playing of guitar, bass, banjo, mandolin, fiddle, or even singing, and can show us that they are already moving forward in that talent, we will help them without hesitation.

At this time, SEMBMA is helping sponsor one young banjo player named Dante, who is making a name for himself locally at jam sessions and sitting in with various bluegrass bands in the area. We are currently helping to pay for online lessons he is receiving from award-winning banjoist Kristin Scott Benson of The Grascals. She has told SEMBMA how impressed she has been with Dante’s playing and dedication to the banjo.

I remember seeing a young girl performing at the Michigan Old-Time Fiddlers Contest back in October ( I am still kicking myself for not getting her name, as she would be a perfect candidate for one of our scholarships. I have called out to the contest organizers to see if they have information on getting in touch with her.

The International Bluegrass Music Association has long supported youth programs. I had previously mentioned the Junior Appalachian Musicians program, as well as other programs in post way back ( I will definitely be doing more work in locating and recruiting young people into the bluegrass fold and hoping to provide them with needed scholarship money to take lessons. I scratch my head regarding this, as this is “easy money” for the right youth. When I look at the younger talent in the bluegrass field, including Billy Strings, Molly Tuttle, Sierra Hull, Ryan Holladay, and a few others, I would think that there are plenty of other young people wanting to achieve that success.

Anyone reading this and knowing of a youth interested in expanding on his/her bluegrass and old-time string music knowledge, please refer them to the scholarship application on the SEMBMA website:

Chew on it and comment.


By Matt Merta/Mitch Matthews

Musician and writer (both song and print) for over 30 years. Primarily interested in roots music (Americana, bluegrass, blues, folk). Current contributing writer for Fiddler Magazine, previous work with Metro Times (Detroit), Ann Arbor Paper and Real Detroit Weekly, as well as other various music and military publications. As songwriter, won the 2015 Chris Austin Songwriting Contest (Bluegrass Category, "Something About A Train," co-written with Dawn Kenney and David Morris) as well as having work performed on NPR and nominated for numerous Detroit Music Awards.

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