Ralph Rinzler (born Ralph Carter Rinzler) played an important role in the revival of folk music in the late '50s and early '60s. In addition to playing mandolin and singing with the Greenbrier Boys, he helped to uncover and introduce folk musicians including Bill Monroe, Doc Watson, Clarence "Tom" Ashley, and the Balfa Brothers to an international audience.
Rinzler was drawn to music from a very young age. Fascinated by the family's wind-up phonograph at the age of two, he began listening to Library of Congress field recordings by the age of seven. As a freshman at Swarthmore College, he was inspired by the playing of Pete Seeger to teach himself to play the banjo. Much of his early repertoire was culled from Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music. Together with Seeger's half-brother Mike, who later launched the New Lost City Ramblers, he traveled through Maryland, exploring the state's thriving country music scene. Joining the Greenbrier Boys in 1958, Rinzler added a folk music sensibility to the group's predominately bluegrass sound. He continued to research and collect traditional folk and country music, accepting an invitation to catalog the 1500 recordings in the Harry Smith collection held by the New York City Public Library. His success in the position led to a job with the Newport Folk Foundation as Director of Field Research Programs. The main thrust of the position called for Rinzler to travel around the United States in search of "authentic" field musicians to perform at the festival. In 1967, Rinzler accepted a similar position with the Smithsonian Institute's Festival of American Folklife. Rinzler's efforts were showcased on the albums, OId Time Music at Clarence Ashley's, Louisiana Cajun Music From the Southwest Prairies, and The Watson Family. In his memory, the Smithsonian Institute created the Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. The collection includes more than 17,000 commercially released discs, more than 2000 cds, 4000 acetate discs, 45,000 audio tapes, 2000 videotapes, and more than 500,000 feet of motion picture film. A year after Rinzler's death in 1994, a two-day festival in his memory was held at the Highlander Education and Research Center, in New Market, TN, with proceeds going to benefit the Ralph Rinzler Memorial Endowment for cultural programs. ~ Craig Harris, Rovi