Alan Jabbour's Biography and Bibliography
Below are my short and long biographies.
Alan Jabbour was born in 1942 in Jacksonville, Florida. A violinist by early training, he put himself through college at the
University of Miami playing classical music. While a graduate student at Duke University in the 1960s, he began documenting
South from musicians like Henry Reed of Glen Lyn, Virginia, and Tommy Jarrell of Toast, North Carolina. He taught a repertory
of oldtime fiddle tunes to his band, the Hollow Rock String Band, which was an important link in the instrumental music revival in
After receiving his Ph.D. in 1968, he taught English, folklore, and ethnomusicology at UCLA in 1968-69. He then moved to
Washington, D.C., for over thirty years of service with Federal cultural agencies. He was head of the Archive of Folk Song at the
Library of Congress 1969-74, director of the folk arts program at the National Endowment for the Arts 1974-76, and director of the
American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress 1976-99. Since his retirement, he has turned enthusiastically to a life of
writing, consulting, lecturing, and playing the fiddle.
Alan Jabbour was born in 1942 in Jacksonville, Florida, and was educated in Jacksonville public schools and the Bolles School,
where he graduated from high school in 1959. He graduated magna cum laude from the University of Miami in 1963 and
received his M.A. (1966) and Ph.D. (1968) from Duke University. A violinist from the age of seven, he was a member of the
Jacksonville Symphony, the Brevard Music Festival Orchestra, the Miami Symphony, and the University of Miami String Quartet.
While a graduate student at Duke, he became interested in folk music and folklore, and in 1965-68 he made extensive trips in
North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia, to record instrumental folk music, folksong, and folklore on tape. This collection,
particularly rich in traditional fiddle tunes from the Upper South, is now in the Archive of Folk Culture at the Library of Congress.
The documentation trips verged into a process of apprenticeship, and he began playing the fiddle under the influence of new
masters. In particular, he learned the style and repertory of Henry Reed, a master fiddler who lived along the New River in Glen
Lyn, Virginia, and was then in his eighties.
As Alan Jabbour began to learn the regional fiddling style and repertory of the Upper South, he joined together with three other
young musicians to form a band devoted to playing these oldtime tunes, including Tommy Thompson on the five-string banjo,
Bertram Levy on the mandolin, and Bobbie Thompson on the guitar. They called themselves the Hollow Rock String Band, after
a rural community outside of Durham where the Thompsons lived and where the band gathered for regular jam sessions and
music parties. The band was at the core of an oldtime music scene that blossomed in Durham and Chapel Hill in the later
1960s. In 1968, the year that Henry Reed passed away, the band released a long-playing record called The Hollow Rock String
Band: Traditional Dance Tunes (Kanawha 311). That album, which became a document of the oldtime music revival in the
1960s and 1970s, has recently been reissued as a compact disc (County Records CO-CD-2715).
In 1968-69, Alan Jabbour became an assistant professor of English and folklore at the University of California, Los Angeles,
where he taught graduate and undergraduate courses in the ballad, British and American folksong, and folklore and literature. In
September 1969 he was appointed head of the Archive of Folk Song (now the Archive of Folk Culture) at the Library of
Congress. There he supervised the development of the national archival collection for folk music and folklore. He edited a long-
playing record drawn from earlier recordings in the Archive, which was published in 1971 as American Fiddle Tunes (now
available on CD as Rounder Records 18964-1518-2).
With Carl Fleischhauer, he undertook a three-year project to research, record, and photograph the history and traditions of a
single Appalachian family. This was published in 1973 by the Library of Congress in a two-record album entitled The Hammons
Family: A Study of a West Virginia Family's Traditions. A companion album appeared that year on the Rounder label, entitled
Shaking Down the Acorns. Both these publications were released in a double-CD edition in 1998, entitled The Hammons Family:
The Traditions of a West Virginia Family and Their Friends (Rounder 1504/05). As part of the Library's Bicentennial effort, he
initiated an anthology of fifteen long-playing records containing examples of folk music traditions in the United States. During this
period he performed less often as a musician, but an LP entitled The Hollow Rock String Band (Rounder Records 0024) includes
him on the fiddle, Tommy Thompson on the banjo and guitar, and Jim Watson on the guitar, mandolin, and autoharp.
In April 1974, Alan Jabbour moved to the National Endowment for the Arts to become founding director of that agency's grant-
giving program in folk arts. Under his direction the Folk Arts Program grew rapidly as a source of funding for the varieties of folk
cultural expression in the United States, and it continued to grow after his departure in 1976. In August 1976, he became the
founding director of the American Folklife Center in the Library of Congress, continuing in that position for 23 years until he
stepped down as director in mid-1999. Established by the American Folklife Preservation Act of 1976 (Public Law 94-201), the
Center is directed to "preserve and present American folklife" through programs of research, documentation, archival
preservation, live presentation, exhibition, publication, dissemination, training, and other activities involving the many folk
traditions of the United States. The Center's Archive of Folk Culture, formerly known as the Archive of Folk Song, is the principal
repository for field documentation of American folklore and folklife and contains important holdings from all the major regions of
In the 1980s, while focusing on his duties as an administrator, he occasionally turned his attentions to editing folk music
documentary albums and playing music at occasional public events and gatherings. He edited, with John A. Cuthbert, another
LP publication related to the Hammons Family, The Edden Hammons Collection, published by West Virginia University Press in
1984. And in the early 1980s, an LP entitled Sandy's Fancy (Flying Fish FF-260) featured him on fiddle, Tommy Thompson on
banjo, and Sandy Bradley on guitar and piano.
Alan Jabbour retired from federal service at the end of 1999. In celebration of his retirement, he has resumed playing the fiddle
more actively and is undertaking frequent appearances and engagements as a musician and fiddle teacher. He served as guest
curator of Fiddle Tunes of the Old Frontier: The Henry Reed Collection, an online presentation of the Library of Congress
published in 2000. The collection makes available online the entire field collection of recordings and manuscripts created during
his visits with Henry Reed in 1966-67. In 2000 he curated an exhibition on folk art at the Crealdé School of Art in Winter Park,
Florida. In 2002 he released a new CD of his own fiddling, joined by Bertram Levy and James Reed, entitled A Henry Reed
Reunion, and in 2005 he released another fiddling CD, Southern Summits, with Ken Perlman on banjo.
He has published widely over the years on subjects related to folklore and folklife, including many publications on American
folksong and instrumental folk music, and he is a frequent lecturer on topics related to folklore and folklife, folk music, and cultural
policy. His publications include both print publications and the editing of a number of documentary recorded publications. He
has served on various panels and boards, including the Humanities Council of Washington, D.C. (co-chair 1987-88, secretary
2001-02), the American Folklore Society (president, 1988, board 2004- ), the Fellows of the American Folklore Society (president
2005-06),the Fund for Folk Culture (chair, 1991-94), the National Coalition for Heritage Areas (1993-97), the European Center for
Traditional Culture (1996-98), International Arts and Artists (2002- ), and the Alliance for American Quilts (1996- ). He has
assisted The Ford Foundation in developing a program in support of Indian folklore and folklife. He is married to Karen Joy
Singer Jabbour and lives in Washington, D.C.
Please click below for my short or long bibliography.