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Ken White: Focusing on the Future of IBMA and Bluegrass

With a background in music and business, Ken White brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to his new role as executive director of the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA). The Kentucky native was selected by the IMBA Board of Directors and assumed his duties on October 2, following the completion of the IBMA World of Bluegrass in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Making the move from Belle Plaine, Kansas, to Nashville, Ken says he has fond memories of his "starving artist" days living in Nashville when he was in his 20s. "I had a friend who worked behind the bar at Station Inn. I would stay until the end of the night and help restock the bar in exchange for free nachos and pizza." That was thirty years ago, and Ken says he barely recognizes today's bustling Nashville. "It is comforting to recognize the old landmarks, including the Ryman and Station Inn." He also enjoys discovering "East Nash Grass," saying discovering so many young artists is a fun scene.

Ken was raised on a steady diet of Bill Monroe, Ralph Stanley, and Tony Rice, falling asleep many nights during his childhood with his ear next to the family hi-fi. Perhaps that is why he won the Kentucky State Banjo Championship when he was just 14 years old. He went on to study guitar with the jazz icon Jimmy Raney at the University of Louisville Music School while continuing to record, perform, and tour with Bluegrass and Americana artists. Ken had the opportunity to play in such acclaimed venues as the Grand Ole Opry, Telluride Bluegrass Festival, RockyGrass, Walnut Valley Festival, The Station Inn, and the IBMA World of Bluegrass in Owensboro, Kentucky.

Ken has written for and performed with the Louisville Mandolin Orchestra, the Nashville Mandolin Ensemble, and the Wichita Symphony Orchestra. Ken's multi-instrumental talent can be heard on many recordings, including a recent catalog of music he co-wrote with his wife, Robin Macy, inspired by their home of 22 years in Kansas.

Also an astute businessman, Ken teamed up with award-winning designer Nicole Howerton in 2002 to form Howerton+White, an integrated marketing agency. Under their leadership, the company has become a multi-million-dollar business with ongoing integration of marketing and media platforms for a variety of clients.

Combining his technological expertise with his passion for music, Ken has played an active role in several community organizations. He has served as president of the Wichita Jazz Festival and serves on the Board of Directors of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra. For 17 years, Ken has co-produced a popular seasonal concert series at the Bartlett Arboretum. He is also a non-voting member of the Bluegrass Hall of Fame. While he has established roots in Kansas, Ken says he is excited about his return to Nashville and its vibrant music scene to assume leadership of the IBMA.

“Nashville is an exciting city, and the IBMA is an important organization with a mission of honoring tradition while encouraging innovation in the bluegrass community worldwide while helping to connect, educate, and empower bluegrass professionals and enthusiasts. I’m excited to rekindle relationships and to create new ones.”

Ken says the time was right for him to make the move.

“My son is finishing up his master's in Ohio, and when I saw this position listed in Bluegrass Today, I realized that my music background and my background in business made me a perfect candidate for the job. Now that I’m here, I’m looking at the organization and thinking about how we can recreate ourselves. Moving the World of Bluegrass to a new location in 2025 is a start.” The decision about where it will take place has yet to be made. "We are exploring our options."

Ken says he still plays enough to keep his chops up. “I have been to a few bluegrass jams and played a jazz brunch recently with Isaac Eicher.” But his main focus is on the IBMA and promoting all things bluegrass. “Everybody loves bluegrass, but many don’t know it yet.”

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