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Appalachian Celebration 2002 stage performanceMorehead State's involvement with traditional music has a long and proud history. For many years, the “Appalachian Celebration,” an event celebrating mountain folk music, dance, crafts, art, literature and storytelling was held at Morehead State. This annual celebration was a collaboration among faculty and staff at the University and many from the local and regional music community. For decades, faculty members and administrators from MSU’s Department of Music (now Music, Theatre and Dance) including Chair Dr. Glenn Fulbright and guitar and violin professor, Leo Blair took part in traditional music festivals and country dances around the state. The rich music history and enthusiasm for traditional music in the region, and excitement generated by the “Appalachian Celebration” made Morehead State the perfect home for a center to preserve, develop and celebrate this important part of our cultural heritage.

The Kentucky Center for Traditional music was born in 2000, with oversight from Keith Kappes, vice president for university relations (now retired) and MSU President Emeritus Dr. Ronald Eaglin with input from Dr. Chris Gallaher, chair of the Department of Music, and faculty members, Ray Ross and Andy Carlson, who created the first traditional music curriculum at MSU. Much guidance and vision came from the center’s first director, Sandy Knipp who was followed by performing artist, Don Rigsby, and Jesse Wells, a student at the time and now instructor and archivist. Advice and inspiration came from an advisory board of University and community members, including local musicians Harvey Pennington and Dr. Ron Dobler. Morehead State University offered the first minor in Traditional Music Studies in 2000.
In 2011, the curriculum was expanded with courses created in the areas of Traditional Music History, Traditional Music Theory and courses offering private instruction on a host of instruments and traditional voice. Band classes were offered in various styles of traditional music including, Bluegrass, Old Time, Country, and Traditional Vocal Ensembles.
Under the leadership of MSU President Emeritus Dr. Wayne D. Andrews, KCTM moved into a new facility in 2012 on First Street in Morehead’s Arts District, near the historic Moonlight School, Morehead Conference Center and Kentucky Folk Art Center.

Tour of the building during the renovation in 2012

In 2013, the Kentucky Center for Traditional Music was proud to offer a Bachelor of Arts in Traditional Music Studies degree. This was the first baccalaureate degree with robust traditional music curriculum focusing on musical styles including Bluegrass, Old Time and Country Music offered in the commonwealth and the first in the world meeting National Association of Schools of Music accreditation standards.
The “Mountain Music Ambassadors” is the flagship group of student performers from the Kentucky Center for Traditional Music. These student musicians form a section of band class that has represented our region, and our mountain culture, performing in concerts at theaters, schools, festivals and other venues regionally, nationally and internationally.
The first overseas concert tour by students from the Kentucky Center for Traditional Music was led by Jesse Wells in 2009 to Morehead’s sister city, Ballymena, Northern Ireland. From 2009 to 2019, students officially representing the Kentucky Center for Traditional Music and Morehead State University have made nine international concert tours to Ireland (2009, 2018), China (2011, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018), and Jamaica (2015).
The Kentucky Center for Traditional Music continues to grow under the leadership of director Raymond McLain and the dedicated faculty and staff who mentor and guide students in their academic pursuits, as well as in collaborations and outreach efforts.
Pictured top right (L-R): First Director of KCTM Sandy Knipp; Steve Rigsby, local musician and music educator; Leo Blair, professor guitar and violin; and Dr. Ron Dobler, local musician and professor of English, perform at Appalachian Celebration in 2002.