Arnold Shultz
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Arnold Shultz
Arnold Schultz

Arnold Shultz (1886-1931) was an African-American fiddler and guitarist who is noted as a major influence in the development of the "thumb-style," or "Travis picking" method of playing guitar.[1]


Shultz, the son of a former slave, was born into a family of touring musicians in Ohio County, Kentucky, in 1886.[2] In 1900, Shultz began studying guitar under his uncle, developing a jazzy "thumb-style" method of playing guitar that eventually evolved into the Kentucky style for which such musicians as Chet Atkins and Merle Travis would be known.[2] Professionally, Shultz was a laborer, traveling from Kentucky through Mississippi and New Orleans, working with coal or as a deck hand.[3]

In the early 1920s, he played fiddle in the otherwise white hillbilly and Dixieland band of Forest "Boots" Faught. To the occasional complaints this brought (objections like "You've got a colored fiddle. We don't want that!"), Faught would simply reply, "I've got the man because he's a good musician."[3] Shultz also played with Charlie Monroe and gave Bill Monroe the opportunity to play his first paid musical gig, joining together at a square dances with Shultz playing fiddle and Monroe on guitar.[3][4]


Though he was not recorded, his blues playing made a powerful influence.[3] Bill Monroe, who was formative in the development of bluegrass music, has openly cited Shultz as an influence on his playing,[5] and Shultz taught his guitar methods to Kennedy Jones, who disseminated the "thumb-style" methods further.[1] His methods were passed down further to Merle Travis and Ike Everly.[3]

Schultz died in April 14, 1931[6][7] of a heart problem, a mitral lesion, though legends have persisted that he died as a result of poisoning by a white musician who was jealous of him.[1][2] Less colorful reports indicate that he suffered a stroke while boarding a bus.[8] Arnold Schultz died in Butler County, Kentucky, near the small city of Morgantown. He is buried in the town's only African American cemetery at the end of Bell Street.[]


  1. ^ a b c Flippo, Chet (2004). "Arnold Shultz". In Paul Kingsbury; Laura Garrard; Daniel Cooper; John Rumble. The Encyclopedia of Country Music. County Music Hall of Fame & Museum. Sourcebooks, Inc. p. 484. ISBN 0-19-517608-1.
  2. ^ a b c Cantwell, 31.
  3. ^ a b c d e Smith, 23.
  4. ^ Can't you hear me callin': the life of Bill Monroe, father of bluegrass By Richard D. Smith. 2000. page23.
  5. ^ Cantwell, 32.
  6. ^ Cantwell, 33.
  7. ^ Malone (2002), 324.
  8. ^ Wolfe, Charles K (1996). Kentucky Country: Folk and Country Music of Kentucky. University Press of Kentucky. p. 114. ISBN 0-8131-0879-9.


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