Charles K. Wolfe
Charles Keith Wolfe, English professor at Middle Tennessee State University, music scholar, and highly published author, was born on August 14, 1943, in Sedalia, Missouri. The eldest of two boys born to Orville and Dilla Wolfe, Charles grew up in a musical family. Early on he learned to play the saxophone and then the accordion, banjo, and guitar, but later claimed that “the typewriter” was his best instrument.
Wolfe received his B.A. in English from Southwest Missouri State University in 1965. He met Mary Dean King, a nurse, while working as a technician at a Springfield, Missouri, hospital. The two were married on August 21, 1966. They became the parents of two daughters, Marian Stacey and Cynthia Dean.
Wolfe received an M.A. degree from the University of Kansas in Lawrence in 1967 and his Ph.D. in 1971. In 1970 he assumed a professorship in English at Middle Tennessee State University and moved to Murfreesboro, Tennessee. For the next thirty-five years he taught courses in literature, science fiction, and folklore.
His wide-ranging musical and scholarly interests included country music, bluegrass, old-time music, southern fiddling and string bands, African American music, gospel, blues, jazz, and rockabilly. Wolfe’s research chronicled the music of middle Tennessee, the pioneers of country and traditional music, and helped to bring popular music scholarship into academic acceptance. He interviewed many artists and rediscovered others worthy of study. Subjects included Grandpa Jones, Uncle Dave Macon, the Carter Family, the Louvin Brothers, Lefty Frizell, DeFord Bailey, Thomas Talley, and many more.
Wolfe was an extremely productive scholar. He wrote, edited, or coauthored around twenty books and more than one hundred articles for academic journals, popular magazines, and encyclopedias. He was longtime editor of the Tennessee Folklore Society Bulletin. He wrote around three hundred liner notes for sound recordings, annotated many others, and interviewed or served as consultant for numerous media productions and documentaries. He was also involved in promoting vernacular music by working with local and regional organizations, such as the Uncle Dave Macon Days Festival, staging festivals, concerts, and competitions. Wolfe served on the board of directors for various local, state, and national organizations and was one of the planners of the Center for Popular Music at Middle Tennessee State University.
Throughout his career, Charles Wolfe received numerous honors, such as the Ralph J. Gleason Music Book Award in 1999 for A Good-Natured Riot: The Birth of the Grand Ole Opry. He was the recipient of the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Distinguished Achievement Award in 1990 and received two IBMA “Best Liner Notes– Album Project” awards. He was a three-time Grammy nominee and twice garnered the prestigious ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award. Wolfe was also the recipient of the Association for Recorded Sound Collections’ Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000.
Charles K. Wolfe retired from MTSU in 2005 but continued his mentoring, research, and writing until his death on February 9, 2006. His prodigious scholarship and humanism earned him status as a highly regarded, venerated authority on American vernacular music.