Bluestein, Gene, 1928-

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Gene Bluestein was an English professor, musician, folklorist, and social activist. Influenced by the folk music revival, he taught himself to play banjo, performed as a musician, and provided educational programs on folklore and folk music in his classroom, on the stage, and on television. For most of his career, he taught English at California State University, Fresno, where he started and facilitated the Folk Artist in Residence Program. In 1974, while on sabbatical in France, he formed a folk music band with his four children called the Bluestein Family, which performed for over 20 years.

From the description of Gene Bluestein collection, 1955-2002. WorldCat record id: 55088376

Gene Bluestein was an English professor, musician, folklorist, and social activist. He was born 1 May 1928 to Masha and Jack Bluestein, recent immigrants from Bessarabia (now Moldova), at that time part of Romania. He received his B.A. in English and Comparative Literature from Brooklyn College in 1950, his M.A. in English Literature from the University of Minnesota in 1952, and his Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Minnesota in 1960. With his wife, Ellie, he had four children, Joel, Evo, Jemmy, and Frayda.

Bluestein was introduced to folk music while at college. After seeing Pete Seeger perform, he taught himself to play the banjo and later played the guitar, steel drum, dulcimer, and other instruments. As part of his doctoral work, Bluestein collected folk music in Kentucky and rediscovered Buell Kazee, a legendary banjo player and recording artist of the 1930s. His Kazee recordings were later released on Folkways Records. Bluestein recorded two solo albums in the 1950s, Songs of the North Star State (an album of Minnesota songs) and Songs of the Holidays (an album of Jewish songs). In 1959, he taught at Michigan State University and formed the Bamboushay Steel Band with several West Indian students. From the outset of his teaching career, Bluestein integrated folk music and folklore into his literature classes.

In 1963, Bluestein joined the English faculty at Fresno State College (now California State University, Fresno). In the 1960s and 1970s, the English Department was a political hotbed. Bluestein and his colleagues supported the students during times of controversy over academic control, freedom of speech, and antiwar and civil rights protests. Bluestein assisted in establishing a Black Studies program, helping to bring playwright and social activist Marvin X (also known as Marvin Jackmon and El Muhajir) to campus to teach. He also participated in a benefit concert for Marvin X when he was fired along with many other instructors in an attempt to re-assert political control over the campus radicals. Bluestein helped found the Fresno Folklore Society and was instrumental in starting and facilitating a semester-long Folk Artist in Residence Program at California State University, Fresno. With the assistance of funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, the program brought in artists such as Jean Ritchie, Mike Seeger, Kenny Hall, Dewey Balfa, Bessie Jones, Lydia Mendoza, and Richard Hagopian to teach classes in their specialties and perform in the local schools.

In 1974, while on sabbatical in France, Bluestein formed a folk music band with his four children, Joel, Evo, Jemmy, and Frayda. Known as Les Bluesteins, the family first performed together in public in Paris. After returning to the United States, they continued to perform as the Bluestein Family. They recorded six albums together and toured Japan, China, Israel, Finland, and the United States. Even after the children had grown and mostly moved away, they continued to perform together at annual reunion concerts in California

Gene Bluestein retired from California State University, Fresno, in 1992. He was professor emeritus until his death at 74 on 21 August 2002.

From the guide to the Gene Bluestein Collection, 1955-2002, (Southern Folklife Collection)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Bluestein, Gene, 1928-. Gene Bluestein collection, 1955-2002. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
creatorOf Gene Bluestein Collection, 1955-2002 Southern Folklife Collection
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
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Place Name Admin Code Country
Appalachian Region
Subject
Storytelling
Banjoists
Social action
Folklorists
Folk musicians
Occupation
Function

Person

Birth 1928

Death 2002

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SNAC ID: 62601209