by Matthew Sabatella
I was never particularly interested in history. In high school, I halfheartedly attempted to “memorize the important identifications” from the U.S. history textbook, as I was instructed to do by my teacher. As a musician and music enthusiast, the history of music began with Elvis Presley. That is, until an album by one of my favorite bands, The Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo, started me on a journey into the past, and a six-album collection from Smithsonian Folkways, Anthology of American Folk Music, opened my eyes, ears, and mind to the story of the United States of America.
The history of the United States came alive for me as I began to understand people from the past through their music: early colonial settlers through the ancient ballads, religious songs, and dance tunes they carried from their homelands; people in slavery through the spirituals and work songs born out of their suffering. Blues music, Appalachian folk songs, songs of frontiersmen, factory workers, sailors, cowboys, soldiers, railroad workers, activists, and others are all ingredients in the great cultural stew that is the United States of America. This body of music is as unique, diverse, and beautiful as the people with roots that stretch around the world who call this land home.
Since this epiphany, I have been singular in my mission to share this rich musical heritage with others, both for the sheer love of the music and for its value in inspiring people to better understand each other and America’s past, present, and future. Building on my Bachelor of Arts in Music from the University of Miami, I resumed formal schooling to earn a Master of Arts in History from Florida International University. I formed the Rambling String Band and developed educational programs that we present to audiences from elementary schools to retirement communities. We have recorded and released three themed albums in the Ballad of America series.
In an effort to reach as many people as possible with this important music and message, in 2019 I formed Ballad of America, Inc., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, with a group of colleagues who shared my passion for music, history, and education. Being on this journey has deepened our understanding of and appreciation for many genres of music, new and old. The music keeps us connected to the strength and beauty that have emerged from the often troubled history of the United States. We believe that it can do the same for you.