Ralph Rinzler (July 20, 1934 – July 2, 1994) was a mandolin player, folksinger, and the co-founder of the annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the Mall every summer in Washington, D.C., where he worked as a curator for American art, music, and folk culture at the Smithsonian. This festival was from the beginning and continues to be a major event for musicians, artistans, and craftsman from a broad variety of American culture, including African American, Native American, Appalachian, Southern, Western and other groups in the United States.
Ralph Rinzler grew up in Passaic, New Jersey. His father was a doctor of Russian-Jewish descent. While in High School, Rinzler became a friend and mentor to younger Passaic resident David Grisman. Rinzler went to Swarthmore College where he began performing as a mandolin player in various folk music groups in the mid to late 1950s. After graduation, he went to New York City where he eventually became one of the famous Greenbriar Boys, a popular folk group that was the main event at Greenwich Village's Gerde's Folk City, with Bob Dylan as his warm-up opening act. Rinzler and the Greenbriar Boys recorded several successful records and played many concerts and clubs up and down the East Coast. He also played on a lot of other people's albums, including Joan Baez, Clarence Ashley, and won a Grammy for his work as a producer.
At the same time Rinzler was also a diligent folklorist who began helping American folk singers who were not at that time well known, including Bill Monroe, Doc Watson, Hazel Dickens, and others. Eventually his efforts had a big impact on bringing them to the public attention. He got a job at the Smithsonian where he became a very influential curator, producer, promoter, champion, writer, and advocate of important and beautiful American folk music from all cultures.
Rinzler's prominent role in the Festival and at the Center for Folklife Programs prompted the Smithsonian Institution to name the Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections in his honor in 1998.
- "Ralph C. Rinzler, 59, Smithsonian Official And Folk-Life Expert", The New York Times, July 8, 1994
- "Ralph Rinzler Collection". www.folklife.si.edu. Retrieved 2016-05-10.
- "The Music That Matters Part One: Bill Monroe and Ralph Rinzler". PopMatters. Retrieved 2016-05-10.
- Smith, Richard D. (2000-07-01). Can't You Hear Me Callin': The Life of Bill Monroe, Father of Bluegrass. Little, Brown. ISBN 9780316803816.
- "Fellow Folks: The Greenbriar Boys". www.bobdylanroots.com. Retrieved 2016-05-10.
- "Awards - Folk Alliance International". www.folk.org. Retrieved 2016-05-10.
- Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections
- "Ralph Rinzler, Folklorist: Professional Biography", Richard Gagne, Tougaloo College