Brett Ratliff

He // Him // His

[ID: A headshot of a man with a tan felt hat, black rimmed glasses, and a salt and pepper beard. The image is cropped close to his face with his eyes holding a focused gaze. He stands in a field at golden hour.]

Traditional Appalachian Musician
Lexington, KY
2022 USA Fellow

This award was generously supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Born and raised in Van Lear, Kentucky, Brett Ratliff is a multi-instrumentalist and lifelong apprentice of the Kentucky music repertoire. Ratliff performs and teaches the tradition widely, with appearances at the likes of the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes (Port Townsend, Washington), Sore Fingers Week (Oxfordshire, England), the Southern Foodways Alliance (Oxford, Mississippi), Celtic Connections (Glasgow), and Nimble Fingers Week (British Columbia).

Also a community arts organizer, he works in his home region to ensure the tradition remains a living one, connecting Appalachian art and social justice. In so doing, he has founded several longstanding Kentucky festivals that join entertainment with education and discourse and has produced four short documentaries on contemporary Appalachian folkways.

As a recording artist, he appears on more than a dozen albums, including Oxford American’s Southern Music Series 19: Kentucky (OA Recordings, 2017), Mike Seeger’s Just Around the Bend (Smithsonian Folkways, 2019), and three solo projects: Cold Icy Mountain (June Appal Recordings, 2008), Gone Boy (Emperor Records, 2017), and Whitesburg, KY (June Appal Recordings, 2021).

Today, Ratliff serves as the founding president of the nonprofit Kentucky Old-Time music, which provides infrastructure for grassroots traditional arts gatherings statewide, program director of WMMT FM, and manager of Appalshop’s Traditional music Project.

Portrait photo by Matt White.
  • Artwork by Brett Ratliff
    The High Tops at 21c Museum Hotel, Lexington, Kentucky. 
    [ID: A group of musicians performs on stage. From right to left: a woman holds a banjo; Brett plucks at a fiddle with his fingers, while the bow dangles in front of him; a woman plays the double bass, a man with a guitar strums.]
  • Artwork by Brett Ratliff
    Brett Ratliff solo performance at ArtsPlace during The Lexington Gathering, Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Jo Mackby.
    [ID: Brett wears a black shirt and stands against a black background, playing banjo and singing into a microphone. His hands are blurred from the motion of playing. ]
  • Artwork by Brett Ratliff
    Brett Ratliff teaches a banjo workshop during The Lexington Gathering, Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Jo Mackby. 
    [ID: A photograph of a group of people sitting in a circle of folding chairs, each holding a banjo and looking down at the instrument in concentration.]
Artwork by Brett Ratliff Artwork by Brett Ratliff Artwork by Brett Ratliff