Bob Zentz

Bob Zentz

Bob Zentz is an American musician and educator who has been performing for more than thirty years. He is a guitarist and also plays the autoharp, lute, melodeon, mouth harp, banjo, concertina and mandolin. He specializes in historical and maritime music.

Zentz lives in Norfolk, Virginia.

Bob began performing professionally in his native Norfolk, Virginia, in 1962, in "The Troubadours," with James Lee Stanley. In his college years, Bob was a founding member of The College of William & Mary's "Minutemen" singers from 1962-64, and president of the Old Dominion College Folk Music Society from 1965-66.

In 1966, Bob began a two-year stint as a sonar man in the U.S. Coast Guard, aboard the high-endurance cutter CGC Sebago. During this time, his songwriting came to the attention of Hollywood, and upon leaving the service in 1969 he was hired as a songwriter for the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. But the show was canceled by CBS and Bob stayed on in L.A., teaching guitar at Long Beach City College and continuing to perform and write, winning the William E. Oliver Songwriting Award in Los Angeles in 1970 for his song, "Jeremy."

After the 1971 San Fernando earthquake, Bob returned to Norfolk with a dream of creating a special place for people who loved traditional music and acoustic sounds as much as he did. He named it for the man who embodied his ideal of the singer, and the song -- the late Norfolk country singer William Conrad Buhler, immortalized by Bob in song as "Ramblin' Conrad ... a veteran, a wino, a handyman, an ex-con, a backstreet minstrel and a bar-room troubadour."

Ramblin' Conrad’s Guitar Shop & Folklore Center became the hub for folk music and culture in Hampton Roads for 23 years, located in several locations around town before closing in 1995. In its time, Ramblin' Conrad's offered acoustic instruments of any kind, from any time; traditional music in record and print; a concert venue that brought many of the world's finest folk musicians to Hampton Roads; and a gathering place for folk aficionados.

The Ramblin' Conrad's experience also existed on public radio WHRO-FM, Norfolk, through the program "In The Folk Tradition," from 1977-2004, and in the community through the Songmakers of Virginia -- now known as the Tidewater Friends of Folk Music -- which Bob founded in 1971, modeled after Songmakers of California, which he came to know and admire during his time in L.A.

Over the years, Bob participated in many folk ventures regionally, nationally and internationally. He began teaching folk music classes in Old Dominion University’s Rainbow Program in 1971; he created and ran the "Old Dominion Folk Festival from 1972-81; and became a fixture at the Virginia State Fair beginning in 1980, appearing for his 26th year consecutive year as resident performer in the Heritage Village in September 2007. He appeared on PBS's long-running program "A Prairie Home Companion" in 1982, and crewed and performed about Pete Seeger's Hudson River sloop "Clearwater," repairing the Hudson River and spreading the word about preserving our waterways, from 1989-91. Bob's recording of his composition, "Horizons," was selected to be on a tribute to environmental author and pioneer Rachel Carson on the centenary of her birth, entitled "Songs for the Earth."

Bob also represented America and its folk traditions at the Shanty Tour, Finland, in 1997, and was an instructor at the inaugural Common Ground, Scotland, in 2002. He performed at the Scottish National Folk Festival in 2002, was featured U.S. artist at the Australian National Folk Festival in Canberra in 2004, and performed that same year in Auckland and Wellington for the New Zealand Maritime Museums. A featured performer at the 2004 Smithsonian Folklife Festival, Bob is also a regular member of the faculty each summer at Common Ground on the Hill, held at McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland.

Local accolades in the Hampton Roads area include the 1992 John Sears Award for Community Service from Festevents and the City of Norfolk. He created the program, "Life of the 19th Century Mariner" for the Mariners Museum in Newport News in 1995' composed and performed "Old to the Schooner Virginia" at the keel-laying ceremony in 2002 and launching ceremony in 2004; and was music consultant and performer for the multimedia theater experience, "Chesapeake Celebration" in 2004. He was a founding member of the Outer Banks Opry in 2003; received a grant from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in 2004 to present "Music of the Chesapeake" in Virginia Schools; and was profiled by Public Television's "Virginia Currents" in 2003 for recognition of his many contributions to music and the community, at home and abroad.

As a performer, Bob is a prolific musician, playing several dozen instruments in a repertoire of more than 2,000 songs. His six albums span the genres of folk, traditional, Celtic and maritime music and beyond, and his recordings also appear on other artist compilations. Dozens of performers have covered his original compositions, three of which have been published in "Rise Up Singing," Sing Out Magazine's award-winning community songbook.

Two of the most storied songwriters of the 20th century praised Bob's work, each in his own way. Upon hearing Bob's first release, Mirrors and Changes, country legend Johnny Cash was moved to send the young artist an encouraging letter, saying, "Mirrors and Changes ... is one of the finest works I've heard by any artist." And in 2007, at a symposium at the Library of Congress' American Folklife Center honoring members of the Seeger family for their contributions to American music, music legend and humanitarian Pete Seeger asked Bob, "Are you still writing those good songs? Your songs get around!"

Today, Bob continues to perform throughout the year, and is preparing to follow up the 2007 release of his sixth album, "Closehauled on the Wind of a Dream," with at least one new CD in 2008. He carries his "informances," rich with "edu-tainment," to elementary school students with his "Homemade Music" program; to K-12 teachers as an instructor for the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching (NCCAT); and to elders as a program developer and leader for Elderhostel along the Intracoastal Waterway. He is dedicated to a life of presenting, performing and introducing traditional music and its derivatives to those who are already fans and those unaware of its existence.


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