Matthew Sabatella is a singer and instrumentalist who performs, records, studies, and teaches traditional forms of American music - "American heritage music" as he calls it. Ballad of America is his multi-faceted program with the Rambling String Band that explores the fascinating connection between music and United States history. He whole-heartedly believes in the power of music to inspire people in the 21st century and help them better understand people and events from the past. Sabatella has a Master of Arts in History from Florida International University and a Bachelor of Arts in Music from University of Miami.
Sabatella was enjoying a successful career as a singer/songwriter, having released two critically-acclaimed rock/pop CDs, when he happened upon a six-CD collection called The Anthology of American Folk Music.
This was the music collection that, when released by Folkways Records on LP in 1952, largely inspired the folk music revival of the 1950s and 1960s. In 2001, the set inspired a folk music revival within Sabatella. As he relates, "Suddenly, all of United States history came into focus for me as I heard ancient ballads and fiddle tunes from the British Isles, spirituals, blues, Appalachian folk songs, and more. From that moment on, I have been voraciously absorbing as much as I can about the history of this country and its music."
In February of 2005, Sabatella and the Rambling String Band released the CD Ballad of America Volume 1: Over a Wide and Fruitful Land. The album tells the story of the westward expansion of the country through traditional songs. They released Ballad of America Volume 2: America Singing, which serves as a sort of greatest hits of American folk music, in February of 2007. Ballad of America Volume 3: Songs in the Life of Abraham Lincoln was released in February of 2009 to coincide with the 200th birthday of the 16th president of the United States.
Sabatella frequently performs live with guitar, banjo, mountain dulcimer, and harmonicas. The Rambling String Band expands the instrumentation to include fiddle, bass fiddle, and mandolin. Whether the performance is geared towards adults, families, or children, Sabatella weaves the songs engaging narratives and gets the audience singing along, bridging the gap between them and the people who came before.
In awarding Sabatella the George Washington Honor Medal in November of 2007, the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge stated that his Ballad of America program “exemplifies the essence of the National Awards by promoting an understanding and appreciation for our country's rich heritage and unique freedoms.” Traveling to Thailand, also in 2008, Sabatella performed American folk music in Umphang and played banjo with traditional Thai musicians in a special multi-cultural concert.
Having studied old-time banjo with masters including Paul Brown, David Holt, Kirk Sutphin, Riley Baugus, Brad Leftwich, Ken Perlman, Mary Z. Cox, and Bob Carlin, Sabatella leads banjo workshops and participates in Banjo Seed, an outreach program that fosters interest in old-time banjo and supports budding players.
He has placed third in the Florida Old-Time Banjo Championship, first in Old-Time Singing and second in Mountain Dulcimer at the Florida Old-Time Music Championship. In naming him Best Acoustic Performer in 2005, New Times Broward/Palm Beach writes:
...Sabatella's best asset is easily his voice, urgent but unforced, sweetly melancholy in telling personal stories and powerfully evocative in rendering antiquated songs intimate again. It's a great gift, and Sabatella wields it with exceptional talent.
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