Publication Date

June 16, 2023

Perspectives Section

In Memoriam


  • United States



Ivan M. Tribe

Photo courtesy Mike Thompson

On April 4, 2023, the 82-year concert that was the life of Ivan M. Tribe, a nationally recognized country music historian, concluded its final notes.

The concert began on May 1, 1940, with the first cries of newborn Ivan, one of three sons of Henry and Dorothy Reeves Tribe. Ivan earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Ohio University and a doctorate in American history from the University of Toledo. His 1976 dissertation, “An Empire of Industry: Hocking Valley Mining Towns in the Gilded Age,” became the basis of his first book, Little Cities of Black Diamonds: Urban Development in the Hocking Coal Region, 1870–1900 (Athens Ancestree, 1986). He would eventually author 13 additional books and more than 125 articles for publications including Goldenseal and Bluegrass Unlimited. He also contributed some 200 entries to an online country music encyclopedia,

Ivan joined the faculty of the University of Rio Grande in 1976, retiring as faculty emeritus in 2007. While at Rio, he taught various introductory courses in American history in addition to upper-level courses such as American Cultural History and Ohio History and an occasional course on Africa and the Middle East. He was a charter member of the Alpha Alpha Delta Chapter of Phi Alpha Theta at the university and was the founder and editor of Buckeye Hill Country: A Journal of Regional History (1996–2009). He won various teaching awards during his time at the institution.

If one were to have entered Ivan’s office in Wood Hall 247, one would encounter plentiful numbers of books, copies of the American Historical Review and the Journal of American History, posters of country or bluegrass music concerts, autographed photos of celebrities in frames, and a pile of student papers on the desk. He could often be found at that desk listening to Rush Limbaugh’s talk radio program and enjoying a bottle of Ski, a locally bottled soda pop. When it came time for class, he would leave the office carrying the appropriate two-pocket paper folder containing his handwritten lecture notes on yellow legal pad paper. Between classes, each folder waited in the hard-plastic slots mounted on the office wall.

Outside of the classroom, he and his wife, Deanna, co-produced and co-hosted Hornpipe and Fugue, a three-hour weekly educational radio program on Sunday afternoons, concerning country music and its performers from the 1920s–60s. They began this program in January 1983 on WOUB Radio, an arm of Ohio University Public Media. They retired from these duties in December 2022.

Ivan and Deanna often held an annual open house for friends and colleagues, inviting guests to visit what he referred to as the Tribe Archive of American History and Culture. While guests enjoyed light refreshments and heard strains of bluegrass music from a live band, they could tour the large metal outbuilding attached to the Tribes’ home and view Ivan’s lifelong collection of books, academic journals, LP records, personalized autographed photos of celebrities from the Golden Age of Hollywood and Television, and Masonic items (a 33rd degree Mason, he received his 60-year pin earlier this year). The final open house was conducted in May 2022.

Before Ivan taught Ohio history, he made history of his own. His election as mayor of Albany, Ohio, in 1962 made him the youngest elected Ohio mayor at that time (prior to passage of the 26th Amendment).

Ivan was preceded in death by his parents, brother Gary, and two beloved Siamese cats, Katerina and Katie. He is survived by Deanna, his wife of nearly 60 years; brother Henry; a sister-in-law; two nephews; several great nephews and nieces and cousins; and cats Calista and Carson.

Before the audience at the concert disperses, may they offer a standing ovation and thunderous applause for the outstanding scholar, educator, and gentleman Ivan M. Tribe.

William E. Plants
University of Rio Grande

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