Fresno Folklore Society

A Non-Profit Corporation for the Traditional Arts

Fresno, California

Artist Profile

The Bluestein Family

The Bluestein Family

The Bluestein Family


Artist Biography by Linda Seida
The Bluestein Family was led by Gene Bluestein, who was a revered musician and teacher until his death in 2002. Under his leadership, he and his four children gave concerts and recorded videos and albums, yet in the end music was much more a part of their lives than the performances they gave or the albums they made. According to the Bluestein's patriarch, music and the arts are an integral component of life -- or they should be, and not just for musicians but for everyone. The elder Bluestein believed this so strongly that he incorporated this philosophy into the classes he taught at California State University at Fresno, even going so far as to stick to his guns and continue to use music to teach his American literature courses when the school's music professors thought he was encroaching on their area of expertise and lodged a complaint. In addition to teaching at the Fresno campus from 1963 to 1992, Bluestein also taught in China during the late '80s, and in France during the mid-'70s, as well as in Michigan, Japan, and Finland. A graduate of Brooklyn College, he returned there many years later as a visiting professor. After retiring, he held the title of Professor of English Emeritus at California State University. He was a founding member of the Fresno Folklore Society, and the author of a number of books.

Early on, he found musical inspiration in Pete Seeger, whose performance turned him on in a big way to folk music. After seeing Seeger's show, he went out and got a banjo of his own and eventually became a master player. Before performing with his family, he recorded a handful of albums that were put out by Folkways Records. The head of the musical family was married for more than half a century to Ellie Bluestein, the lone member of the immediate family who did not play an instrument. Son Evo Bluestein is arguably the family member who has made the most impact with his music, after Gene. A multi-instrumentalist like his father, he has also designed a version of the autoharp that has come to be known as the Evoharp. Also like his dad, he is a teacher as well as a performer. Among the world's autoharp players, he has been ranked as one of the finest. He has put together instructional videos for the autoharp, button accordion, banjo, fiddle, and guitar. His first recording was with the Roundtown Boys Oldtime String Band right out of high school. During this period, the family began appearing as a group in concert.

The Bluestein Family's tours took them to Israel, France, Japan, and across the U.S. Evo went on to lead an outfit called Bad Boys Zydeco, and collaborate in a band called Lyquid Amber with Hannsjoerg Scheid, a musician from Germany. Daughter Frayda Bluestein is a guitar player and singer, while son Joel Bluestein plays fiddle. Like one of his brothers and his father, Jemmy Bluestein is also a multi-instrumentalist whose skills cover the fiddle, guitar, mandolin, banjo, flutes, and whistles. He also is a massage therapist and a carpenter.