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Troutman, John

Curator of Music and Musical Instruments

John Troutman is a curator and scholar, whose research expertise spans the cultural history and politics of late 19th-20th century U.S. popular and vernacular music.


Research Areas

Geographic Focus

Background And Education

Education And Training

Professional Biography

  • ​John Troutman is Curator of Music and Musical Instruments at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History.  He is the project director and lead curator of Entertainment Nation, the museumʻs permanent exhibition on the history, power and politics of entertainment in the United States, which opened in December of 2022, and is the co-editor of the exhibitionʻs accompanying catalog. Troutman in 2023 edited music researcher and folklorist Robert "Mack" McCormick's previously unpublished 50-year-old manuscript, Biography of a Phantom: A Robert Johnson Blues Odyssey. His co-curated exhibit on McCormickʻs legendary archive opened at the museum in June of 2023.  He co-produced a six-LP box set from the field recordings of Mack McCormick that was released on Smithsonian Folkways. For this project, in November 2023 Troutman and co-producer Jeff Place received Grammy nominations both for "Best Album Notes" and "Best Historical Album."

    His first book, Indian Blues: American Indians and the Politics of Music, 1879-1934, won the Western History Association's biennial 2011 W. Turrentine Jackson Prize for a first book on any aspect of the American West.  His 2016 book Kīkā Kila: How the Hawaiian Steel Guitar Changed the Sound of Modern Musicwon five book awards, including the Organization of American Historians' Lawrence W. Levine Award for the "Best Book in American Cultural History," the IASPM-US Woody Guthrie Award for the "most outstanding book on popular music," and the American Musicological Society's Music in American Culture Award.  Troutman's essays have been featured in several anthologies, magazines, and journals.  

    Troutman served as curator or exhibit developer for prior exhibits at the Smithsonian and elsewhere, including Sounding American Music and an installation for the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana.  ​He served as a consultant on American Epic, a Robert Redford/ Jack White/ T-Bone Burnett executive-produced PBS/BBC documentary on American music, and is featured on the prize-winning Rezolution Pictures documentary, Rumble: the Indians Who Rocked the World.  As a national speaker, Troutman has been interviewed on several media outlets, including The Washington Post, NPR's All Things Considered, The Today Show and CBS Sunday Morning, and has delivered invited public talks at institutions and universities throughout the country.

    Troutman was raised in Dothan, Alabama.  He studied anthropology at Emory University, and earned a master's degree in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona.  He earned his PhD in history from the University of Texas at Austin.  A semi-professional musician on pedal steel and guitar, he contributed steel guitar to the album Grand Isle, by Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys, which was nominated for a 2012 Grammy Award for "Best Regional Roots Music Album."  He has performed on stage with numerous musical luminaries including CC Adcock, Elvis Costello, Robert Plant, Dr. John, Willie Nelson's Band, David Hidalgo (Los Lobos), Ani DiFranco, and Florence Welch (Florence and the Machine).

Awards And Honors


Selected Publications

Editor Of

  • Book

    • McCormick, Robert. 2023. Biography of a Phantom: A Robert Johnson Blues Odyssey, Troutman, John William, editor. Washington DC: Smithsonian Books. 2023
    • Cohen, Kenneth and Troutman, John, editors. 2022. Entertainment Nation. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Books. 2022