Skip to main content
placeholder image
uri icon

Troutman, John

Curator of American Music


John Troutman is a curator and scholar, whose research expertise spans the cultural history and politics of late 19th-20th century U.S. popular music. His research fields include U.S. music and cultural history, as well as Native American and Indigenous Studies.  His most recent book, Kīkā Kila: How the Hawaiian Steel Guitar Changed the Sound of Modern Music, won five book awards including 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.  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. Troutman's essays have been featured in several anthologies, magazines, and journals. He is currently editing a manuscript on blues legend Robert Johnson, as well as the catalog for the NMAH's upcoming permanent exhibition, Entertaining Nation.

Geographic Focus

Professional Biography

  • Before working at the Smithsonian, Troutman was a professor of history at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, where he taught courses in public history and museum exhibition development, music history, and indigenous studies.  He has also served as the assistant director of the Newberry Library's D'Arcy McNickle Center for American Indian and Indigenous Studies in Chicago, and was an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for the Americas at Wesleyan University (Middletown, CT).  He has won numerous short- and long-term research fellowships, and in 2014 he received his former university's highest honor for teaching, the Ray Authement Excellence in Teaching Award.

    He is the project director of the museum's forthcoming major exhibition on American entertainment, and has served as exhibit curator or project director for several exhibits, including most recently Sounding American Music, and an installation for the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana.  ​He recently 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 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