Bill Monroe

  • The father of Bluegrass music, the singer, songwriter and mandolin player was born in 1911 in Rosine Kentucky. He died in 1996 several months after he had a stroke.
  • Monroe was born into a musical family – his mother sang and played several instruments, his brothers played the fiddle and guitar, and he learned the mandolin when he was ten years old. His parents died when he was a pre-teen, so he lived with his uncle. Soon, he was playing in his uncle’s band at local dances. At 18, he moved to northwestern Indiana where two of his brothers worked at an oil refinery. Monroe got a job at the refinery and he performed in a country string group with his brothers. They began to get exposure in Chicago, and by 1934, Bill and his brother Charlie were performing as The Monroe Brothers. Two years later, they were signed to a recording contract. Over the next two years, they recorded over 60 songs.
  • In 1938, Charlie left to form another band, the Kentucky Pardners. Bill wanted to form a group that combined old-time country string music with the blues, with virtuoso performances on the instruments. Monroe moved to Arkansas and formed a group called the Kentuckians, but after a few months, the band fell apart. He then moved to Atlanta and formed Bill Monroe & the Blue Grass Boys. They performed on local radio, and in October 1939 they performed New Muleskinner Blues at the Grand Ole Opry. It was the birth of Bluegrass music.
  • During the 40s, the group developed its style, with Monroe’s tenor vocal and skilled mandolin creating their signature sound. In 1944, guitarist Lester Flatt and banjo player Earl Scruggs joined the lineup which already included Monroe, fiddlers Chubby Wise and Howdy Forrester and bassists Howard Watts and Joe Forrester. Recordings by this lineup started to chart – Kentucky Waltz reached #3 and Footprints in the Snow peaked at #5. This version of the group recorded 28 songs which became bluegrass classics. The most famous was Blue Moon of Kentucky, which Elvis Presley famously recorded. Monroe’s version was chosen by the Library of Congress in 2002 to be added to the National Recording Registry.
  • During the 50s, Monroe toured constantly and he released dozens of singles. His first bluegrass album was released in 1958 – Knee Deep in Bluegrass. By the late 50s, his popularity had waned as rock music began to emerge, and even among bluegrass artists, his friends Flatt and Scruggs and their band the Foggy Mountain Boys surpassed Monroe in popularity.
  • The revival of folk music in the 60s revitalized Monroe’s career. He played on college campuses and at bluegrass festivals, and a new generation of music lovers discovered him. He released five studio albums in the 60s, and in 1967 he founded his own bluegrass festival, the Bill Monroe Bean Blossom Festival. The festival became the longest continuously running festival ever – the 2022 festival in June will be its 56th year.
  • In the 70s and beyond, he continued to tour and record. Twelve studio albums were released between 1972 and 1991, and over 80 compilations were released over the years. In 1970, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. In 1988 he won his only Grammy award for a recording when his album Southern Flavor won the Best Bluegrass Recording award. In 1993, he was given an honorary lifetime achievement Grammy award. In 1997, Monroe was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as an “early influencer.”
  • Unlike any other musical genre, bluegrass music can point to a sole person for its creation. Bill Monroe is universally credited as the father of bluegrass music. That’s impressive! Here’s a video of Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys in Bill’s later years, performing Blue Moon of Kentucky.

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