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Bill Monroe

Bill Monroe is the father of bluegrass. He invented the style, invented the name, and for the great majority of the 20th century, embodied the art form. Beginning with his Blue Grass Boys in the '40s, Monroe defined a hard-edged style of country that emphasized instrumental virtuosity, close vocal harmonies, and a fast, driving tempo. The musical genre took its name from the Blue Grass Boys, and Monroe's music forever has defined the sound of classical bluegrass -- a five-piece acoustic string band, playing precisely and rapidly, switching solos and singing in a plaintive, high lonesome voice. Not only did he invent the very sound of the music, Monroe was the mentor for several generations of musicians. Over the years, Monroe's band hosted all of the major bluegrass artists of the '50s and '60s, including Flatt & Scruggs, Reno & Smiley, Vassar Clements, Carter Stanley, and Mac Wiseman. Though the lineup of the Blue Grass Boys changed over the years, Monroe always remained devoted to bluegrass in its purest form.

Monroe was born into a musical family. His father had been known around their hometown of Rosine, KY, as a step-dancer, while his mother played a variety of instruments and sang. His uncle, Pendelton Vanderver, was a locally renowned fiddler. Both of his older brothers, Harry and Birch, played fiddle, while his brother Charlie and sister Bertha played guitar. Bill himself became involved with music as a child, learning the mandolin at the age of ten. Following the death of his parents while he was a pre-adolescent, Monroe went to live with his Uncle Pen. Soon, he was playing in his uncle's band at local dances, playing guitar instead of mandolin. During this time, Monroe met a local blues guitarist called Arnold Shultz, who became a major influence on the budding musician.

When Monroe turned 18, he moved to East Chicago, IN, where his brothers Birch and Charlie were working at an oil refinery. Monroe also got a job at the Sinclair oil refinery and began playing with his brothers in a country string band at night. Within a few years, they performed on the Barn Dance on WLS Chicago, which led to the brothers' appearance in a square dance revue called the WLS Jamboree in 1932. The Monroes continued to perform at night, but Birch left the band in 1934. Ironically, it was just before the group landed a sponsorship of the Texas Crystals Company, which made laxatives. Charlie and Bill decided to continue performing as the Monroe Brothers.

The Monroe Brothers began playing in other states, including radio shows in Nebraska, Iowa, and both North and South Carolina. Such exposure led to record label interest, but the Monroe Brothers were initially reluctant to sign a recording contract. After some persuasion, they inked a deal with RCA-Victor's Bluebird division and recorded their first session in February of 1936. One of the songs from the sessions, "What Would You Give in Exchange," became a minor hit and the duo recorded another 60 tracks for Bluebird over the next two years.

In the beginning of 1938, Bill and Charlie parted ways, with Charlie forming the Kentucky Pardners. Bill assembled his own band with the intention of creating a new form of country that melded old-time string bands with blues and challenged the instrumental abilities of the musicians. Initially, he moved to Little Rock, where he formed the Kentuckians, but that band was short-lived. He then relocated to Atlanta, where he formed the Blue Grass Boys and began appearing on the Crossroad Rollies radio program. Monroe debuted on the Grand Ole Opry in October of 1939, singing "New Muleskinner Blues." It was a performance that made Monroe's career as well as established the new genre of bluegrass.

In the early '40s, Monroe & the Blue Grass Boys spent some time developing their style, often sounding similar to other contemporary string bands. The most notable element of the band's sound was Monroe's high, piercing tenor voice and his driving mandolin. The Blue Grass Boys toured with the Grand Ole Opry's road shows and appeared weekly on the radio. Between 1940 and 1941, he cut a number of songs for RCA-Victor, but a musicians' union strike prevented him from recording for several years. The classic lineup of the Blue Grass Boys fell into place in 1944, when guitarist/vocalist Lester Flatt and banjoist Earl Scruggs joined a lineup that already included Monroe, fiddler Chubby Wise, and bassist Howard Watts. This is the group that supported Monroe when he returned to the studio in 1945, recording a number of songs for Columbia. Early in 1946, he had his first charting hit with "Kentucky Waltz," which climbed to number three; it was followed by the number five hit "Footprints in the Snow."

Throughout 1946, the Blue Grass Boys were one of the most popular acts in country music, scoring hits and touring to large crowds across America. At each town they played, the band would perform underneath a large circus tent they set up themselves; the tent would also host a variety of other attractions, including Monroe's baseball team, which would play local teams before the concert began. During the late '40s, the Blue Grass Boys remained a popular act, landing five additional Top 20 singles. Numerous other acts began imitating Monroe's sound, most notably the Stanley Brothers.

Flatt & Scruggs left the Blue Grass Boys in 1948 to form their own band. Their departure ushered in an era of stagnation for Monroe. After Flatt & Scruggs parted ways from his band, he left Columbia Records in 1949 because they had signed the Stanley Brothers, who he felt were simply imitating his style. The following year, he signed with Decca Records, who tried to persuade Monroe to attempt some mainstream-oriented productions. He went as far as cutting a few songs with an electric guitar, but he soon returned to his pure bluegrass sound. At these sessions, he did meet Jimmy Martin, who became his supporting vocalist in the early '50s.

Throughout the '50s -- indeed, throughout the rest of his career -- Monroe toured relentlessly, performing hundreds of shows a year. In 1951, Monroe opened a country music park at Bean Blossom, IN; over the years, the venue featured performances from a number of bluegrass acts. Monroe suffered a serious car accident in January of 1953, which sidelined his career for several months. The following year, Elvis Presley performed Monroe's "Blue Moon of Kentucky" at his one and only Grand Ole Opry appearance, radically reworking the arrangement; Presley apologized for his adaptation, but Monroe would later perform the same arrangement at his concerts.

Monroe released his first album, Knee Deep in Bluegrass, in 1958, the same year he appeared on the country singles chart with "Scotland"; the number 27 single was his first hit in almost a decade. However, by the late '50s his stardom was eclipsed by Flatt & Scruggs. Monroe was not helped by his legendary stubbornness. Numerous musicians passed through his band because of his temperament and his quest for detail, he rarely granted press interviews and would rarely perform on television; he even canceled a concert at Carnegie Hall because he believed the promoter, Alan Lomax, was a communist. In the '60s, Monroe received a great career boost from the folk music revival, which made him popular with a new generation of listeners. Thanks to his new manager, ex-Greenbriar Boys member Ralph Rinzler, Monroe played bluegrass festivals across the U.S., frequently on college campuses. In 1967, he founded his own bluegrass festival, the Bill Monroe Bean Blossom Festival, at his country music park, which continued to run into the '90s.

In 1970, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame; the following year, the Nashville Songwriters Association International Hall of Fame. Throughout the '70s, he toured constantly. In 1981, Monroe was diagnosed with cancer and underwent treatment for the disease successfully. After his recovery, he resumed his busy touring schedule, which he kept into the '90s. In 1991, he had surgery for a double coronary bypass, but he quickly recovered and continued performing and hosting weekly at the Grand Ole Opry. In 1993, the Grammys gave Monroe a Lifetime Achievement Award. After suffering a stroke in early 1996, Monroe died on September 9, 1996, four days short of his 85th birthday. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

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Track List: Blue Grass 1959-1969 - Volume 4

Disc 1
Disc 2
Disc 3
Disc 4
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Track List: Bluegrass 1950-1958

Disc 1
Disc 2
Disc 3
Disc 4
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Track List: New Mule Skinner Blues (Radio Single)

Comments

He makes the Mandolin sound really great.
Now THIS is Bluegrass!
I grew listen and loving bluegrass and I love it
Bean Blossom Festival great stuff
My Hubby cut my teeth on Uncle Penn!
markqweeks
Got your remedy's singm9o OK o OK OK/ break
jenniferroch e l l e b r a d f o r d
Hey
croatoan64
Hair splitting. There was a similar instrument in africa. The slaves redesigned it a bit and it was called the tenor banjo having only four strings. Its played by strumming, hear those banjos ringing. Played to great effect by Mummers during their parade. The fifth string intended as a drone was added after the hill folk got it. I think the tenor banjo is also called the plectrum banjo...not sure. I hope no one here missed the Scruggs Pegs? It enabled them to change the tuning in mid song when i
Bill Monroe was not only a true bluegrass legend / creator, he was also from my home state, the beautiful bluegrass state of Kentucky, his music was one of a kind and can never be surpassed by ( anyone, not even Elvis in my opinion. Also in my opinion Elvis and others like him owe bill Monroe for opening the doors for them.
i grew up on this since i was a child i can remember going to granges and listening to may grandfather and his friends play bluegrass is in my soul and i feel a deep attachment to it because of him i miss him even after all these years but i can recall him plain as day whenever i get the chance to listen to some bluegrass
Eeeeeeee Haaaaaaaa!!! Dukes of Hazard. Pick'in and ah grin'in. DMB
this is the best thank you
real good thank u
very good thank u
bill Monroe on the grand old opera is opera at is very best
The Father of Bluegrass dedicated a song to me on recording after my heart surgery and about a year later I had the blessing of meeting him on his bus when he received the call his daughter had passed we spent about a half hour together alone, he then went on to perform onstage a true gentleman and a father who had complete knowledge that his daughter was with THE FATHER!! God bless you Bill and may you play forever in our hearts and in Heaven Ill meet you again!!
get over it and just enjoy the music!
Bluegrass is classical, in ways I think, in that it has both a vocal and instrumental form, and there is a 'right' and 'wrong' way to pay it. Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys, then the Stanley Brothers, then Flatt & Scruggs, Reno & Smiley...wel l there is where the list begins, and began before the electric guitar and Rock n' Roll. Listen to early Bill Monroe downstrokign the mandolin and then Chuck Berry...that ' s the reason I think Bill Monroe made the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame as well as the
The instruments of bluegrass came from afar, but the five string banjo played in the Snuffy Smith, Earl Scruggs style is unique. The banjo is from Africa, but not the bluegrass style of playing. A black musician named Arnold Shultz did influence young Bill Monroe, and yes, there are the blues influence in bluegrass music.
Bill Monroe was a singer/songw r i t e r / b a n d leader/ innovator and did devise America's only genre of music with a clear creator. Of course the contribution of his sidemen and their spin-off bands get credit too, such as the instrumental styling of Earl Scruggs, fiddlers Chubby Wise and too many others to name. Bluegrass is to me, the music of Bill Monroe and the artistry of his close imitators.
Bill its a great day to be a picker.
happy birthday bill
bill monroe use to close his shows by inviting all the ex bluegrass boys on stage for a fast number ever body that was any body there had played for him he is the father of bluegrass music like it or not he was the most respectred of all bluegrassers he is a hero to many pickers today
Bill Monroe is at the top of the best! They're all the best in my eyes.I'm ever impressed with bluegrass music, the people who play & perform. Many of those who play the instruments sooooo well, can't read a lick of music. They know it all instinctivel y . . . f r o m one instrument to the other. In years of knowing & listening and singing along with bluegrass, I've come to know the words to many of them. When the music starts, the words come to me magically. Guess that's the way it is with those who pe
Let's be intellectual l y honest- talk to ten different people, and you'll get ten different opinions about the genesis of a particular instrument or style of music. It's reasonable to state that Uncle Bill invented Bluegrass for a couple of reasons: One, nobody had ever recorded it before, if indeed there was some form of it, so we don't know for certain what it might have sounded like. Two, no one had ever CALLED it "Bluegrass", so in that sense, Bill ABSOLUTELY did invent it.
i just love bluegrass there are so many good artists, i dont know which one is the best, but i like bill monroe, lester flat and earl scruggs,jim and jesse,ralph stanly
Country of origin notwithstand i n g , it is the way an instrument is played that defines it. For example, When is a violin not a violin? When it is a fiddle. Our voices, also instruments, as opera beautifully demonstrates , are still only instruments. Thank God, we have so many great artists to listen to, all with different gifts and different ways of expression.
THE BANJO CAME FROM AFRICA, see Bela Flecks documentary, educate yourself
My first love is the grand opera, but bluegrass is my favorite non classical music. And Bill Monroe of two or three that I like best. I just love his music.
What else can be said about Bill Monroe. He is and always will be the king of bluegrass and the mandolin. God rest his soul.
quinn, andrew and kerry all he did was invent the style of music known as bluegrass and perfect it. sure there was gaelic and celtic music around but not BLUEGRASS until he came along. but west africa, come on now,there has never been anything came out of there that sounded anything like this. rotflmao
listen closely to this song, then you will understand why he is the father of bluegrass. he was the expert at what he done.
qtb4work
I really hate these genre arguments, so I think I'll jump in. American roots music including Bluegrass owes much to various celtic (Irish, Scottish, French, etc.) folk styles. It also owes a great deal to the rhythms and pentatonic scales of West Africa along with the alternating bass beat that came from Germany. At the end of the day, every musician worth his or her salt will admit that in the pursuit of musical invention we all beg, borrow, cheat, and steal. I think it's fair to say that B
True Keri. Perhaps it should have been worded, "Bill Monroe POPULARIZED the bluegrass style of music in America, which has its roots in Appalachian jug bands and traditional Gaelic music before that." But Justin is correct as well.
I disagree with the comment that Bill Monroe invented bluegrass. For one thing, bluegrass-st y l e music has been played in the Appalachian Region of the South for over a century. And before that it was being played in Ireland and Scotland. Traditional Irish jigs and reels played with guitars, banjos, fiddles, mandolins and accordions-— t h a t is EXACTLY where bluegrass came from. Bluegrass is just a continuation of our Gaelic heritage.
Any grasser such as myself owes a great debt to Bill.
bdholtsclaw1
I have a photo of my husband and daughters with Bill Monroe at the Beanblossom Bluegrass Festival back in June of 1978. Amanda kept calling Mr. Monroe "Grandpa" and he loved it!
qwertyuiopsc h m o e
We owe this man a great debt. The whole country does.
Fortunate to know a fellow that played in Bill Monroe's band early on. He lives in Odessa,Tx and has a radio show that is on weekly where he plays bluegrass and talks of old times.
I JUST LOVE YOUR MUISE I WAS RAIES ON IT AND I GO TO THE FESTVIES IN THE SUMMER AT CLAY CITY.I JUST EJOYE IT SO MUST LOOKING FARDWARD TO SEE BILL MONROE AT THE FESTVIES THIS SUMMER.
Bill Monroe is the father of bluegrass. So, this is good seminal listening. By the way, David Crowder, a Waco, Texas-based musician has talks a good deal about Bill Monroe and the history of bluegrass in his book Everybody Wants to go to Heaven, but nobody wants to die.
ocorky..the best way to "get a handle" is to do what yer doin', go to bluegrass festivals! The stage shows are great but the real music is the nightime jams, grab yer guitar, banjo, fiddle or whatever and roam around and join in. Best folks and best music you'll ever come across. Prepare to feel real good!
ocorky
I'm going to the Westcliff, Colorado bluegrass festival to hang out with friends but don't know squat about bluegrass so I have to learn fast! The festival is July 9-12 this year. Any suggestions for getting a handle on this music??????? ?
gracsadi
love this guy my dad plays the banjo and loves bill to!!!!!
The best of the best.

I've seen Bill Monroe perform live at the Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival a few times before he passed, and I must admit... There is NO ONE that can even begin to compare to this man.

Bill, you're my hero.
They need to add some McLain Family Band. They are awsome.
CAK
llaurel.tt
I adore Doc Watson and Merle Haggard.
gbflack
I'm over 50 and I Continue to Learn Somthing new every day! Bill's the Man!
Im from Georgia and every one here loves Bill. Thanks.
Thank you for Everything, Bill. Rest your lonely soul.
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