Bill Monroe – The Undisputed Father of Bluegrass Music.
Music was an integral part of Bill Monroe’s life, even at an early age. With five brothers and two sisters, it was a feature in the Monroe household, and also the wider family, especially Bill Monroe’s Uncle Pendleton Vandiver (Uncle Pen). Monroe would listen to his uncle playing fiddle from the hilltop of his family farm – Jerusalem Ridge.
Monroe often played for square dances in Rosine Kentucky with his Uncle Pen with whom he eventually went to live at around age 16 after the death of his parents. Monroe later went on to write a tribute to his uncle with the now famous song Uncle Pen:
Late in the evenin’ about sundown,
High on the hill and above the town
Uncle Pen played the fiddle, Lord, how it would ring
You could hear it talk, You could hear it sing
Still inspired by the music of their region, Monroe and his older brothers, Charlie and Birch, began playing as a band in the 1930’s. Monroe played the mandolin, Charlie played guitar, and Birch was on the fiddle. Friends William Hardin and Larry Moore also joined the band.
Not long after though, the band reduced to a duo of Charlie and Bill Monroe. By 1938, Bill Monroe, the youngest in the family, set off on a new course with a solo career and in pursuit of a music form he heard time and again developing in his mind. It was to be much later before it was to be defined as Bluegrass Music.
By 1939 Monroe travelled to Nashville, Tennessee and became a regular on the new radio show called The Grand Ol Opry. A music program broadcast on WSM radio out of Nashville and sponsored by an insurance company WSM. The initials of their motto “We Secure Millions”, a reflection of the security found in an insurance policy of the day.
By the end of 1945 Monroe still in search of that musical sound, and made some changes in his band line up. He engaged young banjo player named Earl Scruggs to his band along with a fine singer and guitar player called Lester Flatt. Further additions to Monroe’s line up included fiddle player Chubby Wise and bass player Cedric Rainwater. It was this line up that finally gave Monroe the sound he had been looking for since starting out on his musical career. Bluegrass Music as we know it today was a culmination of contributions from this now famous lineup.
Now 75 years later and with a host of musicians past and present, inspired by the bluegrass sound of that famous lineup, we have seen an incredible number of musicians follow in Monroe’s footsteps. These have included traditional bluegrass bands such as The Stanley Brothers, Jim and Jesse, Jimmy Martin, Mac Wiseman and many many more. More contemporary bands followed, again inspired by Monroe’s bluegrass music. The Country Gentleman, The Seldom Scene, Tony Rice, JD Crowe and The New South, Sam Bush and again many many more – all emerging from a music genre inspired by and pursued with passion in a young and emerging musician from the 1930 – Bill Monroe. The Father of Bluegrass.