This article is about the American musician.
For other people named Bill Monroe, see Bill Monroe (disambiguation).
|Birth name||William Smith Monroe|
|Born||(1911-09-13)September 13, 1911|
|Died||September 9, 1996(1996-09-09) (aged 84)|
Because of this, he is often called the "Father of Bluegrass".
Monroe's performing career spanned 69 years as a singer, instrumentalist, composer and bandleader.
Monroe was born on his family's farm near Rosine, Kentucky, the youngest of eight children of James Buchanan "Buck" and Malissa (Vandiver) Monroe.
His mother and her brother, Pendleton "Pen" Vandiver, were both musically talented, and Monroe and his family grew up playing and singing at home.
Bill was of Scottish and English heritage.
He recalled that his brothers insisted he should remove four of the mandolin's eight strings so he would not play too loudly.
Monroe's mother died when he was ten, and his father died six years later.
By and by his brothers and sisters moved away, leaving Monroe to bounce between uncles and aunts until finally settling in with his disabled uncle Pendleton Vandiver, whom he often accompanied when Vandiver played the fiddle at dances.
This experience inspired one of Monroe's most famous compositions, "Uncle Pen," recorded in 1950, and the 1972 album Bill Monroe's Uncle Pen.
On that album, Monroe recorded a number of traditional fiddle tunes he had often heard performed by Vandiver.
Vandiver has been credited with giving Monroe "a repertoire of tunes that sank into Bill's aurally trained memory and a sense of rhythm that seeped into his bones."
Together with a friend Larry Moore, they formed the "Monroe Brothers", to play at local dances and house parties.
Birch and Moore soon left the group, and Bill and Charlie carried on as a duo, eventually winning spots performing live on radio stations, first in Indiana and then, sponsored by Texas Crystals, on several radio broadcasts in Shenandoah Iowa, Nebraska, South Carolina and North Carolina from 1934 to 1936.
RCA Victor signed the Monroe Brothers to a recording contract in 1936.
They scored an immediate hit single with the gospel song "What Would You Give in Exchange For Your Soul?"
and ultimately recorded 60 tracks for Victor's Bluebird label between 1936 and 1938.
After the Monroe Brothers disbanded in 1938, Bill Monroe formed The Kentuckians in Little Rock, Arkansas, but the group only lasted for three months.
Monroe then left Little Rock for Atlanta, Georgia, to form the first edition of the Blue Grass Boys with singer/guitarist Cleo Davis, fiddler Art Wooten, and bassist Amos Garren.
Bill had wanted William Hardin to become one of the original members of his Blue Grass Boys, however he had to decline.
In October 1939, Monroe successfully auditioned for a regular spot on the Grand Ole Opry, impressing Opry founder George D. Hay with his energetic performance of Jimmie Rodgers's "Mule Skinner Blues".
Monroe recorded that song, along with seven others, at his first solo recording session for RCA Victor in 1940; by this time, the Blue Grass Boys consisted of singer/guitarist Clyde Moody, fiddler Tommy Magness, and bassist Bill Wesbrooks.
While the fast tempos and instrumental virtuosity characteristic of bluegrass music are apparent even on these early tracks, Monroe was still experimenting with the sound of his group.
He seldom sang lead vocals on his Victor recordings, often preferring to contribute high tenor harmonies as he had in the Monroe Brothers.
Akeman played the instrument in a relatively primitive style and was rarely featured in instrumental solos.
Monroe's pre-1946 recordings represent a transitional style between the string-band tradition from which he came and the musical innovation to follow.
"Original Bluegrass Band" and Monroe's heyday as a star
Flatt played a solid rhythm guitar style that would help to set the course for bluegrass timing.
Scruggs played the banjo with a distinctive three-finger picking style that immediately caused a sensation among Opry audiences.
Flatt and Scruggs joined a highly accomplished group that included fiddler Howdy Forrester and bassist Joe Forrester and would soon include fiddler Chubby Wise and bassist Howard Watts, who often performed under the name "Cedric Rainwater".
In retrospect, this lineup of the Blue Grass Boys has been dubbed the "Original Bluegrass Band", as the music finally included all the elements that characterize bluegrass music, including breakneck tempos, sophisticated vocal harmony arrangements, and impressive instrumental proficiency demonstrated in solos or "breaks" on the mandolin, banjo, and fiddle.
By this time, Monroe had acquired the 1923 Gibson F5 model "Lloyd Loar" mandolin, which became his trademark instrument for the remainder of his career.
The 28 songs recorded by this version of the Blue Grass Boys for Columbia Records in 1946 and 1947 soon became classics of the genre, including "Toy Heart", "Blue Grass Breakdown", "Molly and Tenbrooks", "Wicked Path of Sin", "My Rose of Old Kentucky", "Little Cabin Home on the Hill", and Monroe's most famous song "Blue Moon of Kentucky".
Monroe gave his blessing to Presley's rock and roll cover of the song, originally a slow ballad in waltz time, and in fact re-recorded it himself with a faster arrangement after Presley's version became a hit.
Several gospel-themed numbers are credited to the "Blue Grass Quartet", which featured four-part vocal arrangements accompanied solely by mandolin and guitar – Monroe's usual practice when performing "sacred" songs.
Both Flatt and Scruggs left Monroe's band in early 1948, soon forming their own group, the Foggy Mountain Boys.
In 1949, after signing with Decca Records, Monroe entered what has been called the "golden age" of his career with what many consider the classic "high lonesome" version of the Blue Grass Boys, featuring the lead vocals and rhythm guitar of Jimmy Martin, the banjo of Rudy Lyle (replacing Don Reno), and fiddlers such as Merle "Red" Taylor, Charlie Cline, Bobby Hicks, William Hicks and Vassar Clements.
This band recorded a number of bluegrass classics, including "My Little Georgia Rose", "On and On", "Memories of Mother and Dad", and "Uncle Pen", as well as instrumentals such as "Roanoke", "Big Mon", "Stoney Lonesome", "Get Up John", and the mandolin feature "Raw Hide".
On January 16, 1953 Monroe was critically injured in a two-car wreck.
On highway 31-W, near White House, their car was struck by a drunken driver.
Monroe, who had suffered injuries to his back, left arm and nose, was rushed to General Hospital in Nashville.
It took him almost four months to recover and resume touring.
By the late 1950s, however, Monroe's commercial fortunes had begun to slip.
While still a mainstay on the Grand Ole Opry, Monroe found diminishing success on the singles charts, and struggled to keep his band together in the face of declining demand for live performances.
Even after the folk revival faded in the mid-1960s, it left a loyal audience for bluegrass music.
Bluegrass festivals became common, with fans often traveling long distances to see a number of different acts over several days of performances.
In 1967 Monroe himself founded an annual bluegrass festival at Bean Blossom in southern Indiana, a park he had purchased in 1951, which routinely attracted a crowd of thousands; a double LP from the festival featuring Monroe, Jimmy Martin, Lester Flatt, and Jim and Jesse was released in 1973.
The annual Bill Monroe Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival is now the world's oldest continuously running annual bluegrass festival.
Monroe's compositions during his later period were largely instrumentals, including "Jerusalem Ridge", "Old Dangerfield" (originally spelled Daingerfield after the town in East Texas), and "My Last Days on Earth"; he settled into a new role as a musical patriarch who continued to influence younger generations of musicians.
Monroe recorded two albums of duets in the 1980s; the first featured collaborations with country stars such as Emmylou Harris, Waylon Jennings, and The Oak Ridge Boys, while the second paired him with other prominent bluegrass musicians.
A 1989 live album celebrated his 50th year on the Grand Ole Opry.
Monroe also kept a hectic touring schedule.
Monroe's last performance occurred on March 15, 1996.
He ended his touring and playing career in April, following a stroke.
Monroe died on September 9, 1996, in Springfield, Tennessee, four days before his 85th birthday.
Legacy and influence
Bill Monroe was made an honorary Kentucky Colonel in 1966.
As the "father of bluegrass", he was also an inaugural inductee into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Honor in 1991.
That year's fellowships were the first bestowed by the NEA.
In 2003, CMT had Bill Monroe ranked No.
16 on CMT 40 Greatest Men of Country Music.
Artists that claimed to be influenced by or to be playing the bluegrass genre were often bullied by Bill Monroe.
He always considered himself the father and caretaker of bluegrass.
He would often say of new bands that did not perform to his standards, "That ain't no part of nothin'."
Even those who question the scope of bluegrass refer to Monroe as a "musical giant" and recognize that "there would be no bluegrass without Bill Monroe."
More than 150 musicians played in the Blue Grass Boys over the nearly 60 years of Monroe's performing career.
Monroe tended to recruit promising young musicians who served an apprenticeship with him before becoming accomplished artists in their own right.
Some of Monroe's band members who went on to greater prominence include singer/guitarists Clyde Moody, Lester Flatt, Jack Cook, Mac Wiseman, Jimmy Martin, Carter Stanley, Del McCoury, Peter Rowan, Roland White, Roland Dunn and Doug Green; banjo players Earl Scruggs, Buck Trent, Don Reno, Stringbean, Sonny Osborne, and Bill Keith; and fiddlers Tommy Magness, Chubby Wise, Vassar Clements, Byron Berline, Kenny Baker, Bobby Hicks, Gordon Terry, Randall Franks and Glen Duncan.
Monroe also regularly performed with flat-picking guitar virtuoso Doc Watson.
Modern bluegrass singer and mandolin player Ricky Skaggs was influenced by Monroe.
Skaggs was only six years old, in 1960, when he first got to perform on stage with Monroe and his band at the high school in Martha, Kentucky.
He stated, "I think Bill Monroe's importance to American music is as important as someone like Robert Johnson was to blues, or Louis Armstrong.
He was so influential: I think he's probably the only musician that had a whole style of music named after his band."
Main article: Bill Monroe discography
|"Footprints in the Snow"||5|
|1948||"Sweetheart, You Done Me Wrong"||11|
|"Wicked Path of Sin"||13|
|"Little Community Church"||11|
|"When You Are Lonely"||12|
|1959||"Gotta Travel On"||15|
Credits to the contents of this page go to the authors of the corresponding Wikipedia page: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill Monroe.