Bill Monroe (1911–1996)

Updated: March 01, 2011

Bluegrass mandolinist, singer, and composer.

Known as the “Father of Bluegrass Music,” Bill Monroe is one of the few individuals credited with the creation of a new musical genre. Born on September 13, 1911, in the town of Rosine in western Kentucky, Monroe had a definite influence on the post–World War II revival of interest in the music of Appalachia due to his repertoire, which was drawn from the same sources as much of traditional Appalachian music.

Influenced by the fiddle tunes of his uncle Pendleton Vandiver, immortalized in Monroe’s song “Uncle Pen,” as well as the blues of itinerant African American guitarist Arnold Shultz, Monroe started playing professionally with his brother Charlie in the early 1930s as the Monroe Brothers. Bill Monroe’s animated mandolin playing and high tenor voice contributed to this early brother duo’s success. In the late 1930s, Monroe started his own band, the Blue Grass Boys, which in 1945 added Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs; this lineup, completed by Chubby Wise on fiddle and Cedric Rainwater on bass, is considered by most historians as the first combination to play what came to be known as bluegrass. Many major figures in bluegrass were at one time Blue Grass Boys, including David “Stringbean” Akeman, Don Reno, Jimmy Martin, Sonny Osborne, Mac Wiseman, Del McCoury, and Peter Rowan.

In the mid-1950s, despite the fact that Elvis Presley covered Monroe’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” bluegrass suffered as rock ’n’ roll exploded nationally. By the next decade, however, Monroe had not only emerged as a central figure in the urban folk revival, but he also was headlining bluegrass festivals. He died September 9, 1996. Monroe attained cult status within the bluegrass community and left hundreds of classic songs and instrumentals that will be played for generations to come.

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Bill Monroe