Bill Monroe Biography
Bill Monroe (born William Smith Monroe, September 13, 1911 – September 9, 1996) developed the style of country music known as bluegrass, which takes its name from his band, the "Blue Grass Boys," named for his home state of Kentucky. Monroe's performing career spanned 60 years as a singer, instrumentalist, composer and bandleader. He is often referred to as "the father of bluegrass."
Monroe was born in Rosine, Kentucky. His father was a well-to-do farmer while his mother, née Malissa Vandiver, who was of Dutch extraction, was from lower down the social scale. Malissa and her brother, Pendleton "Pen" Vandiver, were both musically inclined, and Bill Monroe learned old-time music from his uncle who was an itinerant fiddler. Thirty years later, Monroe wrote a song ("Uncle Pen") in honor of him and the music.
Monroe's professional career began in the 1930s when he and his older brothers, Birch and Charlie, began performing as a trio, the Monroe Brothers, at a radio station in South Bend, Indiana near Hammond, Indiana where they worked in an oil refinery. Birch left the music scene early on in the Monroes' career, and the younger two brothers continued to perform as the Monroe Brothers. They were successful enough to record 60 songs in two years for Bluebird Records. In 1939, after the brothers parted ways, Monroe formed the first edition of the Blue Grass Boys, and in October of the same year became a regular on the Grand Ole Opry.
As a mandolin player, Monroe brought a virtuosity previously unknown in country music to his instrument. In 1945 he hired Earl Scruggs, who similarly elevated the role of the banjo. This version of the Blue Grass Boys, which also included singer/guitarist Lester Flatt, Chubby Wise on fiddle, and Howard Watts aka "Cedric Rainwater" on bass, made the first recordings that featured all the elements that later came to be known as bluegrass music. This particular group broke up when Flatt and Scruggs left to form their own group, the Foggy Mountain Boys.
Monroe quickly replaced them and within a few years had formed what many consider the classic "High Lonesome" version of the Blue Grass Boys, featuring the cutting lead singing and powerful rhythm guitar of Jimmy Martin, the banjo of Rudy Lyle (replacing the fuller sound of Earl Scruggs), and dynamic fiddlers such as Merle "Red" Taylor and Charlie Cline. This band recorded songs such as "On and On", "Memories of Mother and Dad" and "Uncle Pen", as well as instrumentals such as "Bluegrass Ramble" and the defining piece of Bill Monroe's mandolin technique, "Rawhide".
Another defining version of the Blue Grass Boys was the so-called "Northern" band of the mid-1960's, featuring musicians not of southern rural origin, including Bill Keith and later Lamar Grier on banjo, Peter Rowan as guitarist and lead singer, and Richard Greene as the fiddler.
More than 150 musicians played in the Blue Grass Boys over the years. Many later became stars in their own right, including Mac Wiseman, Clyde Moody, Sonny Osborne, Don Reno, David "Stringbean" Akeman, Del McCoury, Vassar Clements, Buck Trent, Peter Rowan, Byron Berline, Carter Stanley, Doug Green, and Randall Franks.
Bill Monroe was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1970, the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Honor as an inaugural inductee in 1991, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (as an "early influence") in 1997. He is the only performer honored in all three. He was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1995. His well-known song "Blue Moon of Kentucky" has been covered not only by bluegrass but also rock and country artists, most notably Elvis Presley and Patsy Cline.
In 2003, CMT had Bill Monroe ranked #16 on CMT 40 Greatest Men of Country Music.