Not too many people are credited with crafting their own musical style, but Bill Monroe is one of those people. He was born on September 13, 1911 and died September 9, 1996 with a musical legacy all his own. Bill Monroe had one of the biggest hands in creating bluegrass music, and is often called The Father of Bluegrass.
Bluegrass Musician Bios: Bill Monroe
Bill didn’t start out as a bluegrass musician, mostly because he hadn’t invented it yet. It all starts in Kentucky on his father’s farm near Rosine. He was born into a musical family and sang with them often.
His older brother, Birch, played the fiddle, and his brother Charlie played the guitar. This lead Bill to playing the mandolin, not his first choice! His brothers even made him remove four strings out of the eight on the mandolin so that he wouldn’t play too loudly – he was forced to play an instrument he didn’t like that much and he wasn’t allowed to play it loud, what a bad deal!
Bill’s parents died when he was young and he found himself moved amongst different family members until finally settling with his disabled uncle, Pendleton Vandiver. It wasn’t such a bad thing, his Uncle Pen played the fiddle and Bill would go with him to dances when he performed. This early training is largely credited with completely training Bill in his lifetime of music.
Bill Monroe begins his professional career
Bill moved to Indiana in 1929 to work with Birch and Charlie, along with childhood friend William Hardin. With the addition of Larry Moore they began performing at local dances and parties as the ‘Monroe Brothers.’
The band broke apart, with Bill and Charlie carrying on as a duo. They began playing on local radio stations up until 1936 when they were signed by RCA Victor. They didn’t waste any time and scored their first hit with the gospel tune “What Would You Give in Exchange for Your Soul?” This lead to them recording 60 tracks for Victor’s Bluebird label over the next two years, before disbanding in 1938.
The Blue Grass Boys are created
With The Monroe Brothers disbanding, Bill created a new band that he called ‘Bill Monroe and The Blue Grass Boys.’ The name came from where it all began – Kentucky. Bill’s home state was known as ‘The Blue Grass State.’
Bill experimented with the lineup for several years, including the instruments used, before settling on:
- Earl Scruggs on banjo
- Lester Flatt on guitar
- Chubby Wise on fiddle
- Howard Watts on bass
This lineup would go on to be known as the original Bluegrass band as each member brought a little bit extra to the music. Earl Scruggs, and his three-finger picking style, was particularly noted in the development of Bluegrass music.
This version of Bill’s band went on to record some of the most loved songs in Bluegrass. His most famous song even went on to be covered by a new rock and roll singer by the name of Elvis Presley. ‘Blue Moon of Kentucky’ was a huge hit for Bill and the B-side to Elvis’ first single for Sun Records.
Bill’s career had many ups and downs over the years, but what remained constant was the fact that he has always been considered the Father of Bluegrass music. Not only that, but his respect was across a broad spectrum as he was made an honorary Kentucky colonel, and became a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Grammy committee.