Bill Monroe devoted his life to the strain of country music that would come to be known as bluegrass – although when he first took to the stage, the souped-up hillbilly sound was his alone. He died today in 1996.
Death of William Smith Monroe aka Bill Monroe, just days before his 85th birthday. The Godfather of Bluegrass to many, Bill Monroe’s tenor harmonies and mandolin playing first graced the Grand Old Opry in 1939 when he and his band The Blue Sky Boys took to the stage.
However he’d played and recorded for the previous decade (notably in the Monroe Brothers) honing his combination of Appalachian music, blues and gospel. Adding guitarist/vocalist Lester Flatt and banjo wizard Earl Scruggs to a later lineup of the Blue Sky Boys would bring about widespread success, particularly with “Blue Moon of Kentucky”.
And although Flatt & Scruggs would later depart to form their own band, Monroe continued to be backed by outstanding musicians such as the great Jimmy Martin. A lifelong commitment to playing and touring left Bill cited as a major influence by successive generations of country artists, including Ricky Skaggs and Emmylou Harris.
Monroe himself once described his bluegrass sound thus: “It’s got a hard drive to it. It’s Scotch bagpipes and old-time fiddlin’. It’s Methodist and Holiness and Baptist. It’s blues and jazz and it has a high lonesome sound. It’s plain music that tells a story. It’s played from my heart to your heart, and it will touch you.”
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And here’s some footage of Bill in action: