Bill Monroe

Instrument

William Smith Monroe (September 13, 1911 – September 9, 1996) was an American mandolinist, singer, and songwriter, who created the bluegrass music genre. Because of this, he is often called the "Father of Bluegrass".

The genre takes its name from his band, the Blue Grass Boys, who named their group for the bluegrass of Monroe's home state of Kentucky. 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. Because his older brothers Birch and Charlie already played the fiddle and guitar, Bill was resigned to playing the less desirable mandolin. He recalled that his brothers insisted that he 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."[2] Also significant in Monroe's musical life was Arnold Shultz, an influential fiddler and guitarist who introduced Monroe to the blues.

In 1929, Monroe moved to Indiana to work at an oil refinery with his brothers Birch and Charlie, and childhood friend and guitarist William "Old Hickory" Hardin. 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.[5]

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.