Ten essential Bill Monroe facts on the 101st birthday of the father of bluegrass

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It's said that it was a sweltering early autumn day in Rosine, Kentucky when a neighbor found Malissa Vandiver Monroe in her yard, strumming away furiously on her mandolin under the shade of a tree. Malissa was very, very pregnant with her eighth and last child, a boy who would be born on September 13, 1911. She and her husband would name him William Smith Monroe, he later would be Bill, and that boy would grow to become the man known worldwide as the Father of Bluegrass.

Bill Monroe passed away following a stroke in 1996, but he would have been 101 today. His influence is still felt keenly in bluegrass, country, Americana and rock. 101 is a lot of years, but here are ten facts to know and share about the Father of Bluegrass on the occasion of his big ol' birthday.

10. Rosine, Kentucky
It's no coincidence that Bill became a musician. Born on a farm in rural Kentucky, his father Buck was a well-known step-dancer, in addition to being a successful farmer and businessman. His mother Malissa had mastered the fiddle, accordion and harmonica, and used to sing old songs to her kids. Bill was a quiet child who was teased for being cross-eyed, and spent much of his youth reflecting on the visual - and aural - landscape around him, including Jerusalem Ridge, which he would later call "the most beautiful place in the world."

By the way, you can visit that very spot where he was born today, a tree still standing at Bill Monroe's homeplace near Jerusalem Ridge in the Western Coal Fields region of Kentucky. When its grounds aren't occupied by bluegrass fans, when the place is totally empty, something in it still sings, when all you can hear is the wind through the leaves, the birds and bugs in the trees. It's hallowed ground, no doubt about it, and it's no stretch to imagine the sound of Uncle Pen's fiddle from over yonder.

9. Kentucky Colonel
Yes, if you play bluegrass well enough or fry up your chicken good enough, Kentucky's governor will officially bestow you with the title of Colonel. Bill achieved this honor in 1966, but unlike Harland Sanders' own 1935 Colonel-ization, the name "Colonel Monroe" just never really stuck.

8. "That ain't no part of nothin'."
A new one to add to your diss vocab: this is the phrase Bill was known to utter when considering something he didn't deem true enough to the bluegrass form.

7. Musical Mentor
Somewhere around 150 musicians served under Monroe's tutelage during the nearly 60-year tenure of his Blue Grass Boys. Just a few who benefited from his patronage: Lester Flatt, Carter Stanley, Mac Wiseman, Earl Scruggs, Del McCoury, "Stringbean" Akeman, Vasser Clements, Doc Watson and Ricky Skaggs.


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dhanners
dhanners

Some to add:

11) A  young banjo player named Jerry Garcia traveled to Bean Blossom in 1964 to audition for the Bluegrass Boys, but was so intimidated by Monroe that he didn't even try out. He returned to California and went on to other things.

 

12) Monroe fathered an illegitimate daughter (in the vernacular of the day) and she's the subject of his song "Little Georgia Rose."

 

13) Somebody -- perhaps a jealous husband or boyfriend -- broke into his home in 1986 and took a fireplace poker to Monroe's F5 mandolin, tearing it to splinters. Gibson rebuilt it.

 

14) When Flatt & Scruggs sought to join the Grand Ol' Opry, Monroe passed around a petition to keep them out. (Both Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs had been Bluegrass Boys.) Monroe argued that the Opry already had a bluegrass band (his) and that one was enough. The Opry allowed Flatt & Scruggs to join.

 

15) While Bill and Charlie Monroe were from Kentucky, they didn't really start developing the music that would become known as "bluegrass" until they were in Whiting, Ind., where Bill worked in a refinery. So Northern Indiana is also a birthplace of bluegrass.

 

16) Monroe declined an invitation to play on the first "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" album because he thought the guys in the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band looked like hippies.

 

twpeter
twpeter

Nicely collected and recollected, Ms. Miller. Bill tearing up "Rawhide" especially, taken from the one show ("Jim Ed's Country Place") where Jim Ed loosened up a little. Nashville On The Road It was not. 

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