Ten essential Bill Monroe facts on the 101st birthday of 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.