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Bill Monroe - Bluegrass Legend

Updated on April 26, 2011

Bill Monroe - a History

~Updated April 26, 2011~

Yep, that's right! Ever since I was born, I heard Bill Monroe, and numerous other Bluegrass musicians music being played in my home. They are part of me, and I still cherish their music, to this day!

Anthology Album on MP3

Uncle Pen MP3
Uncle Pen MP3

Early Years

Bill Monroe was born in Rosine, Kentucky Sept. 13, 1911 and passed Sept. 9, 1996. The youngest of 8 musically inclined children, Bill was left to play the mandolin, because the more desirable instruments had been chosen by older siblings. He once recalled his brothers making him remove 4 of the 8 strings, so he couldn't play as loud. It sounds like he had a strong "voice", even as a youngster.

Both Bill's mother and father passed away when he was young, so he lived with his Uncle Pen Vandiver for a couple years. Bill would often go with Pen when he played his fiddle at local dances. The close relationship later inspired Bill's infamous song Uncle Pen. In fact, many of Monroe's tunes were credited to his Uncle Pen, for that's where he learned them.

Bill Monroe Albums - High Lonesome Bluegrass

If you're like me, and can't get enough CD's and such, here's a few good ones to choose from!

The Working Years

Bill moved to Indiana in 1929, to work with his brothers Birch and Charlie, at an oil refinery. They soon formed a group that played at dances, but it was short lived. Bill and Charlie paired up and played in surrounding states, until they were signed by RCA in 1936. Their first hit was a gospel song called "What Would You Give In Exchange For Your Soul", and they went on to record 60 tracks between 1936 and 1938.

The brothers broke up in 1938, but by 1939, Bill had formed an early version of The Bluegrass Boys, and in the same year, he won an audition and was a hit with "Mule Skinner Blues". There was a distinctive change in their sound when, in 1945, Earl Scruggs joined the band, which already had Lester Flatt, Chubby Wise, and Howard Watts. What we now consider classic bluegrass songs were recorded by the band in 1946 through 1947.

In 1948, Flatt and Scruggs left The Bluegrass Boys, to form their own band, Foggy Mountain Boys, which received much success. For Bill and The Bluegrass Boys, the next period is considered to be The High Lonesome time in their music. They continued to record some of their classics, as well as bring in some new songs.

After a bad car crash, the business started to decline for Bill's style of music. There was a new "nashville sound", and rock and roll was becoming predominant. There was a bit of a revival in the 1960s, when young people and college students became interested in this style, and created the term "bluegrass" to describe music like Monroe's, such as, Flatt and Scruggs, The Stanley Brothers, and the Osborne Brothers, to name a few. Bluegrass never became highly popular again, but maintained a small, dedicated group of fans. Bluegrass, or Folk, Festivals began to pop up, and Bill himself even created one that still occurs yearly. The annual Bill Monroe Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival is now the world's oldest continuously running annual bluegrass festival.

I have never made it to that one, but I do try to attend the one held in my own hometown of Glenville, WV. It is simply called the West Virginia State Folk Festival (

I love to hear from ya! Please drop me a line and tell me your favorite song, why you love Bluegrass, or your dog's name! LOL


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    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 6 years ago from Colorado

      When I was around 20 I had a good friend who was so crazy about bluegrass music. We went to a few festivals together and that was my first exposure and immersion in this music. I love so many different types of music. I'd love to learn the mandolin and other instruments that fit not only bluegrass music but other types of mountain music. Really enjoyed your lens! :-)

    • wvclaylady profile image

      Shannon Williams 6 years ago from Davisville, WV

      @Positivevibestechnician: Thank you! :-)

    • profile image

      Positivevibestechnician 6 years ago

      just a hillbilly from Minnesota here and i love bluegrass and bill monroe!! great lens

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      I love Bill Monroe!!!!!!

    • CCGAL profile image

      CCGAL 6 years ago

      Listening to Uncle Pen ... gosh I love that sound. I love, love, LOVE that bluegrass sound! I wish wish WISH I had some musician friends to play music with on a regular basis. As it is, I play a lot of instruments, but mostly by myself.

      I really enjoyed this lens - Bill Monroe has always felt like family to me, too. Looking forward to seeing more of your lenses - looks like we have some things in common.