Bluegrass music is a form of American roots music named after Kentucky
mandolin player, vocalist, and songwriter Bill Monroe's band, the Bluegrass
Boys, 1939-1996. Monroe's performing career spanned 69 years. He is commonly
referred to as the "Father of Bluegrass".
Unlike mainstream country music, bluegrass is traditionally played on acoustic
stringed instruments. The fiddle, five-string banjo, guitar, mandolin, and
upright bass are often joined by the resonator guitar (also referred to as
a Dobro) and harmonica or Jew's harp.
Musicians who played with Monroe, including 5-string banjo player Earl Scruggs
and guitarist Lester Flatt, furthered the style of bluegrass music. Musicians
who admire the high-energy instrumental and vocal music Monroe's group created
carry bluegrass music on to new bands, some of which are sub-genres. Bluegrass
is influenced by the music of Appalachia and other styles, including gospel
and jazz. Appalachian music has mixed roots in Irish, Scottish, and English
traditional music, and is influenced by the music of African-Americans by
incorporating jazz and blues elements.
More than 150 musicians played in the Blue Grass Boys over the nearly 60 years
of Monroe's performing career. Monroe tended to recruit promising young musicians
who served an apprenticeship with him before becoming accomplished artists in
their own right. Some of Monroe's band members who went on to greater prominence
include singer/guitarists Clyde Moody, Lester Flatt, Jack Cook, Mac Wiseman,
Jimmy Martin, Carter Stanley, Del McCoury, Peter Rowan, Roland White, Roland
Dunn and Doug Green; banjo players Earl Scruggs, Buck Trent, Don Reno, Stringbean,
Sonny Osborne, and Bill Keith; and fiddlers Tommy Magness, Chubby Wise, Vassar
Clements, Byron Berline, Kenny Baker, Bobby Hicks, Gordon Terry, Randall Franks
and Glen Duncan. Monroe also regularly performed with flat-picking guitar virtuoso
In 1967 Monroe founded an annual bluegrass festival at Bean Blossom in southern
Indiana, a park he purchased in 1951, which routinely attracts a crowd of thousands.
The annual Bill Monroe Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival is now the world's oldest
continuously running annual bluegrass festival.
On April 7, 1990, Monroe performed for Farm Aid IV in Indianapolis, Indiana along
with Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, Neil Young, and many other artists.
Monroe's last performance was on March 15, 1996. He ended his touring and playing
career in April, following a stroke. The Father of Bluegrass died on September 9,
1996, in Springfield, Tennessee, four days before his 85th birthday.
Bluegrass music is now performed and enjoyed around the world. The International
Bluegrass Music Association has members in all 50 states and in 30 countries. In
addition to the classic style born in 1945 that is still performed widely,
bluegrass bands today reflect influences from a variety of sources including
traditional and fusion jazz, contemporary country music, Celtic music, rock &
roll (“newgrass” or progressive bluegrass), old-time music, and Southern gospel music.