A Brief Bill Monroe Biography

A Brief Bill Monroe Biography

A Brief Bill Monroe Biography

On September 13, 1911, a legend among the citizens of Rosine, Kentucky was born. His name was Bill Monroe, the youngest of the eight Monroe siblings, and he would later grow up to be the Father of Bluegrass Music.

Early Influences

Although his mother, Malissa Vandiver Monroe, was a great music lover herself, Monroe learned the most about music when he spent time living with his maternal uncle, Pendleton “Pen” Vandiver. Then, his Uncle Pen had played music in local dances and he often asked Bill to accompany him in his live performances.

Bill was orphaned by the time he reached 16 years of age, but this fortunately didn’t lead him to trek a more unfortunate path in life. Monroe’s time and attention were still focused on music and upon moving to Chicago, he and his brothers formed the aptly named group Monroe Brothers. Birch Monroe, who played the fiddle, only spent a brief time playing with his brothers. In the end, it was just Charlie on guitar and Bill on mandolin.

Like his brothers, Bill labored in an oil refinery. But together with his brother Charlie, Bill spent his free time performing. He also had a stint as a square dancer on the WLS National Barn Dance. As a musician, Bill enjoyed great popularity whenever he and Charlie performed at the WBT radio station in Charlotte, North Carolina. Soon afterwards, they were asked to create a number of recordings for the Bluebird label of RCA. It was during this time that they produced early hits such s “Nine Pound Hammer” and “John Henry”.

Bluegrass Boys

When he and Charlie parted ways, Bill formed another band and which he had originally labeled simply as the Kentuckians. Just a year later, Bill renamed his band as the Blue Grass Boys and targeted Nashville as the launch pad of his career. Members would come and go, but Bluegrass Boys is generally recognized as the most important band throughout the history of bluegrass.

Grand Ole Opry

Bill was only twenty-eight years of age when he first performed on the Grand Ole Opry. His first performance was a huge success and treated to a trio of encores. He would remain a member until his demise in 1996.

Bluegrass Music Festival

There was a brief period of time that Bill Monroe and bluegrass music itself had faded somewhat into obscurity but thanks to the help of promoter and friend Ralph Rinzler, Monroe got right back in the spotlight in the 1960’s when he top billed the first ever multi-day bluegrass music festival. Later on, Bill would organize his own festival as well in a vast property he had acquired in Bean Blossom, Indiana.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

ed January 2, 2011 at 5:50 pm

I heard Jimmy Martin say, while on stage at BeanBlossom, “Bill Monroe didn’t write Uncle Pen, me and Red Taylor wrote Uncle Pen”. There you go!!!! Fight it out.

Christa January 2, 2011 at 8:54 pm

I don’t buy it Ed. If you look at when Jimmy Martin and Red Taylor played with Bill Monroe, it was when Uncle Pen was his biggest song. Taylor lays down the amazing fiddle track, Martin plays guitar, and Monroe plays fiddle. That is from my 8 album Bill Monroe set from 1948. Yeah, they are 78s. But that is the version of Uncle Pen you will find on nearly every single Bill Monroe collection.

Virginia Long January 3, 2011 at 8:11 am

Bill Monroe was my hero, since I first heard him on an old

battery raido about 1948, he was amazing and he left us

Bluegrass Music. what a legacy! Ihave almost all of his

recordings, no doubt who wrote “Uncle Pen”, Bill did!

Dee Smith September 12, 2011 at 1:44 pm

Love the article. Do you think I could put some exerpts from it in our BBMA quarterly news for next quarter? Dee

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