Bill Monroe Biography

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Bill Monroe-photo
William Smith Monroe was born to father J. B. "Buck" and mother Malissa Vandiver on September 13, 1911, on a farm in Jerusalem Ridge, just outside Rosine, Kentucky. His mother played accordion, fiddle, and harmonica, while his siblings played guitar and fiddle. After his father died when Bill was 16, he moved in with his uncle Pendleton Vandiver (later immortalized in the classic song "Uncle Pen"), who taught Bill to play guitar, mandolin, and fiddle. Perhaps because no one else in the family played it, Bill concentrated on mastering the mandolin. By 1927, Bill joined with his brothers Charlie, who played guitar, and Birch, who played fiddle, to play on broadcasts. They eventually joined with National Barn Dance as dancers. By 1930, the Monroe brothers had found success with "Kentucky Waltz," which peaked at #3, "Footprints in the Snow," which hit #5, and "Blue Grass Ramble." That same year, they secured positions on the radio in Indiana. In 1936, Bill and brother Charlie toured Iowa, Nebraska, North Carolina, and South Carolina; they also found time to cut sixty sides for RCA's Bluebird label.

Unfortunately, the brothers possessed different musical dreams and visions, and the two parted musical ways in 1938. Bill formed his original band, the Kentuckians, before settling on another name: The Blue Grass Boys. The year after the brothers split, Bill and his Blue Grass Boys joined the Grand Ole Opry, riding on their phenomenal success on the radio show with "The New Muleskinner Blues," a new version of Jimmie Rodgers's classic. During the 1940's, Bill played the Opry on the weekends and on weekdays ran a traveling tent show which included Uncle Dave Macon and DeFord Bailey. By 1946, Bill had founded a legendary band that included Lester Flatt on guitar, Earl Scruggs on banjo, and Chubby Wise on fiddle. Bill had formed a new genre of music: bluegrass.

Lester and Earl left the Blue Grass Boys in 1948 to concentrate on their own Foggy Mountain Boys. Nonetheless, through the years, Bill's band included many other great instrumentalists including Mac Wiseman, Jimmy Martin, Stringbean, Sonny Osborne, and Vassar Clements. In the meantime, Bill moved to the legendary Decca label. He had hits with "Blue Moon of Kentucky," "Uncle Pen," "What Would You Give In Exchange For Your Soul," and "I'll Meet You in Church Sunday Morning," among many others. All the while, Bill never compromised his sound for commercial profit. He created the Bean Blossom Festival, which opened in Indiana in 1967. During his concerts, he began permitting concertgoers to bring their instruments for an informal "jam" session.

In 1970, Bill was inducted into the the Country Music Hall of Fame. Shortly after, he was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Association International Hall of Fame (1971). In 1984, he opened the Bluegrass Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, Tennessee. In the years before his death, he was inducted into the Bluegrass Hall of Honor and received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and the National Medal of the Arts. "Blue Moon of Kentucky" was even named the official state bluegrass song of Kentucky.

Bill Monroe died from a stroke on September 9, 1996, in Springfield, Tennessee, just four days shy of what would have been his 85th birthday. Nonetheless, the Father of Bluegrass lives on. Recently, Ricky Skaggs and other various artists released a tribute album dedicated to him entitled Big Mon. Marty Stuart, himself a protege of Flatt and Scruggs, dedicated several songs to the legendary singer, including one from his critically acclaimed album, The Pilgrim. Clearly, Bill Monroe is a legend whose place in bluegrass music will never be forgotten.

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Clyde F. Wright playing guitar with Bill Monroe 1948-1958 | Reviewer: Harold F. Wright | 9/24/12

Can you tell me where I might find a photo of my dad Clyde Wright playing his guitar with Bill Monroe? I would like it very much if I could obtain a picture being that all mine were lost. Thank you ahead of time for helping me. Harold F. Wright

My Uncle <3 | Reviewer: Alexis Monroe | 12/14/11

Bill Monroe is actually a family member of mine. I only knew him for a few years and very little memmory of him. He was a great, kind, man. He will be dearly missed in the Monroe family. I will be visiting his grave in Kentucky this next year and it's good to know a lot of people appreciated and loved his music. Thank you guys so much so your support.

Niece | Reviewer: TrixieWilson | 2/19/11

I didn't get to know any of my family [Franks /Monros] I didn't get to know any of my family. My father which was the nephew of Bill sang on the radio alive many years ago and was a
song writer himself. James Edward Franks my father died in 1972, before my 14th birthday.The only family member I remember is one of his sister Mavis Bruce. If anyone could help a girl out I would appreciate it alot.
Sincerely
Trixie Wilson

bill monroe | Reviewer: Anonymous | 4/18/08

no doubt, bill monroe was one of the greatest! i also think it was a very selfish act on his part for being so against jimmy martin becoming a member of the grand ole opry. they are both in heaven now where there are no big I's and little u's i hope they are happy and singing together now. jimmy martin is still king of bluegrass!!jimmy had some tough breaks down here, but kept on with a style that can't be beaten!! sing on jimmy, we love you!! a devoted fan, Betty Wooton Hyden, ky

Rose Runyon | Reviewer: Betty Blair | 11/25/07

Many members of my family talk about Bill and Charlie Monroe being part of our family. My grandfather was Jacob Lundy Runyon and he had a sister, Rose Runyon. It is a belief in my family that Rose Runyon was the mother of Bill and Charlie Monroe. Is there any truth in that belief?

The life and times of Bill Monroe. | Reviewer: John Wolfe | 7/17/07

I think this is an excellent biography on the life of Bill Monroe, the greatest bluegrass musician of all time!


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