The rolling hills of Kentucky are adorned with a soft blue hue each spring thanks to Poa, a type of luscious green grass that blooms bright, delicate flowers atop its blades. These flowers can be found across vast pastures and horse farms throughout the state. When musician Bill Monroe needed to come up with a name for his newly formed band in 1938, he could think of no better way to honor his beloved home state than by naming the group “The Blue Grass Boys,” after the blooming fields he looked forward to seeing every April.
Born in 1911, Monroe grew up on his family’s rural farm in the small community of Rosine, Kentucky. His family spent most of their time working the land, but they were a musical family as well. After a long day’s work, Monroe could find his mother, Malissa, or his uncle, Pen, sawing on fiddles and singing traditional songs. He also spent plenty of time playing music with his siblings, who relegated him to picking up the mandolin since his brother Charlie already played guitar.
Their family’s farm was nicknamed “Jerusalem Ridge,” and it stood as a spiritual experience of sorts for Monroe. He always credited the “holiness” people found in his music to his mother.
As a young adult, Bill formed the group “The Monroe Brothers” with his brother Charlie. Though they gained a significant local following throughout the 1930s, they eventually parted ways to start their own groups and see their unique visions through.
For Bill Monroe, his unique vision would produce a type of band America had never experienced before.
The Blue Grass Boys Head to NashvilleIn 1938, Monroe’s band “The Blue Grass Boys” was born, and they took live music venues by storm. Traveling relentlessly, their never-before-heard band setup made them a truly unique attraction.
While the traditional country setup of the time featured singing cowboys backed by acoustic guitars and string sections, Monroe’s twangy, high-energy band featured his mandolin skills, dancing fiddle work, and three-part harmonies. Monroe added banjo player Earl Scruggs to the group and he proved to be a powerful force that gave the group new life.
With countless show dates under their belts as one of Nashville’s most in-demand acts, Scruggs only added to their influence. His inventive, intense way of playing gave rise to a whole new style that was both crisp and commanding. His picking preference, which included only three fingers, came to be known as “Scruggs style,” and it gave “The Blue Grass Boys” a significant boost to their stage presence.
A New Genre Is Born
Monroe was the first to officially package the genres all together to form bluegrass music. His hard work and dedication to his craft brought the infant genre to listeners across the country, earning him the much-deserved title, “The Father of Bluegrass Music.”
The bluegrass genre represents more than a musical movement; it represents a bridge connecting traditional European cultures of the 1600s to the burgeoning southeastern farmlands of the early 1900s. The homespun style pays homage to family, hard work, self-reliance, and celebration of life’s simple pleasures.
With hits like the languid “Blue Moon of Kentucky” and the swift and speedy “Orange Blossom Special,” Monroe solidified himself as one of America’s most imaginative and original musicians in contemporary history.