Bill Monroe

Longtime American musician and songwriter Bill Monroe is credited with creating the bluegrass music genre.


Musician and songwriter Bill Monroe was born on September 13, 1911, in Jerusalem Ridge, Kentucky. He formed a group named the Blue Grass Boys in the late 1930s, with whom he pioneered the bluegrass genre. Among his many accomplishments, Monroe was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and awarded with the National Medal of Arts. He died in Springfield, Tennessee, on September 9, 1996.

Younger Years

Bill Monroe, the "Father of Bluegrass Music," was born William Smith Monroe on September 13, 1911 on a farm in Jerusalem Ridge, Kentucky.

One of eight children in a musical family, Monroe learned to play the guitar and the mandolin at 9 years old. His mother died when he was 10, and when his father died soon afterward he was sent to live with his mom's brother, Pendleton Vandiver. Monroe later credited "Uncle Pen" with being one of his early, important musical influences.

Early Music Career

Already an experienced musician at the age of 18, Monroe and his brother, Charlie, formed The Monroe Brothers duo in 1934. The brothers recorded dozens of songs but parted in 1938, prompting Monroe to start a new but short-lived group, the Kentuckians. After moving to Atlanta, he had more success with the formation of the Blue Grass Boys, who became regular performers on the weekly Grand Ole Opry radio show in 1939.

The Blue Grass Boys, consisting of banjo, fiddle, guitar, upright bass and Monroe on mandolin, birthed a new genre of music that came to be known as "bluegrass." Players came and went in the band, but in 1945, with the addition of Earl Scruggs on banjo and Lester Flatt on vocals and guitar, they recorded the iconic song "Blue Moon of Kentucky."

Later Career

After years of touring, Monroe started his own music festival at Bean Blossom, Indiana, in the late 1960s. In 1970, he was named to the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, and the following year, he was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Association's Hall of Fame. In 1979, the renowned musician appeared at Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C., to perform for President Jimmy Carter.

Monroe overcame a cancer diagnosis in 1981 and continued touring. He went on to release a pair of albums that featured some of country music's biggest names, such as Barbara Mandrell and Emmylou Harris, and in 1986 he embarked on a tour of all 50 states to honor his half century in the music business. In 1988, Monroe was honored with the selection of "Blue Moon of Kentucky" as an official song of the state.

Monroe was inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Honor in 1991, and was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences two years later. In 1995, President Bill Clinton honored him with the National Medal of Arts.

Monroe suffered a stroke in April 1996 and died in Springfield, Tennessee, on September 9, 1996, four days before his 85th birthday. The bluegrass pioneer was buried in Rosine, Kentucky, near where he was born.

A biopic of Monroe, Blue Moon of Kentucky, based on Richard Smith's biography, Can't You Hear Me Calling, was set to be released in 2014.

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