Called the "Father of Bluegrass Music," mandolinist and bandleader William Smith Monroe (1911–1996) was born on this day on a 650-acre farm in Rosine, Kentucky.
"Bluegrass, there ain't no prettier word," he once said about his brand of music that fused hillbilly with rhythm and blues. "The people that play this kind of music know about the ancient tones."
Monroe and his group the Blue Grass Boys made their first appearance at the Grand Ole Opry in 1939. Inspired by the beauty of the southern Appalachian mountains, the music captured the heritage and culture of the region and provided "true life," down-home entertainment.
Known for his passionate mandolin solos and high-tenor vocals, Monroe elevated his "rural music" to a sophisticated celebration, sharing his magical tempo, dexterity, and emotion with the world. "Bluegrass tells the truth," said Monroe. "A lot of songs are true songs. It gives me a good feeling to hear good bluegrass."
His songs of truth included such classics as Blue Moon Of Kentucky (recorded by Elvis Presley in 1954), Mule Skinner Blues, True Life Blues, and Uncle Pen, a tribute to his mentor and mother's brother, Pendleton Vanderver.
Singing with a strong, high tenor, he described his style as "blues and jazz, and it has a high lonesome sound. It's plain music that tells a story. It's played from my heart to your heart, and it will touch you."
Considered one of America's greatest musical innovators, Monroe's biographer Richard D. Smith wrote, "No single artist has had as broad an impact on American music."
Singer Emmylou Harris agreed: "No one can ever question that Bill Monroe changed music forever with his vision and his genius. But he also inspired our lives with a relentless dedication to his work, the unwavering integrity of always following his true voice."
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