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William Smith "Bill" Monroe
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Bill Monroe
William Smith "Bill" Monroe

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Bill Monroe
Uncle Pen
Bill Monroe
Wayfaring Stranger
Bill Monroe

Bessie Le Mauldin - Bill Monroe - Melissa Monroe - Joe Stuart - Bill Keith and Del McCoury - 1963
L-R: Bessie Le Mauldin, Bill Monroe, Melissa Monroe, Joe Stuart, Bill Keith and Del McCoury in 1963

Monroe Family Old Home Place Before Restoration
Monroe Old Home Place Before

Monroe Home Place after Restoration
Monroe Home Place After

Monroe Old Home Place after Restoration
Monroe Old Home Place Restored

Bill Monroe Band
Bill Monroe Band

Bill Monroe - Bill Keith and Del McCoury
L-R: Bill Monroe, Bill Keith and Del McCoury

Bill Monroe Monuemnet - Rosine Kentucky
Bill Monroe Monument Rosine KY
Bill Monroe Name and Date Inscription on Monument
Bill Monroe Monument Inscription
Bill Monroe Monument - Rosine Kentucky
Bill Monroe Monument Rosine KY
Memorial Inscription by Son of Bill Monroe - James William Monroe - Inscribed 1997
Dedication by Son, James William Monroe at Gravesite, Rosine KY
Words of Inscription

William Smith "Bill" Monroe b 13 Sept 1911 Jerusalem Ridge, Rosine Ohio Co, KY; buried Rosine Cemetery, Rosine, Ohio Co KY; d 9 Sept 1996 Springfield TN; buried Rosina, KY; s/o James Buchanan "Buck" Monroe and Melissa Vandiver. William Smith "Bill" Monroe m. 18 Oct 1935 Lake Co IN (divorced) to Caroline Minnie Brown. (See bio). (Bill's Monument at Find a Grave). (Bill Monroe Birth and Burial Place Slideshow). (Bill Monroe Website). (Bill Monroe Wikipedia). Children of William Smith "Bill" Monroe and Caroline Minnie Brown;

I. Melissa Kathleen Monroe b 17 Sept 1936 d about 1990

II. James William Monroe b 15 Mar 1941 m. ?; occupation, bluegrass musician. (See Website) Child;

1. James William Monroe II


William Smith "Bill" Monroe
and Della Streeter

William Smith "Bill" Monroe b 13 Sept 1911 Jerusalem Ridge, Rosine Ohio Co, KY d 9 Sept 1996 Springfield TN; buried Rosina, KY; s/o James Buchanan "Buck" Monroe and Melissa Vandiver. William Smith "Bill" Monroe m. 24 Apr 1985 to Della Streeter.


Bill Monroe
Father of Bluegrass

(Source): Can't you hear me callin': the life of Bill Monroe, father of bluegrass. By Richard D. Smith:

Bill had been born on a Friday the 13th. In later years, he would turn this inauspicious date into a good omen, jauntily declaring that he was "lucky from Kentucky." In fact, Bill was unlucky at the very start, thanks to his poor vision and the inwardly crossed eye that soon made him a target for teasing.

His eyes were more than a cosmetic problem. If not corrected by age six or seven by operating on the eye and straightening it, esotropia inevitably leads to amblyopia, in which the central neural connections of the eye to the brain fail to develop. After age eight, although the eye can still be physically straightened, the atrophied nerve pathways will cause lifelong vision dimness, blurring, even pattern confusion. A child's ability to see and interact with people, succeed at school, play and enjoy sports are all disrupted. As best as can be determined, Bill Monroe's eye was not straightened until he was well into his teens.

Strangers were not the only ones to tease him about his eyes. At times, his siblings did too. His mother would shush the others if she caught them at it. But Willie, as he was called in the family, came in for some maternal disciplining as well. He adored his father and became frustrated when his dad wouldn't take him along during a busy day's work. If he complained, Malissa quickly put an end to it. Bill tried to understand.

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The Monroe children attended school in Horton, slightly closer to their home than Rosine. They walked to school, of course. Their mother knew right to the second when they should be walking back in the afternoon.

Sometimes the children played on the handcar in J.B.'s coal mine. Once they overloaded it with playmates, sending it off its tracks and rolling down into the woods. Charlie was nominated to confess to J.B. Buck was a tough disciplinarian but he also knew when a whupping was not necessary. ("He could look at you harder than any man you ever seen in your life," Charlie recalled years later.) On this occasion, Buck simply hauled the cart back into the mine, reset it on the tracks, and made the kids promise never to pull that stunt again.

And where was Bill during these fine youthful misadventures? He was left out. In large farming families, older siblings were expected to raise the youngest. But the older Monroe children often couldn't be bothered with little Willie. They didn't hate him, but he was a social liability, a cross-eyed embarrassment. They treated him more like a stepchild than a full family member, often ignoring him, even when he followed them devotedly.

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Left to himself, Bill wandered the woods and fields of the sprawling property, thinking: Lonesome is walking around by yourself, wondering where your brothers are.

Because of his eyes and his lowly status, Bill's social development was stunted. He became guarded and thoughtful. He grew desperately to need love and affirmation. And his auditory senses grew keen: Many of his childhood memories remained not in the form of visual images but the recollections of sounds. The child would truly become the father to the man.

The circumstances of Bill's birth had other implications. Current research into family birth order strongly suggests that the youngest children of large families, in an effort to find a niche for themselves, tend to become innovators, even rebels. As adults, they not only free themselves from old rules and stereotypes, they create entirely new paradigms. If so, the youngest child of J.B. and Malissa Monroe was going to be a textbook example.

One night when Bill was about four, a neighbor woman came to the Monroe home. Bill had no way of knowing she was a midwife, the same one who had delivered him. There was a 30-by-12-foot corn crib near the house, and the children still living there Birch, Charlie, Bertha, and Bill were sent out to sleep in it. The adults didn't want them around for what was about to happen: the wife of one of Bill's oldest brothers had come home to have a baby.

The birth of this niece was one of the most painful milestones in Bill's childhood, as he admitted years later to some close friends:

The next morning, my father came and told us kids a new baby had been born. That was the first I ever heard of a new baby coming around, me being the youngest. So they bought us into the house so we could see the new baby.

Back in those days, a kid was babied and petted more than they are today. So when she came into the picture, you know, that kind of shoved me out. My mother would hold her, and I'd have to stand down beside her and wish I was in her lap. So from that time on, [Mother] acted like that. It made it a sad life, a lonesome life.

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Not surprisingly, the little boy who lost his mother's lap would exhibit a lifelong pattern of competitiveness and jealousies.

Malissa and J.B. were not neglectful parents. They were simply middle-aged people in a labor-intensive world who were nearly overwhelmed with work. Bill idolized his father. In the mornings he would stand next to him at the table (the family was so large there was no room for him to sit), eating his breakfast out of a little blue and white bowl. He followed his dad around, watching what Buck did. Bill learned silently, just by watching.

Little Willie was so acutely shy that during visits to town he would hide behind his dad like a little squirrel scurrying around a tree trunk. When Buck received change from a purchase, he sometimes gave Bill a nickel or a dime. For the rest of his days, Bill cherished the memory of receiving those shiny coins and the paternal affection they represented.

As a child, Bill literally had few conversations with anyone. (Bertha, closest to him in age, was the only sibling who really spent time playing with him.) Much later he began to wonder if because he had been so withdrawn and looked so odd with his crossed eye people around Rosine thought he was retarded.

Bill's father never gave him a whupping. But as an adult, Bill confided to a few people that he had suffered some physical abuse. One of his oldest brothers (whose name is now lost to history) would drink, get surly, and hit him. There is no indication that alcoholism was a problem in the family (indeed, Uncle Jack Monroe was a temperance man and most of Buck's children grew up to be teetotalers). But there was some drinking among the Monroes. Buck's ledger books record occasional purchases of whiskey, and he would occasionally have a pick-me-up dram of bourbon at the start of a hard day. When Bill became old enough to work, Buck shared this daily ritual with him. Bill realized that he liked the taste of bourbon too much, and he remembered the whiskey-fueled abuse he had suffered; so he stopped drinking hard liquor and never touched it again. For the rest of his life, he only imbibed a small glass of wine with dinner and this only on rare occasions.

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For all the hardworking Monroes, including shy, lonely Willie, music was a diversion and a comfort. Malissa often placed her fiddle and bow carefully on a bed, and when she had a moment's rest would play a number like "Old Joe Clark." (Malissa once played fiddle for an entire evening's square dance when the regular fiddler took sick and couldn't attend.) Or she would pick up her little accordion and play "Heel and Toe Polka." Or sing an old ballad from the English Isles, like "The Butcher Boy." Malissa's music permeated the very atmosphere of the Monroe home. To Bill, the small boy with terribly limited vision, these sounds were among the most beautiful sensations to penetrate his consciousness.

And there was Malissa's brother Pen.

Pendleton Vandiver was tall and slender like his sister. In his older years, he was nearly bald but had a striking white handlebar mustache. With his bib overalls and a broadbrimmed black hat set back on his head, if anyone ever looked like a real country old-timer, it was Uncle Pen.

In 1901, at age thirty-two, Pen had married Anna Belle Johnson, age fifteen. Both were living in Sulphur Springs, Kentucky, at the time. Pen was farming, but may also have worked as an entertainer at the health spas in that town. The couple had two children but soon separated. The daughter, Leona, went with Anna Belle, who remarried. The son, Cecil Clarence (named in part for Pen's longtime friend Clarence Remus Wilson), went with Pen, who moved back to Rosine where he was an occasional employee of his brother-in-law Buck Monroe.

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The sight of Pen riding up on his mule at sundown sent excitement through his nieces and nephews. He often brought them sticks of hard candy. And he brought an even greater treat his music. He would stay to supper and fiddle such wonderful tunes: "Soldier's Joy," "Boston Boy," "Going Across the Ocean," "Methodist Preacher," "Pretty Betty Martin," "Going Up Caney" (which might have been inspired by the Caney River east of Rosine). Bill adored "Jenny Lynn" and thought it was the best one Pen played, the one he would rather hear than anything else. The youngsters begged for tune after tune until J.B. firmly packed them off to bed.

**

The fiddle no different from a violin was the instrument of choice throughout much of the South for listening and to accompany dancing. Uncle Pen kept a rattlesnake tail in his violin, a common practice among old-time fiddlers, said variously to improve the tone, prevent mice from attacking the instrument, or collect the dust that settled inside. Pen was a solid musician. Like many old-time style rural fiddlers, his noting and intonation were only adequate, but he possessed a superb sense of timing and bowing that made him a popular dance fiddler around Rosine.

As Bill became involved in music, he would not specifically ask Uncle Pen how to play numbers. He learned the way he learned farm chores from his father, by close attention and private practice. Pen showed him other things, how to make rabbit snares and how to dance the Kentucky backstep. He gave Bill quiet but firm advice if he did something wrong. If Pen didn't say anything, Bill knew he was doing pretty well right. Bill's future style of instructing his musical sidemen was being formed.

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There was other music around, other sounds to enthrall and delight the boy. Uncle Pen's friend Clarence Wilson played five-string banjo in a basic two-finger picking style. Uncle Birch Monroe played a cello with a bow, proving a bass line for the fiddler and banjo during parlor music sessions. The very first live music Bill heard was the three men playing the old frolic tune "Soldier's Joy."

There were local ensembles like the Foster String Band and Faught's Entertainers that played "breakdowns" (fast square dance tunes), waltzes, even a little Hawaiian music. Mechanical music was moving into the hills by now. The Monroes' nineteenth-century-style world had admitted no electricity, not even, it seems, a battery-powered radio. But J.B. purchased a windup Victrola.

Most of the children learned to play instruments. Speed became a fine if reticent fiddler. Bertha could play the guitar a little and loved to sing the old hymns. But it was Birch and Charlie who started practicing in earnest.

Birch was the oldest of the children still living at home. At age thirteen, he laid claim to the use of his mother's fiddle. Charlie purchased his first guitar a few years later, when he was about eleven. It was an old thing and had only one string on it, but he bought it on credit, promising to pay three dollars.

"Well, Charlie, how in the world are you going to pay for it?" Malissa asked.

If that weren't bad enough, Charlie had a further problem: "Mama, I've got to have five more strings."

Another parent might have sent Charlie straight back to return the instrument. Instead Malissa said, "Well, if you're going to have five more strings, we're going to have to pick up a few chickens and take them to town." Malissa selected some frying chickens, sold them, and with the proceeds bought Charlie his strings. Charlie strung up the guitar and then sat up all night, beating on it, unable to make chords, unable even to tune it, but too excited to leave it alone.

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When Bill was older, he helped the sons of a family that worked on the Monroe land to take horses to water at a creek on the property. He loved racing the horses like mother, like son in this case and on one occasion Bill was thrown, partially dislocating his hip. He tried to hide his limp, but his parents summoned a doctor who popped Bill's leg back into its socket. Bill was already showing the traits that would characterize him as a man: his willingness to break the rules, his fierce competitiveness, his stoicism.

That stoicism almost killed him. When Bill was about ten, he developed abdominal pains. He did not complain or show discomfort until he collapsed in agony. Neighbors helped carry the boy on a makeshift stretcher to the Horton station, where he was transported by train to the hospital in Owensboro. It was discovered that his appendix was about to rupture. If an emergency operation had not been performed, Bill would have died.

One day, around 1918, the train stopped in Rosine and some men once young, but now older in many ways got off. In the distance, Bill could hear them singing an old hymn: "By and by when the morning comes, when all the Saints of God shall gather home. . . ."

It was his brother Speed and some other boys from Rosine who had survived the carnage of the Great War. The snow was deep, but no deeper than the mud of France had been.

Malissa insisted on going out to meet them. This despite the fact that she was very ill. In fact, Bill's mother was dying.

There are conflicting reports as to the cause of Malissa's death. Family tradition varies, holding that she had a brain tumor or spinal meningitis. Her death certificate lists antero myelitis, a degenerative disease of the spinal cord.

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Most of the Monroe children had been born in an old log house that later burned down. Bertha and Bill were born in another home on the property. Now, a new farmhouse was constructed, begun around 1919 and completed in 1920, a final gift of love from J.B. to Malissa. It was thoughtfully designed, a modest but rather elegant one-story structure with Victorian elements laid out in a T-pattern. Front and back porches with small gingerbread appointments on their columns ran the length of the bedroom wing. Although not spacious, the house was cheery. Surprisingly long windows opened nearly floor to ceiling. Their size certainly was the cause of Bill recalling vividly in his song "I'm on My Way to the Old Home" the lights in the window that had shone there long ago. To a child with poor eyesight, these illuminated windows would have shone like lighthouse beacons.

Malissa's condition worsened. She was in ghastly pain. It was hard on everyone. Speed would sometimes flee to the farthest reaches of the property and clamp his hands over his ears, trying to escape the agony of hearing her screams. Somehow, walking seemed to have eased the pain. One of Bill's last memories of his mother was that she walked and walked and walked, supported by his father and one of his older brothers.

On the afternoon of October 31, 1921, Malissa Vandiver Monroe died. She was laid out in the living room. What happened next was one of the most painfully perplexing experiences of Bill's life. Malissa was carried out of the house to be buried in Rosine. No one had bothered to explain to ten-year-old Willie what was happening. Having only the vaguest idea of what death was, he was not sure why his mother was being taken away.

Malissa's cries were gone but so too was her lovely music, the mountain ballads, the lilting fiddle, the jaunty accordion. Bill's overwhelming association with the loss of his mother was the shattering silence of the house. Later, in his song "Memories of Mother and Dad," he would write of her death and a home "silent and so sad."

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His mother, sister Bertha, and other women had been kind to him. His father had been a good man but busy, distant, and his brothers had teased or ignored him, even bullied him. Bill had learned: Women were to be found and clung to. But with men you had to be strong, unyielding, a competitor and a victor.

He soon learned something else. On the first Christmas morning after his mother's death, Bill got up and found no gift awaiting him. His father had been too distracted to buy him a present and his siblings too disinterested. Little Willie found out the hard way that there is no Santa Claus.

Bill began going out into the fields, far away from the house. Speed had gone there to escape his mother's dying wails; Bill was probably escaping the silence. He specifically went to sing old numbers like "Old Joe Clark." There was true freedom in this, because Bill thought that he could sing loud there, and no one would hear and then make fun of him if they didn't like it.

But others did hear him. As he walked away from the house he was walking closer to other properties. His voice drifted over to other farms. The neighbors were attracted to the high, clear quality of his voice.

As a boy, Bill had heard men walking the nearby railroad tracks and "hollering," a special kind of keening falsetto cry that carries more efficiently than simple shouting. Similar to Swiss yodeling (which also started as a means of communication and became a musical form), hollering was a favored mode of communication among southern farmhands and track workers. Bill tried it. When he saw animals at the edge of the forest, he would try to sing loudly yet gently, forcefully but compellingly, in a way that attracted their attention but didn't frighten them off. A powerful vocal style was being developed that would captivate listeners far beyond the fields and forests of Jerusalem Ridge.

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Charlie was younger than Birch, but with his outgoing personality he had become de facto leader of a little musical trio that began to form around the Monroe household. Its third and rather unlikely member was Bill.

Bill wanted to play music, too, but his brothers were not about to share the fiddle or the guitar. So he picked up a mandolin in the family collection. Like so many momentous choices made in the course of great lives, it was initially just a matter of necessity disguised as convenience.

Hubert Stringfield, the farmhand, was the first mandolin player Bill had ever seen or heard. He had a well-developed tremolo and a little repertoire of tunes. Stringfield gave the boy his first pointers on the instrument. From the beginning, he impressed on Bill the importance of forcing himself to use the often uncooperative little finger of the left hand in reaching for high notes and playing descending and ascending scales.

Bill's first instrument was a little Neapolitan-style mandolin that was lying around the house. With its rounded, lutelike back and construction of alternating strips of light and dark wood, it looked like a notorious insect that infested tubers; so the slang name for it among rural musicians was "potato bug mandolin" to differentiate it from the flat-backed instruments that had guitar-style construction (one of which Bill would soon acquire).

Bill gained some ability on the mandolin. Birch and Charlie grudgingly allowed him to play with them but with the stipulation that he only use four single strings instead of the full complement of eight strings in four pairs.

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His brothers didn't want him to make too much noise.

Contrary to popular belief, the performers who emerged from the southern hills to become the pioneers of country music and bluegrass were not from an exclusively aural folk tradition. Formal musical education, albeit rudimentary, was available each summer in towns like Rosine in the form of "singing schools."

A local person or traveling teacher would give choir lessons to classes of adults and older youngsters. Students were taught "shape notes," a system invented around 1800 in New England, in which notes on the musical staff were also assigned specific shapes (eg., round, square, triangular), thus giving additional visual cues to intervals. Students learned the notes of their parts first singing do, re, mi, etc. before they learned the words to a song. They were also taught the basic principles of music: keys, measures, rhythms, timing, rests.

Gospel songs with responsive sections in which lead, tenor, baritone, or bass voices each stood out momentarily were especially prized songs like "A Beautiful Life," "He Will Set Your Fields on Fire," and "What Would You Give in Exchange for Your Soul." These would become familiar to wide new audiences thanks to the Monroes and other hill country musicians. At the end of the course, the class would join with others from nearby towns at a centrally located "singing convention" to show off their new skills. This was true country "singing all day and dinner on the ground" nonstop musical presentations and picnic lunches.

Bill attended one singing school. He also sang in the youth choir of the Rosine Methodist church for about half a year when he was twelve or thirteen, and at first thought he might like to be bass singer because the harmony line was simple. But his eyesight was a major obstacle to his musical education. He could read adequately during slower-paced elementary school sessions, but couldn't decipher the notes and staffs drawn on the blackboard quickly enough to keep up during singing school. He tried to get his brothers to tutor him. They were unable or unwilling to do so.

Bill never went back to singing school after that one cycle. He quietly resolved to learn his music by ear, the way his mother and Uncle Pen had done.

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Bill's formal education ended with the fifth grade. He began working for pay when he was about eleven. Although old enough to labor, he was still too young to accompany his brothers into town on Saturday night, his father decreed. So J.B. would take him out to run the foxhounds.

Foxes were a scourge to farm families, who depended on having chickens but couldn't afford expensive fenced enclosures. Thus developed a specialized form of southern foxhunting, and it was not the mounted sport of a red-coated, monied gentry. After dark, hunters would build a big fire near the woods. The hunting horn would be blown to excite the dogs (and again at the end of the evening to bring them back). Once the hounds were loosed, the hunters would stay by the fire and listen as the pack found a scent and pursued their quarry through the night.

Sometimes the dogs succeeded only in chasing off a fox, not catching one. But the kill was secondary to the hunt. As the hounds gave voice in the woods, all joking and joshing would cease. Connoisseurs of foxhunting not only characterized dogs by their mouths bell-mouths, turkey-mouths, chop-mouths, and half-chops they could recognize each animal by its distinctive barks and yelps. Thus they tracked the progress of the hunt, which dogs were in the lead, which ones were falling back.

The packs of dogs were exactly like bands of musicians. Put them together and they made a wonderful sound; and even without seeing them, you could tell which ones were soloing, which were in support, which were working their hardest, and which were slacking off.

Bill also helped raise birds for one of Buck's hobbies, cockfighting. Bill loved animals, but this bloody ancient sport held a certain fascination for him. His grittily competitive nature responded to a smaller and younger bird that could defeat a bigger one through spirit and determination.

Violence in Ohio County was not confined to foxhunts or cockfights. Rosine was a pleasant community, but not a paradise. It had churches and tight-knit farming families, but there was also drinking and the need of some men to be stronger and tougher than the next man, the "bully of the town." These troublemakers would just as soon fight you as look at you.

Charlie Monroe found out about that. He loved to tease people and, despite his strength and size (he grew to be nearly 6 foot 2), Charlie had a high-pitched, almost giggly laugh. Although Charlie never intended it, both the teasing and the laugh could wear thin in a hurry. That is why, Rosine old-timers believe, when Charlie was in his late teens or early twenties, an exchange turned ugly and another Rosine man slashed him across the left cheek with a straight razor.

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Carrying a terrible scar, Charlie would turn the left side of his face away from the camera for the rest of his life whenever he posed for a photograph. One day, this scar would prominently mark the lore and myth surrounding the Monroe brothers.

By age fourteen, Bill was working for his father hauling heavy wagonloads of cross ties down to the Rosine train depot. It was challenging. He had to heft the heavy chunks of wood into the wagon, then use the horses and brakes to maneuver the dangerously weighty loads safely down the winding road into town.

As people around Horton and Rosine watched so young a lad doing so big a job, Bill began to take pride in his growing strength and skill. He made a silent show of his labor. It was an early experience in public performance.

After work, Bill was becoming more and more of a student of music in his own private, self-taught way. Soon another master appeared to help him.

He was a short, somewhat chubby fellow who usually wore a big black hat. He was quiet but personable when spoken to. He was African-American, a local laborer and a truly exceptional musician. Indeed, the consensus of those who heard him is that Arnold Shultz was one of the greatest blues guitarists who ever lived.

Shultz was born in February 1886 in Ohio County near Cromwell. He worked near McHenry as a coal miner and later as a coal loader around Rosine and Horton. He could lead a gypsylike existence. One day in late autumn he might play a tune on a relative's porch, then without a word walk down the road, then sit and play another tune. His relations would hear Shultz and his music fade away into the distance. He apparently made it to the Mississippi, worked his way south on riverboats as a deck hand, then wintered in New Orleans where he absorbed that city's musical influences.

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In addition to his compelling blues picking, his transitions between chords were silky smooth. He also knew how to play in the sliding "bottleneck" style, like most country blues guitarists using a pocketknife to make the notes. The strap holding his guitar was not leather, just an old woven grass rope.

Sadly, Shultz was never recorded. Neither the academicians collecting folk music in the field nor the producers scouring the country for salable "race" artists in the 1920s ever found him. If they had, Arnold Shultz would today share the pantheon of African-American country blues greats with Mississippi John Hurt, Son House, and even Robert Johnson. Those who heard Shultz blacks and whites alike assert that they never heard his equal before or after. Even without recording, Arnold Shultz's legacy was profound. Merle Travis, the influential fingerpicking guitarist, and Ike Everly, father of the Everly Brothers of 1950s pop music fame, were among those who learned from disciples of Shultz.

Shultz also played some fiddle, and in the early 1920s performed in the Ohio County based hillbilly and Dixieland ensemble of Forrest "Boots" Faught. The band was all white except for Arnold. Occasionally someone would complain, "Hey, you've got a colored fiddler. We don't want that."

"The reason I've got the man is because he's a good musician," Faught would reply. Shultz stayed on the bandstand.

Arnold fiddled for square dances around Rosine and Horton, where older residents recall him playing with Charlie and Birch Monroe and other white musicians. All this was in the South and nearly a decade before the Benny Goodman Trio with black pianist Teddy Wilson was hailed as the first racially mixed jazz combo to perform in public. Bill Monroe's earliest paid music work was thanks to Shultz, who asked Bill to "second him" on guitar when he fiddled for square dances. Bill was thrilled by the invitation and proud of his stamina when the sun came up and they would still be playing. With his growing sense of life as a competitive event, Bill was awed by how Arnold won a music contest by following up his blues numbers with a beautiful waltz. Years later, he recalled the man and his art with gratitude and affection:

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I tried to keep in mind a little of it. . . . I wanted some blues in my music too, you see. . . . I believe if there's ever an old gentleman that passed away and is resting in peace, it was Arnold Shultz I really believe that.

Around this time, Birch, Charlie, and Bill began playing for parlor parties and dances around Rosine as a trio. (This helps explain later statements by Bill and a slogan painted on his mandolin case that his music had been going "since 1927."). But soon the lure of big-paying factory jobs took Charlie and Birch north. Uncle Pen scoffed at it all: "Mark my words, Charlie, you'll soon be back on Jerusalem Ridge, drinkin' lonesome water!"

In Detroit, Charlie and Birch found piecework at the Briggs Motor Company, which made parts under contract to Ford. They brought their instruments and made extra money playing at house parties and dances for fellow southern expatriates. These were mellow affairs, no drinking or fighting; just sandwiches, coffee, Cokes, and fun. Birch played old-time tunes for dancing, and Charlie was beginning to sing numbers like the popular tearjerker "May I Sleep in Your Barn Tonight, Mister?"

And now Birch and Charlie were going by a specific name when they performed the Monroe Brothers.

Laid off at Christmas, they returned home to Rosine. Charlie, flush with his earnings, had a special present for his dad a $100 bill. As it turned out, the money exactly covered an account J.B. had in Beaver Dam.

The family knew just what train they would be arriving on, so Bill went down to the station especially to meet his brothers. The train pulled in and, yes, there they were. Bill went up to greet them.

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It was just like old times, in the very worst way. Birch and Charlie ignored their kid brother. They walked home the whole way without ever speaking to him.

James Buchanan Monroe succumbed to pneumonia on January 14, 1928, at age seventy. His coffin was carried into town on a horse-drawn wagon. Malissa and J.B. now rested side by side in the little lonesome Rosine cemetery. On her headstone was carved, "Gone But Not Forgotten." On his, "We Will Meet Again."

It is unclear who inherited the farm. (No wills were registered for J.B. or Malissa, and probably none was ever drawn up.) One of the older sons presumably kept working the land, which stayed in the Monroe family for the next four decades. But the days of the J. B. Monroe farm as a major operation employing dozens of local men were over.

Bill's home life became unstable. His sisters Maude and Bertha took care of the household for a time but soon, with brother John, headed north to join Birch and Charlie in the Chicago area.

At age sixteen, Bill's maturity had been thrust upon him. He received a horse from his father's holdings and began farming in the warm months for his uncle Jack Monroe. In the cold weather he worked for his uncle Andrew Monroe, hauling timber for railroad ties and mine supports on a ten-mile round trip from Andrew's land to the Rosine depot.

Bill lived briefly with his namesake, Uncle William, then with Jack, whose second wife, Elda Mary, was a loving mother hen of a woman. At Jack's house near the Rosine depot, Bill at last found some security. But one day he returned to find even that haven denied him, shut out by a quarantine after an outbreak of measles.

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Then someone provided stability in Bill's vertiginously uncertain world. Uncle Pen invited Bill to "batch it" in his humble cabin, high on Tuttle Hill overlooking the town center.

Pen had gotten this place in 1922 after having lived for some time at the home of his longtime friend Clarence Wilson. One evening Pen's mule showed up at the Wilsons', riderless. A search was made, and Pen was found on the ground, his fiddle beside him. His hip was broken. The mule was young, a recent trade acquisition, and it had been spooked by a passing train. The break never healed properly. For the rest of his life, Pen was forced to go around on crutches.

After his accident, Pen had made his living through trading. He was reputed to leave his cabin on a Monday morning with goods of small value. After a week's traveling and trading up, he would return leading a cow.

Bill kept his workhorses in a barn behind his uncle Jack's house near the Rosine depot. Late at the end of a day, in the evening, just about sundown, as Bill put the animals away for the night, he would become aware of a sound ringing out from the nearby hill overlooking the town Pen sitting outside his cabin, playing his fiddle. To Bill it was an almost human vocalization. He would one day immortalize these sensory impressions in song.

Uncle Pen did all the cooking. The grub was plain but filling, rich in proteins, carbohydrates, and calories, just the thing to fuel hard physical labor. For breakfast, they would have hoecakes topped with sorghum molasses, an all-purpose sweet syrup as truly of the South as maple syrup is of New England. Dinner and supper were often black-eyed peas with fatback (bacon) and cornbread with sorghum. Occasionally, they would have a comparatively extravagant breakfast: fried potatoes and eggs. (Malissa had specialized in fried potatoes, too; forever after they were Bill's favorite dish.) They had no stove; all the cooking was done over the fire.

It was a barebones existence. Yet Bill gratefully communed with every morsel of Pen's magnanimity, as he later reflected:

A man that old, and crippled, that would cook for you and see that you had a bed and a place to stay and something for breakfast and dinner and supper, and you know it come hard for him to get . . .

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Pen continued to be in demand for square dances. He took Bill along as his backup musician. They rode their mules to neighboring homes where a large room or a barn floor had been cleared for the party. Sometimes they would make a couple of dollars, sometimes five. Like Shultz, Pen insisted on sharing the money equally with Bill.

Pen gave Bill more: a repertoire of tunes that sank into Bill's aurally trained memory and a sense of rhythm that seeped into his bones. Sometimes Bill played guitar behind his uncle, sometimes the mandolin.

As his playing developed during these long dance sessions, Bill began, in his mind, to move his feet and dance. He would move his right hand in time with the imagined movement. It was the same for the rapid shuffle of a breakdown or the lilting time lifts of a waltz. While playing music, Bill was dancing in his mind.

Music not only gave Bill enjoyment and some cash money. For probably the first time in his life, people he loved were valuing him in return. To Uncle Pen and Arnold Shultz, Bill was a fine young man, a promising musician, a sober, reliable partner, and they were happy to have him.

But for the young Bill Monroe, it was a revelation and a turning point. Thanks to music, he felt he was someone. Thanks to music, he was connecting with people who truly cared.

And there were other connections to be made. Playing at dances probably facilitated his first romance.

Bill had thought that if he was lucky, his life would be this way: I'll stay in Kentucky, keep farming, find a girlfriend, fall in love, get married, have a family. But even finding a girlfriend? Bill was painfully shy. He was afraid that if he said even one wrong word a girl would never talk to him again.

He didn't have his first date or first kiss until he was eighteen years old. It was a late start. But Bill was about to make up for lost time.

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Country music has been examined by many authors, both in print and on the Internet, trying to explain it in intellectual terms - often with bewildering confusion. And the part of country music that has been analyzed the most is bluegrass. This is surprising since it is its pure simplicity, accompanied by outstanding musicians, which has attracted such a large audience to bluegrass. Bill Monroe, the Father of Bluegrass Music, explained it this way: "To me bluegrass is really THE country music. It was meant for country people." Therefore, it is surprising that bluegrass gained strong support in urban areas at a time when the trend was to popularize country music. It took a proud, stubborn man like Bill Monroe to resist the pop tide and make bluegrass what it is today.

There are few performers who have had the solid country music background that William Smith Monroe had at a very early age. He was born September 13, 1911, on a farm in Jerusalem Ridge, near Rosine, Kentucky. His father, Buck, was a farmer, saw mill operator and noted step-dancer. His mother, Malissa, played fiddle, accordion and harmonica, and was a respected local singer of old-time ballads. Among his eight siblings, older brothers Harry and Birch played fiddle, and brother Charlie and sister Bertha played guitar. All of them were influenced by Bill's uncle, Pendleton Vandiver, the "Uncle Pen" about whom he would write an important song years later. Bill once told an interviewer, "he'd bring his fiddle and he'd stay a night or so, and after supper, why, we'd get up around him and listen to him fiddle - maybe an hour, hour and a half. My father would call bedtime then."

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At the age of nine, Bill learned to play the mandolin, because no one else in the family knew how to play it. He also learned to play the guitar. His mother died when he was ten years old, and his father died soon thereafter. As a result, he went to live with his Uncle Pen. That's when his real music education began. "Maybe if I hadn't heard him," said Bill years later, "I'd never have learned anything about music at all. Learning his numbers gave me something to start on." Soon the two started playing guitar together at local dances. Bill also played with Arnold Schultz, a black blues musician, who became another major influence on his future music. He was given the chance to play guitar in Schultz's band, thus incorporating something new into his awareness - the blues. "[Arnold] was a real musician," reminisced Monroe, "and I thought it was an honor to get to play with him. There's no colored man could play the blues with him, nobody in the world could play blues with the man."

By the time he reached the age of 18, Bill Monroe was already an accomplished musician. In the summer of 1929, he joined his brothers, Birch and Charlie, working at the Sinclair refinery in Whiting, Indiana. At one time, during the Depression, Bill was the only one who was working, and the three brothers would play as a trio at local square dances and parties. They also worked six days a week doing shows on WJKS in Gary, Indiana - for 11 dollars a week.

Their "big break" came in 1934 when they were offered a job touring for Texas Crystals, a patent-medicine purgative. Birch decided not to join them, but Bill and Charlie started a duet act called the Monroe Brothers. Bill was married to Caroline Brown in 1935, and soon the Monroe Brothers were making radio appearances in Iowa, Nebraska and the Carolinas. In 1936, the pair worked for Crazy Water Crystals, the larger rival of the company for whom they had previously worked, on the Crazy Barn Dance at WBT. They made their first recordings on RCA's Bluebird label, recording some 60 tracks there. Then, in 1938, the two brothers decided to go their own ways. Charlie stayed at RCA and formed his band, the Kentucky Pardners, and Bill started his first band, the Kentuckians, at KARK in Little Rock, Arkansas.

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Things didn't go too well for his band, though. So he moved to Atlanta and got work with the popular Crossroad Follies. It was at this time that Bill Monroe formed his first Blue Grass Boys band. The band was made up of Cleo Davis (guitar and lead vocal), Art Wooten (fiddle), and Bill (mandolin). In Asheville, North Carolina, John Miller (jug player) was added. Miller was replaced by Amos Garin (bass) in Greenville. The band auditioned for the Grand Ole Opry on WSM in October of 1939. They were hired then, and they never left.

The early 1940's showed Monroe's band to be quite similar to other string bands, such as Mainer's Mountaineers. However, by the middle of the decade, his driving mandolin and his high tenor singing became the dominant style of the band, setting the Blue Grass Boys apart from all the other bands. The band's personnel changed much over the years, but the classic bluegrass group was formed by Bill Monroe in the winter of 1945, when a young banjo player named Earl Scruggs, and guitarist/vocalist Lester Flatt, joined the band. Scruggs' three-finger banjo style would become the standard for future bluegrass groups. It was when Flatt and Scruggs were in the band that Monroe first recorded the song "Blue Moon of Kentucky."

Flatt and Scruggs left the band in the spring of 1948 and formed their own band, the Foggy Mountain Boys. It might have seemed at that time that the heart had been removed from the Blue Grass Boys, but Bill Monroe's confident leadership kept him at the top of the bluegrass genre. Looking back, the list of former members of his band looks like an all-star team of musicians: Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, Mac Wiseman, Don Reno, Jimmy Martin, Carter Stanley, Gordon Terry, Sonny Osborne, Chubby Wise, Dave "Stringbean" Akeman, Vassar Clements, etc.

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In 1951, Bill Monroe bought some land at Bean Blossom in Brown County, Indiana. Here he established a country park, which soon became the home for many bluegrass shows. A severe car accident in 1953 prevented him from performing for several months. But, throughout the 1950's, he toured extensively. "Scotland" was a chart success in 1958. In the song he used Kenny Baker and Bobby Hicks on twin fiddles to simulate the sound of bagpipes - a tribute to his Scottish heritage.

Bill Monroe was a strong-willed person with stubborn ideas, and it was not always easy for his co-workers to achieve the perfect arrangement. In 1959, he refused to play a major event in Carnegie Hall because he thought that the organizer was a communist. He was not trustful of the press and he rarely gave interviews. However, in 1962, he became friends with Ralph Rinzler, a writer (and former member of the Greenbriar Boys), who later became his manager.

The 1960's were a period of "rediscovery" for Bill Monroe as the Father of Bluegrass. He made his first college appearance at a folk festival at the University of Chicago in early 1963. As folk festivals proliferated, Rinzler and Carlton Haney put together the prototype festival - the First Annual Blue Grass Music Festival at Fincastle, Virginia, in 1965. Then, in 1967, Bill started his own festival at Bean Blossom. During the 1960's there were many young musicians whose careers were helped by being members of his band. Such musicians included Bill Keith, Peter Rowan, Byron Berline, Roland White and Del McCoury, among others. In 1969, Bill Monroe was made an honorary Kentucky Colonel.

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In 1970, Bill Monroe was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville. His plaque reads: "The Father of Bluegrass Music. Bill Monroe developed and perfected this music form and taught it to a great many names in the industry." He was not only an excellent performer, but he also wrote many songs, several being recorded under the pseudonyms of Albert Price, James B. Smith and James W. Smith. In fact, the Nashville Songwriters Association elected him to their Hall of Fame in 1971. One of his proudest moments came in 1979, when he appeared on the stage of Ford's Theater in Washington, DC at a televised concert for then President of the United States, Jimmy Carter. Mr. Carter sat beaming as Bill and the Blue Grass Boys performed "Blue Moon of Kentucky."

Monroe kept a hectic schedule throughout the 1970's, but in 1981, he was stricken with cancer. Nevertheless, he survived treatment and continued a schedule that would have challenged younger men. He always followed his own path, and he never bowed to commercial pressure. His contribution to country music is inestimable. On August 13, 1986, one month before his 75th birthday, the United States Senate passed a resolution, which recognized "his many contributions to American culture and his many ways of helping American people enjoy themselves." It also stated that, "As a musician, showman, composer and teacher, Mr. Monroe has been a cultural figure and force of signal importance in our time."

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For a singer whose music, bluegrass, is supposed to have merely a cult following, Bill Monroe has had an amazingly broad influence over the years. His 1985 album, Bill Monroe and Friends, had some of Nashville's biggest stars fighting to get put on it. He still remained unique in many ways. Actually, he had only a few certified hits, his preference being to produce a consistent series of steadily selling albums. And, unlike many of his peers, he refused to rely on remakes of old favorites for TV packages and did not restrict his touring to only a few large concerts. In 1986, in celebration of his 50th year in the music business, Bill took off on an exhausting, 50-state tour - traveling by car and bus as he had always done. Monroe`s signature song, "Blue Moon of Kentucky," was also named an official state song by the Kentucky General Assembly in 1988.

Bill Monroe built himself a legend. He didn't just attract fans - he made disciples. People have named their kids after him; mandolin players brought their instruments for him to bless; families planned their vacations to attend his annual gatherings at Bean Blossom. When he was asked about how he felt about being called The Father of Bluegrass Music, he replied, "Well, I don't mind that. That's really the truth, you know. I accept that, I guess, as well as any man could. I think it's a great honor to originate a music - something to be proud of." He once said of bluegrass, "It's got a hard drive to it. It's Scotch bagpipes and old-time fiddlin'. It's Methodist and Holiness and Baptist. It's 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."

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In 1991, Bill was inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Honor. He was awarded the "Lifetime Achievement Award" by the National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences in 1993, and was presented with the National Medal of the Arts in 1995 by President Clinton. He performed as recently as March 1995 at the Grand Ole Opry. Opry president Hal Durham called Monroe "the epitome of the stately, Southern gentleman, a shy and generous man who was justly proud of the acceptance of bluegrass music."

He suffered a stroke in April of 1996 and was hospitalized in both Baptist Hospital in Nashville and Tennessee Christian Medical Center in Madison. Sadly, he passed away at Northcrest Home & Hospice in Springfield, Tennessee on September 9, 1996, just four days short of his 85th birthday. His funeral took place appropriately at the old Ryman Auditorium, where he had graced the stage of the Grand Ole Opry for decades. He was buried in Rosine, Kentucky, where he was born.

Bill Monroe, probably the only American to have single-handedly invented an entirely new genre of music, will be missed greatly. But his legacy to the world - the bluegrass music he created and shared and taught to so many during his lifetime - will never die. (Not from Annette: Sorry, I can't find the source of this bio).


Inscription Dedication at Monument
by James William Monroe Son of Bill Monroe - 1997

William Smith Bill Monroe was the youngest
of eight children born to James Buchanan
Monroe and Melissa Ann Vandiver Monroe. The
Monroe Homeplace on Jerusalem Ridge near
Rosine, Kentucky.

As a youngster, Bill worked on the family
farm and attended Horton Grade school
through the seventh grade. In his spare time
he went fox hunting with his dad and learned
to make music from his mother and his uncle,
Pen Vandiver

Bill lost his mother when he was nine years
old and his father when he was just sixteen.
After living with his Uncle Pen, Bill left
his home in Kentucky and began the journey
which led him to the creation of Blugrass
music and to becoming one of the true
legends of the American music industry.

In 1935, Bill Monroe married Carolyn Minnie
Brown. They had two children; Melissa
Kathleen Monroe born Sept 17, 1936 and James
William Monroe, born March 15, 1941

Bill Monroe became a member of the Grand Ole
Opry in Nashville, Tennessee in 1939. During
his career he would sell millions of
records, win many national awards for his
music and perform at the request of four
United States Presidents

God blessed Bill with a rare musical genius
and the willpower and determination
necessary to bring his music to millions of
fans around the world. For many of those
fans and for all of us who are members of
his family Bill Monroe is "Bluegrass Music!"

Walk softly around this grave for my father,
Bill Monroe rests here as the blue moon of
Kentucky shines on.

Son: James William Monroe
1997

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