The Birth of Bluegrass

Posted: 9/30/2006 by Floyd in

Nashville, Tenn. (AP)
Few would dispute that it was an important moment in the history of bluegrass, that night in 1945 when a young banjo player named Earl Scruggs joined Grand Ole Opry star Bill Monroe at the Ryman Auditorium and kicked the music into overdrive with his fiery three finger picking. Campbell Mercer just doesn't think it was the "Birth of Bluegrass." Let me interject right here to say I don't believe it was either, Bluegrass was born probably before the 1920's in mountains of Kentucky, the pioneers of this music would be of cource Bill Monroe and Ralph Stanley would be another. What and how this came about was a new state "historical marker" unveiled Friday outside the 115-year-old Ryman Auditorium, a former gospel tabernacle that was home to the Grand Ole Opry radio show from 1943 to 1974.
Mercer claims "Bluegrass was concieved here on Jerusalem Ridge (where Monroe was born and raised), right here in Kentucky. Time to put in my two cents worth again, Mercer could be right on this my Uncle was playing Bluegrass banjo I know for a fact at least close to 20 years prior to 1945. When we are dealing with history it is nice to try and get our facts somewhat straight in relation to how events happened, that way history is taken more as fact of events that took place in a certain time period, the birth of an art form can take 20 or 30 years or more to develop.

Mercer, who also plays banjo, says some of Monroe's recordings before Scruggs joined his ensemble, with Dave "Stringbean" Akeman playing banjo in the two-finger style that was standard before Scruggs, already had elements of the music that would become known as "bluegrass" in the 1950's. Monroe's pairing with Scruggs was a real magical moment, but I don't think it was any more magical than other moments that occured before or after, said Mercer whose 300-member organization seeks to preserve Monroe's legacy.
The Tennesee plaque seems the latest slight to Kentucky bluegrass enthusiasts, The International Bluegrass Music Association moved its headquarters from Louisville, Ky., to Nashville a few years ago, taking its annual seven-day World of Bluegrass event and awards show with it.
Last year Monroe's well-worn Gibson F5 mandolin was acquired by the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, after a deal fell through by the Monroe Brothers Foundation to purchase and display it in Rosine. Monroe himself had strong feelings about the birth of bluegrass, he had painted on his mandolin case that the music was born in 1927, when he was a teenager playing with his brothers Charlie and Birch and with his Uncle Pendleton Vandiver.,(remember the hit Bill had called "Uncle Pen."?). Even so, the Tennesee Historical Commission donated the historical marker mounted on a metal post that says in part, "December 1945, Grand Ole Opry star Bill Monroe and his mandolin brought to the Ryman Auditorium stage a band that created a new American music form. With the banjo style of Earl Scruggs and the guitar of Lester Flatt, the new musical genre became known as bluegrass.
Moroe who lived just shy of his 85th birthday in 1996, is credited with pioneering the new musical form in the 1920's, 30's and 40's, by fusing old-time mountain music with blues, gospel and jazz.
Read more about; Ralph Stanley


  1. ive never been much of a blue grass fan...but when flatt and scruggs played it...well, it was fantastic...

  1. Floyd says:

    Thanks for coming around and commenting yellowdog Granny, you got that right. They were talking about when the music actually developed, I agree with mercer about 1920 or so not 1945.

    I listened to Flatt & Scruggs a little to, really liked their playing. I play guitar myself but not quite in that league, thanks for coming by.