Birth name: William Smith Monroe
Born: September 13, 1911 Rosine, Kentucky
Origin: Kentucky, United States
Died: September 9, 1996 (aged 84) Springfield, Tennessee
Genres: Bluegrass gospel country folk
Instruments: Mandolin, guitar
Years active: 1927–1996
Labels: Bluebird, Columbia, Decca, MCA, RCA, Victor
William Smith Monroe (September 13, 1911 – September 9, 1996) was an American mandolinist, singer, and songwriter who created the style of music known as bluegrass. The genre takes its name from his band, the Blue Grass Boys, named for Monroe's home state of Kentucky. Monroe's performing career spanned 69 years as a singer, instrumentalist, composer and bandleader. He is often referred to as the Father of Bluegrass.
A key development occurred in Monroe's music with the addition of North Carolina banjo prodigy Earl Scruggs to the Blue Grass Boys in December 1945. Scruggs played the instrument with a distinctive three-finger picking style that immediately caused a sensation among Opry audiences. Scruggs joined a highly accomplished group that included singer/guitarist Lester Flatt, and would soon include fiddler Chubby Wise, and bassist Howard Watts, who often performed under the name "Cedric Rainwater". In retrospect, this lineup of the Blue Grass Boys has been dubbed the "Original Bluegrass Band", as Monroe's music finally included all the elements that characterize the genre, including breakneck tempos, sophisticated vocal harmony arrangements, and impressive instrumental proficiency demonstrated in solos or "breaks" on the mandolin, banjo, and fiddle. By this point, Monroe had acquired the 1923 Gibson F5 model "Lloyd Loar" mandolin which became his trademark instrument for the remainder of his career.
The 28 songs recorded by this version of the Blue Grass Boys for Columbia Records in 1946 and 1947 soon became classics of the genre, including "Toy Heart", "Blue Grass Breakdown", "Molly and Tenbrooks", "Wicked Path of Sin", "My Rose of Old Kentucky", "Little Cabin Home on the Hill", and Monroe's most famous song "Blue Moon of Kentucky". The last-named was recorded by Elvis Presley in 1954, appearing as the B-side of his first single for Sun Records. Monroe gave his blessing to Presley's rock-and-roll cover of the song, originally a slow ballad in waltz time, and in fact re-recorded it himself with a faster arrangement after Presley's version became a hit. Several gospel-themed numbers are credited to the "Blue Grass Quartet", which featured four-part vocal arrangements accompanied solely by mandolin and guitar – Monroe's usual practice when performing "sacred" songs.
Both Flatt and Scruggs left Monroe's band in early 1948, soon forming their own group, the Foggy Mountain Boys. In 1949, after signing with Decca Records, Monroe entered what has been called the "golden age" of his career with what many consider the classic "high lonesome" version of the Blue Grass Boys, featuring the lead vocals and rhythm guitar of Jimmy Martin, the banjo of Rudy Lyle (replacing Don Reno), and fiddlers such as Merle "Red" Taylor, Charlie Cline, Bobby Hicks and Vassar Clements. This band recorded a number of bluegrass classics, including "My Little Georgia Rose", "On and On", "Memories of Mother and Dad", and "Uncle Pen", as well as instrumentals such as "Roanoke", "Big Mon", "Stoney Lonesome", "Get Up John", and the mandolin feature "Raw Hide." Carter Stanley joined the Blue Grass Boys as guitarist for a short time in 1951 during a period when the Stanley Brothers had temporarily disbanded.
On January 16, 1953 Monroe was critically injured in a two-car wreck. He and "Bluegrass Boys" bass player, Bessie Lee Mauldin, were returning home from a fox hunt north of Nashville. On highway 31-W, near White House, their car was struck by a drunken driver. Monroe, who had suffered injuries to his back, left arm and nose, was rushed to General Hospital in Nashville. It took him almost four months to recover and resume touring. In the meantime Charlie Cline and Jimmy Martin kept the band together.
By the late 1950s, however, Monroe's commercial fortunes had begun to slip. The rise of rock-and-roll and the development of the "Nashville sound" in mainstream country music both represented threats to the viability of bluegrass. While still a mainstay on the Grand Ole Opry, Monroe found diminishing success on the singles charts, and struggled to keep his band together in the face of declining demand for live performances.