First gaining popularity within the United States in the early 1940s, bluegrass music is a style that’s easily recognizable. Marked by the “high lonesome sound” of a tenor lead, bluegrass is similar to jazz in the way that it offers its performers opportunities improvise and to take turns with the lead. The music is about every day life, more notably life living in the hills or on the farm.
While some may view the beginnings of bluegrass dating back to the early 1600s as immigrants from England, Scotland, and Ireland travelled to what is now the US, bluegrass as we know it today is often traced back to Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys. Named after their home state, Kentucky, Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys took the stage at the Grand Ole Opry in 1939 where he continued to perform until he passed in 1996. Taking inspiration from both white and black musical traditions, Monroe and his boys joined together to create the classic bluegrass sound. While the group saw its fair share of line up changes through out it’s 58-year history, most notable players include guitarist Lester Flatt, banjo player Earl Scruggs, upright bassist Cedric Rainwater, and fiddler Chubby Wise.
Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt later went on to create The Foggy Mountain Boys and introduced the Dobro to the music scene. Invented by the Dopyera Brothers, the Dobro was considered an obscure instrument at the time, however it grew in popularity when Brukeett H. Graves joined the group and adapted Scrugg’s unique three-finger picking style for the slide bar instrument. The Foggy Mountain Boys continued to push the sound of bluegrass and garnered attention with the release of “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” which was featured in the film Bonnie and Clyde.
While bluegrass music is still alive and well today, it has seen a healthy dose of developments and changes in order to adapt and keep up with current music trends. Other musical elements such as jazz, rock, and pop were added leading to what some call “new grass” but the heart and traditions of the genre are still relevant today. Notable artists who have been inspired by bluegrass include Ricky Skaggs, Marty Stuart, and Alison Krauss.
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