Bill Monroe

(1911 – 1996)

Bill Monroe was a pioneering Country music performer and bandleader, credited as the Father of Bluegrass, a genre that drew from the Appalachian folk, Gospel and Blues music with which Monroe had grown up.

Monroe was born the youngest of eight children in Rosine, Ky., to a musical family. Orphaned at the age of 16, Monroe moved to Indiana, working through the Great Depression in an oil refinery. He subsequently formed a duo with his brother Charlie and as half of the Monroe Brothers scored an immediate hit single with the Gospel song "What Would You Give In Exchange For Your Soul?" The brothers ultimately recorded 60 tracks for Victor's Bluebird label between 1936 and 1938.

Despite their success, the duo disbanded, but Bill forged ahead, forming his own group, the Blue Grass Boys, in 1939. In the following decade, Monroe and his combo — typically featuring banjo, guitar, upright bass and fiddle alongside Monroe's mandolin — honed a distinct sound that featured his "high lonesome" tenor, plaintive harmonies, hard-driving rhythms and virtuosic instrumental soloing, often taken at breakneck tempo. Monroe's sound was a direct influence on a number of early Rock and Roll musicians, as made clear when Elvis Presley cut Monroe's "Blue Moon of Kentucky" for his first single for Sun Records.

Monroe earned the Grammy's Lifetime Achievement award in 1993. In 1995, the year before he died, he was awarded a National Medal of Honor by President Clinton. He has been inducted into Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, the Country Music Hall of Fame and, for his influence, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.