Introduction to Bluegrass Music | world music center
Bluegrass is concert music that emerged in the Appalachian region of the United States in the 1940s after World War II. Unlike earlier American folk genres intended for dance, bluegrass developed as music to be listened to. Bluegrass combines elements of English and Scottish ballads, old time, blues, gospel and jazz to create music that is generally faster than old music. It is characterized by the use of fiddle, banjo, guitar, mandolin and dobro resonator guitar.
The Blue Ridge Music Center states that microphone technology played a vital role in the development of bluegrass music, enabling the combination of story songs and rural dance musical instruments.
The typical bluegrass song features ballad-style vocals combined with a series of instrumental solos between verses called “breaks”.
Initially, the music that emerged in the 1940s was known as early, mountain, or mountain music. In the mid-1960s when bluegrass festivals emerged, the genre became known as bluegrass due to Bill Monroe being one of the leading figures; his band was called the Blue Grass Boys and his home state of Kentucky is known as bluegrass (referring to a type of grass).
Key musicians in the development of bluegrass include Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys, Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, Jim and Jesse McReynolds, Stanley Brothers (Carter and Ralph), Don Reno, Red Smiley, the Lilly Brothers, John Duffey and Charlie . Waller.
Two record companies played a significant role in spreading bluegrass music nationally and internationally during the 1970s and beyond: Rounder Records (founded in 1970) and Sugar Hill Records (founded in 1978).
Newgrass is a subcategory of bluegrass that emerged in the 1970s, when young musicians influenced by classic rock, blues, progrock, folk-rock, reggae and jazz fusion experimented with bluegrass and added new items. The main group pioneering new grass was New Grass Revival, a founding ensemble that included Sam Bush, John Cowan, Béla Fleck, Courtney Johnson, Ebo Walker, Curtis Burch, Butch Robins and Pat Flynn.
In addition to traditional material, newgrass pioneers performed bluegrass versions of well-known pop and rock songs. They introduced jamband-style jazz progressions and added new instruments like drums, dobro (resophonic guitar), and electric guitar. Moreover, these young musicians had long hair and wore non-traditional clothing.
Top newgrass artists include Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, Alison Krauss and Union Station, The Infamous Stringdusters, Psychograss, Nickel Creek, Chris Thile, Jordan Tice, Punch Brothers and Trampled by Turtles.
Bluegrass music has spread far and wide in the United States, into Canada, Europe and beyond. Some musicians have mixed bluegrass with other genres. Banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck ventured into jazz fusion and combined bluegrass with world music; Che Apalache combined Argentine folk music with bluegrass. Canadian banjo player Jayme Stone has researched the banjo’s roots in West Africa, incorporating world music and jazz. During this time, Flamengrass merged bluegrass with Flamenco.
Blue grass icons
While it’s hard to list all of the talent in the vast bluegrass community, some of the biggest bluegrass names of recent decades who arrived after the pioneers include country music star Dolly Parton who recorded several bluegrass albums ; Carl Jackson and John Starling; the Nashville Bluegrass Band; Alison Krauss and Union Station; Jerry Douglas; Del McCoury; Rhonda Vincent; New grass revival; Tim O’Brien; Bela Fleck; Pat Flynn; Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers; Dailey & Vincent; Dan Tyminsky; Nickel Creek; Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder; hot rice; The Johnson Mountain Boys; Lonesome River Band; Blue Highway; Ronnie Bowman; Jason Carter; Larry Sparks; The Grascals; Bryan Sutton; Tony Rice; Sam Bush; Tony Trischka; Darol anger; Mike Marshall; The Infamous Stringdusters; The Gibson Brothers; Sisk & Ramblers Junior Pick; Becky Buller; Compton and Newberry; Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen; Rob Ickes; Della Mae; Sierra Hull; the Steep Canyon Rangers; Steve Martin; neo-traditional band The Earls of Leicester; The SteelDrivers; Noam Pikelny; Flatt Lonesome; The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys; Chris Thile; Baumier range; Special Consensus (Greg Cahill, Rick Faris, Dustin Benson, Dan Eubanks); Phil Leadbetter; Missy Raines; Punch Brothers; Kristin Scott-Benson; Michael Cleveland; Strings Billy; Watchouse (formerly Mandolin Orange), Sister Sadie and Authentic Unlimited.
The Blue Ridge Music Center
The Blue Ridge Music Center near Galax, Virginia, at Mile 213 on the beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway, includes a visitor center and museum open May through October. Admission to the Visitor Center and Museum is free. The grounds also include an outdoor amphitheater with a summer concert series.
Exhibitions at the Blue Ridge Music Center, 2021 – Photos by Angel Romero:
Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and Museum
The Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum is located in Owensboro, Kentucky. The museum is a non-profit organization dedicated to the history and preservation of bluegrass music.
IBMA World of Bluegrass
The International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) hosts an annual conference that includes a trade show, showcases and influential awards.
Photo below: IBMA World of Bluegrass Show in Raleigh, North Carolina. Beard Guitars exhibit, Becky Bueller booth; and the staff of the Kentucky Center for Traditional Music. Photos by Angel Romero.
Blue Ridge Music Trails of North Carolina
The Blue Ridge Music Trails of North Carolina is a guide to traditional music from the mountains and foothills of North Carolina. The goal is to preserve and promote the traditional music of western North Carolina.
Earl Scruggs Center
The Earl Scruggs Center: Music & Stories from the American South celebrates the musical tradition and innovation of famed bluegrass banjo player Earl Scruggs. The North Carolina native developed the three-finger style of play known as the Scruggs style. Address: 103 S Lafayette St, Shelby, NC 28150. Phone: (704) 487-6233.
Shenandoah Musical Trail
The Shenandoah Music Trail hosts jams, lessons, workshops, festivals and concerts and records and promotes musicians during its weekly series of mountain music performances. The Virginia-based, all-volunteer nonprofit organization brings musicians and audiences together in preserving, promoting, and maintaining authentic acoustic mountain music. This tradition includes genres such as bluegrass, old-time, country blues, string orchestra, American fiddle/banjo, Appalachian folksongs, shape-note and gospel, rural swing and classic country.
bluegrass music books
Bill Monroe The Life and Music of the Blue Grass Man by Tom Ewing (University of Illinois Press)
Can’t You Hear Me Calling: The Life of Bill Monroe, Father of Bluegrass by Richard D. Smith (Da Capo Press)
Foggy Mountain Troubadour, The Life and Music of Curly Seckler by Penny Parsons (University of Illinois Press)
The Music of the Stanley Brothers by Gary B. Reid (University of Illinois Press, 2014)
Good Enough for a Girl – Women in Bluegrass by Henry Murphy Hicks (University of Illinois Press, 2013)
East Tennessee State University (ETSU) in Johnson City holds the world’s first-ever Bachelor of Arts degree in bluegrass, old-time, and country music studies. More at https://www.etsu.edu.
The Kentucky Center for Traditional Music offers Kentucky’s only Bachelor of Arts in Traditional Music, as well as a Minor in Traditional Music. The center also houses the Traditional Music Archive and the Sounds of Our Heritage Outreach Program. Morehead University, 150 University Blvd., Morehead, KY 40351. Phone: 1-800-585-6781.
Artistworks Bluegrass Academy. Lessons in musical instruments by master instrumentalists.
Homespun offers an extensive catalog of educational music videos available for download, DVD, and streaming, including bluegrass banjo, fiddle, guitar, and mandolin.
(title image: Steep Canyon Rangers at Shakori Hills – Photo by Angel Romero)
Author: Angel Romero
Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music for many years. He founded the sites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel is also co-founder of the Transglobal World Music Chart. Angel has also produced and remastered world music studio albums and compilations for labels such as Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts and Music of the World.