PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Bill Monroe: Father of Bluegrass Music

Informative and educational, intriguing and entertaining, part American history lesson, part biography and part concert film.

Bill Monroe: Father of Bluegrass Music

Director: Steve Gebhardt
Cast: Bill Monroe, John Hartford, Emmylou Harris, Ricky Scaggs, Marty Stuart, Jerry Garcia
Length: 90
MPAA rating: N/A
Distributor: MVDVisual
First date: 2008
US DVD Release Date: 2008-07-08
"I'd like for them to remember me as the father of Bluegrass music, the man that originated this music." -- Bill Monroe

After watching Bill Monroe: Father of Bluegrass Music, it will become clear that almost everyone who came after Bill Monroe—regardless of genre—was influenced by, and owes a debt to, the man with the mandolin and the ever-present hat.

Bill Monroe died in 1996. Informative and educational, intriguing and entertaining, part American history lesson, part biography and part concert film, this documentary, originally released in 1999 and out of print for years, features interviews and performances from his final years, as well as archival footage and recordings, and interviews with everyone from Paul McCartney and Jerry Garcia to Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton, from Ricky Skaggs and Marty Stuart to The Osborne Brothers and several members of Monroe's Blue Grass Boys from various periods of his more than 60 year career.

John Hartford (who was himself a musical legend for, among other things, the Grammy-winning "Gentle on my Mind" and his contributions to the soundtrack for Oh Brother Where Art Thou.) conducted most of the interviews with Bill Monroe seen in this film while the two sat, strumming and reminiscing on Monroe's front porch. Their conversations include details of Monroe's early musical memories, from his Uncle Pen, whom he immortalized in one of his best known songs (called, simply, "Uncle Pen") to the reason he took up mandolin (his elder brothers had already chosen the other instruments, so he was left with the mandolin). They also speak of his early public life such as the fact that he was a professional flat-foot buckdancer before he was a professional musician (One of the segments highlights Emmylou Harris and Jacky Christian—a flat-footing champion— buckdancing, along with Monroe's own nimble footwork.).

These intimate interviews are intercut with footage of Monroe strumming fireside or caring for his animals on his farm outside Nashville, Tennessee. Bill Monroe tells his story in linear fashion and sharp detail, relating events of 1939 as clearly as 1989. He recalls his first group with his brother Charlie, and, after they parted ways, his formation of the inaugural line-up of the Blue Grass Boys (including Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, Chubby Wise and Howard Watts) and his long-standing association with The Grand Ole Opry (further interview footage about the Opry is included in the DVD bonus features).

As Monroe and Hartford get into the rise and dominance of the Blue Grass Boys, the segments with other interviewees begin to include anecdotes from the Boys themselves, most notably, Chubby Wise (fiddle and guitar during the 1940s), Bobby Hicks (fiddle, banjo, bass and mandolin in the mid-to-late 1950s) Sonny Osborne (banjo, 1952-1953) and Del McCoury (vocals, guitar and banjo in the 1960s). It's also at this point that filmmaker Steve Gebhardt really steps up the footage of performances (likely because there's more available). Classic songs, like "Blue Moon of Kentucky" from both Monroe himself, and Paul McCartney; "Muleskinner Blues," "Kentucky Waltz" with Monroe dueting with Emmylou Harris.

Very few people, other than Bill Monroe (if any) are singularly responsible for an entire genre of music. Who would have thought that a combination of traditional Irish and Scottish music filtered through the Appalachians and the Blues of the deep south would even work, let alone become one of the most beloved, popular, lasting and distinctive musical styles in the world? His career is the history of bluegrass music. He is bluegrass.

Bill Monroe: Father of Bluegrass Music is a magnificent representation of just exactly how important Bill Monroe truly is to multiple generations of musicians (as well as non-musicians!). Monroe put it this way, "Bluegrass music is like going to school. When you learn Bluegrass, you can play a lot of music."


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.


When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.


20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.


The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.


Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.


Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."


50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.


Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.


The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.


Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.


'Waiting Out the Storm' with Jeremy Ivey

On Waiting Out the Storm, Jeremy Ivey apologizes for present society's destruction of the environment and wonders if racism still exists in the future and whether people still get high and have mental health issues.


Matt Berninger Takes the Mic Solo on 'Serpentine Prison'

Serpentine Prison gives the National's baritone crooner Matt Berninger a chance to shine in the spotlight, even if it doesn't push him into totally new territory.


MetalMatters: The Best New Heavy Metal Albums of September 2020

Oceans of Slumber thrive with their progressive doom, grind legends Napalm Death make an explosive return, and Anna von Hausswolff's ambient record are just some of September's highlights.


'Avatar: The Last Airbender' Nudges Out Conscience in Our Time of Crises

Avatar shows us that to fight for only the people we know, for simply the things that affect us personally, is neither brave nor heroic, nor particularly useful.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.