Bluegrass. The Roots of America

If you’ve heard the genre of bluegrass before, most likely the first thing that comes to mind is a man in country clothes, with a cowboy hat on and a banjo in his hands. And while that has become a stereotypical way of seeing bluegrass music, there is a lot more to this fast paced, highly acoustic genre that is often synonymous with anticipated, off-beat notes.

Bluegrass. The Roots of America
Bluegrass. The Roots of America

The History

Bluegrass dates back to the 1940s, which is when it was conceived in the Appalachian region. It is usually seen as one of the genres that belong to the American roots music, which also includes jazz, blues, gospel, traditional country music and many other music genres that contain a piece of American culture, and most importantly, lived experiences of certain minorities and groups of people.

The name is attributed to Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys, a band known for unique, off-beat guitar tunes that resulted in the main characteristic of bluegrass. Naturally, Bill Monroe is oftentimes called “The Father of Bluegrass”. Bluegrass is rich with English and Scottish musical traditions, because back in the day, the Appalachian region was densely populated by immigrants from those areas whose cultures contributed to the formation of bluegrass.

The iconic element of bluegrass – banjo – however, has nothing to do with any of these nationalities and instead was brought to the region by African American musicians, who adapted their local instruments of similar composition to create what we now know as banjo. Essentially, all of this points at the fact that bluegrass is true representation of cultural diversity coming together to create something remarkable.

The biggest names

Naturally, Bill Monroe will always have the honours of being the first name that comes to mind when we think about the emergence and formation of bluegrass. However, many who followed have helped bluegrass gain visibility and offered the world quality tunes to enjoy. Some notable names include Earl Scruggs, who is widely known for popularizing banjo playing technique that includes three-string picking. It is now known as the “Scruggs style” and is inseparable from the way we understand bluegrass. He was not alone in his journey of strengthening the presence of bluegrass. Lester Flatt collaborated with him to form The Foggy Mountain Boys (also famously known as Flatt and Scruggs). Flatt was also a member in Bill Monroe’s band, and later went on to play bluegrass as a solo musician.

Modern day bluegrass

Nowadays female artists have really taken the stage when it comes to well-known performers of bluegrass. Alison Krauss took the music industry by storm at the age of 10, and ever since then has been a highly regarded and admired country and bluegrass musician. Rhonda Vincent is a famous multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and bluegrass singer, with a career spanning over four decades. One name that really stands out is Béla Fleck. While many bluegrass and country performers focus more on the tunes and the feeling of the song than the technical parts of it, Flack has become a highly proficient banjo player. He is well-known for introducing innovative and challenging banjo playing techniques to bluegrass.

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