Bluegrass Timeline

The expression "hillbilly" is coined in an article in the NEW YORK JOURNAL; the phrase "hillbilly music" becomes synonymous with music popular in the rural South. Other names for this sound include mountain music, old-time music, or country music.

Bill Monroe, who is later credited with creating bluegrass music, is born on September 13 in western Kentucky.

In New York, the Victor Talking Machine Company makes the first recording of "authentic" country music performed by "real" country folks (formalized versions of folk songs had been recorded by military bands and pop musicians since the turn of the century) fiddlers Eck Robertson and Henry C. Gilliland.

The NATIONAL BARN DANCE radio program debuts on WLS in Chicago to provide country music to rural and urban listeners who have recently migrated to the city from the South. Radio station sponsor Sears,Roebuck complains about the show's "disgraceful low-brow music" until it becomes obvious that the program is immensely popular.

George D. Hay, former voice of WLS' NATIONAL BARN DANCE (known on-air as the Solemn Old Judge), becomes the program manager for the WSM BARN DANCE radio show in Nashville, TN, which Hay later names the GRAND OLE OPRY. The show's first performer is 77-year-old fiddler Uncle Jimmy Thompson.

Victor Records talent scout Ralph Peer visits Bristol, TN to record hillbilly musicians and string bands. There, he records Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family, some of country music's first national stars.

Bill Monroe moves to East Chicago, IN, to join his brothers, Birch and Charlie, who are working in an oil refinery. The three siblings form a string band called the Monroe Brothers and earn spots as dancers on WLS' NATIONAL BARN DANCE radio show.

The Texas Crystals Company, which makes laxatives, asks the Monroes to perform on several radio programs they sponsor. Birch stays in Indiana, while Charlie and Bill Monroe continue on as the Monroe Brothers, playing on radio stations in Iowa, Nebraska, and, for the rest of their career together, in Georgia and the Carolinas. The brothers gain a reputation for singing higher and playing faster than any of the other "brother duet" country music acts that are popular at the time. Over the course of two years and several sessions, they record 60 songs for RCA Victor.

The Monroe Brothers break up. Charlie starts a band called the Kentucky Pardners, while Bill moves to Atlanta, where he forms a new band -- the Blue Grass Boys, named in honor of his home state of Kentucky.

Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys perform a Jimmie Rodgers tune, "Mule Skinner Blues," on the GRAND OLE OPRY. Their rendition is so fast and exciting that, according to Monroe, it's the first song to receive an encore in OPRY history.

Bill Monroe becomes popular around the Southeast, hitting the road non-stop with the Blue Grass Boys and a traveling tent show that includes musicians, comedians, and even features baseball games, with the team made up of band members.

Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs join the Blue Grass Boys.

With the addition of Scruggs and Flatt, the "classic" line-up of Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys is fixed: Monroe on mandolin, Scruggson banjo, Flatt onguitar, Cubby Wise on fiddle, and Howard Watts (aka Cedric Rainwater) on bass. In addition to his guitar picking, Flatt sings lead vocals, a duty Monroe would rarely again leave to anyone other than himself. Earl Scruggs' distinctive three-finger banjo picking, a style indigenous to his home in western North Carolina, becomes synonymous with what is later called "bluegrass" music. This group makes a number of now-legendary recordings, including "Blue Moon of Kentucky," a waltz Monroe wrote to exploit the success of his first hit song, "Kentucky Waltz."

The Stanley Brothers (Ralph and Carter) record with their band, the Clinch Mountain Boys, on an early independent record label, Rich-R-Tone.

Rich-R-Tone releases the Stanleys' recording of a Monroe tune, "Molly and Tenbrooks." Monroe claims they are merely copying his style and is especially vexed by their recording of this song, which he often plays. Earl Scruggs, Lester Flatt, and Cedric Rainwater leave Bill Monroe and start their own group -- Lester Flatt, Early Scruggs, and the Foggy Mountain Boys. They sign with Mercury Records, a deal that produces the classic "Foggy Mountain Breakdown." (Monroe refuses to speak to either Flatt or Scruggs until their band breaks up in 1969.)

The Stanley Brothers sign with Columbia Records, for whom they record 22 songs, including "Man of Constant Sorrow." Bill Monroe, annoyed that Columbia would record the Stanleys, switches to Decca Records. Jimmy Martin joins Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys as lead singer and emcee.

The Stanley Brothers break up, briefly. Carter sings and records with Bill Monroe, only to rejoin his brother, Ralph, the following year. Flatt & Scruggs move to Columbia Records.

The Martha White Flour Company sponsors a weekly radio show featuring Flatt & Scruggs on WSM in Nashville, TN.

Elvis Presley performs a rock 'n' roll rendition of Bill Monroe's "Blue Moon of Kentucky" on the GRAND OLE OPRY. The popularity of rock 'n' roll, seemingly a threat to old-style country music, actually bolsters interest in what is coming to be known as bluegrass music, attracting fans of traditional music who are alienated by the country music industry's increasingly modern sound.

Don Reno and Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith record "Feudin' Banjos," later known as "Duelin' Banjos."

Flatt & Scruggs, now part of the GRAND OLE OPRY, add dobro player Josh Graves, who remains with the Foggy Mountain Boys until the group's break-up in 1969. The dobro, a resophonic slide guitar that grew out of the Hawaiian steel guitar tradition (generally played on the performer's lap, and fingered with a small piece of steel), is subsequently added to the traditional bluegrass instrumental lineup.

The word "bluegrass" appears for the first time as a description of a musical style in Ralph Rinzler's liner notes to the Folkways record AMERICAN BANJO SCRUGGS STYLE. The Country Gentlemen, one of the first urban bands to play in the bluegrass style, is formed in Washington, D.C.

The Osbourne Brothers -- Bobby, who had played with Jimmy Martin, and Sonny, who had played with Bill Monroe -- score a hit with "Once More." In New York City, the New Lost City Ramblers -- Mike Seeger, John Cohen, and Tom Paley -- revive old-time string band songs of the 1920s, '30s, and '40s.

Mike Seeger's brochure notes to the Folkways record MOUNTAIN MUSIC BLUEGRASS STYLE represent the first detailed description of bluegrass music. The first Newport Folk Festival features the Stanley Brothers, Earl Scruggs, and the New Lost City Ramblers, signifying the boom of an urban folk revival.

Jim and Jesse McReynolds, known onstage as Jim & Jesse, a traditional brothers duet from Virginia who have appeared on radio stations around the Midwest and Southeast since the 1940s, perform on the GRAND OLE OPRY. Three years later they join the OPRY cast.

THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES premieres on CBS accompanied by the theme song "The Ballad of Jed Clampett," performed by Flatt & Scruggs, who make several cameo appearances on the show. In 1963, it becomes the first bluegrass song to hit #1 on the country charts.

John Cohen (of the New Lost City Ramblers) makes a documentary about coal mining in Kentucky and banjo picker Roscoe Holcomb called THAT HIGH LONESOME SOUND, an expression that has come to be associated with Bill Monroe, in part because the film features footage of a Blue Grass Boys performance.

Carlton Haney stages the original Roanoke Bluegrass Festival, the first of its kind. For the remainder of the decade and, particularly in the early 1970s, bluegrass festivals across the country are tremendously important in expanding the music's audience, and function as a reincarnation of the traveling tent shows that were once an integral part of country music.

The magazine BLUEGRASS UNLIMITED begins publishing in Washington, D.C. Carter Stanley passes away.

Bill Monroe launches his first festival out of the Brown County Jamboree Barn in Bean Blossom, IN, calling it a "Big Blue Grass Celebration." The festival is an annual event that continues today as the Bill Monroe Memorial Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival.

"Foggy Mountain Breakdown" by Flatt & Scruggs appears in Arthur Penn's film BONNIE AND CLYDE.

Flatt & Scruggs break up. Lester Flatt continues playing traditional music, while the Earl Scruggs Revue, featuring Scruggs' two sons, integrates rock and other non-country musical forms into its sound.

Bill Monroe is inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame as the "Father of Bluegrass." Rounder Records is founded by music fans Ken Irwin, Bill Nowlin, and Marian Leighton-Levy as an outlet for folk and traditional music styles. Two years later, with a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Rounder releases a series of records chronicling the history of bluegrass.

John Boorman's film DELIVERANCE features a version of Reno and Smith's "Feudin' Banjos" called "Duelin' Banjos." The Newgrass Revival's first record is released. The band's longhaired, hippie appearance and use of electric instruments, as well as elements of jazz and rock music, are an assault on bluegrass convention, reaffirming the already present tension between tradition and evolution in the music of the Country Gentlemen, John Hartford, David Grisman, the Seldom Scene, and other bluegrass performers.

The GRAND OLE OPRY moves from Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville, TN, where it has been staged since 1943, to a multi-million dollar entertainment complex in the suburbs that is part of the Opryland theme park.

J.D. Crowe, a veteran banjo picker who has played with Jimmy Martin, among others, releases J.D. CROWE AND THE NEW SOUTH on Rounder with a new generation of bluegrass prodigies: Ricky Scaggs on mandolin, Tony Rice on guitar, Jerry Douglas on dobro, and Bobbly Sloane on fiddle and bass. The album is considered revolutionary for its tradition-minded renditions of songs by contemporary musicians as different as Gordon Lightfoot and Fats Domino.

Lester Flatt passes away.

The International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) is formed by music industry leaders.

Alison Krauss, who won the Illinois State Fiddle Championship at age 12, releases her first album, TOO LATE TO CRY, on Rounder Records. Her success in the 1980s and 1990s is largely responsible for resurgence in bluegrass popularity. In 1995, her compilation, NOW THAT I'VE FOUND YOU A COLLECTION, goes to #2 on the country charts and hits the top ten on the pop charts.

Bill Monroe passes away.

The enormously (and unexpectedly) successful soundtrack to the Coen brothers' film O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?, featuring Alison Krauss, Ralph Stanley, John Hartford, Norman Blake, Gillian Welch, Emmylou Harris, and others, revives interest in bluegrass and traditional American folk music.