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Moment of Indiana History

Bill Monroe

Every June, a tiny hamlet in the rolling hills in Southern Indiana attracts pickers and grinners from around the country. The Bill Monroe Memorial Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival is the genre’s premier event, and was recognized in 2001 as a Local Legacy, meriting a permanent exhibition in the Library of Congress. The festival’s namesake, Bill Monroe, is widely acknowledged as the “father of bluegrass,” a traditional folk style the musician brought out in the 1940s with his band, The Blue Grass Boys.

A native Kentuckian, Monroe first played mandolin in a family act that rose to prominence performing live on Indiana radio stations. In 1939, Monroe became a regular on the Grand Ole Opry, and the following year, made his first record with RCA/Victor. Monroe’s collaboration with banjo player Earl Scruggs and singer/guitarist Lester Flatt in the mid-40’s yielded the sound that defined the genre: virtuosic instrumentation, lightning-fast tempos, and sophisticated vocal harmonies. The legacy of that period includes the likes of Blue Moon of Kentucky , made famous years later by Elvis Presley.

Traveling through Indiana in 1951, Monroe acquired the property that had for years been the site of the Brown County Jamboree. The land at the junction of Routes 45 and 135 in Bean Blossom played host to the occasional barn concert until 1967, when a resurgence of interest in bluegrass music convinced Monroe to inaugurate the weeklong outdoor festival there. The annual event has been a showcase for the newest interpreters of the genre along with the veterans; Ralph Stanley, another member of the golden age of bluegrass, has performed at Bean Blossom since its inception.

After Monroe passed away in 1996, Indiana General Assembly designated the road that leads to Bean Blossom the “ Bill Monroe Memorial Highway.” The Bean Blossom Jamboree Foundation has been formed to ensure that the festivals continue at the historic location.

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