From Bill Monroe to Dolly Parton, bluegrass holds its own
WorldBeat heads for the hills to hear the sounds of bluegrass
November 12, 1999
Web posted at: 4:24 p.m. EST (2124 GMT)
A CNN WorldBeat Report
LOUISVILLE, Kentucky (CNN) -- Alison Krauss mixes it with folk; Dolly Parton used it to return to her roots with her latest album, "The Grass Is Blue." But attendees of the recent International Bluegrass Music Awards in Louisville's Palace Theater don't need these high-profile country singers to tell them that bluegrass, a country-music offshoot that traces its origins to before World War II, is cooler than ever.
Bluegrass has become one of the fastest-growing forms of music in the United States. And with bluegrass bands hailing from as far afield as Japan and the Czech Republic, it's now becoming a truly international art form.
Veterans of the music form credit Bill Monroe with starting bluegrass music in Kentucky in the late 1930s. "Back in them days, it wasn't called bluegrass," says Ralph Stanley, who formed the Stanley Brothers with older brother Carter back in 1946. "It was just called mountain music, mountain country music."
Monroe started at the Grand Ole Opry in 1939, adding Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs to his band in the mid-'40s. It wasn't until then that bluegrass became acknowledged as such, and gained a foothold across the United States.
"His fiery banjo playing, it set a fire in Nashville at the Grand Ole Opry, and it's just unbelievable," says Ricky Skaggs, whose 1997 "Bluegrass Rules!" album is considered a key album in the genre.
"I have some old tapes from radio shows when they were playing on the Opry and it sounded like The Beatles on the 'Ed Sullivan Show.' People were screaming at the top of their voice -- it was unreal!"
Bluegrass veterans Skaggs, Stanley, Eddie Adcock and Ron McCoury recently gathered to talk about the evolution of the form. As McCoury notes, bluegrass has been remarkably influential: Even the Beatles "picked up harmonies through bluegrass."