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Bluegrass

Bluegrass

HISTORY

PERFORMANCE

GENRE FEATURES

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bluegrass is a highly stylized genre of American popular country music, ostensibly created in the late 1930s and early 1940s by the mandolinist Bill Monroe (19111996). Indeed, Monroe is the widely accepted Father of Bluegrass. However, the genre has diverse antecedents in the Scots-Irish fiddle tradition, old-time country music, country blues, small-group jazz performance, stereotyped barndance radio entertainment, and vaudeville. Monroe channeled and refined these influences into a tightly arranged, high-energy, radio-performance genre later termed blue-grass, which mediated between the rural and the newly urban on WSM radios widely broadcast Grand Ole Opry, a program that also functioned as a savvy popular representation of supposed country ways during a time of great urban relocation.

Today, due to its acoustic instrumentation, its highly foregrounded adherence to its own aesthetic tenets, and its widespread performance by passionate amateur musicians, bluegrass functions as a marker of musical authenticity in the world of country music more generally. This perceived authenticity is as much a part of bluegrasss identity as any of its sonic features.

Following a dip in popularity due to the emergence of rock and roll in the 1950s, bluegrass has experienced periodic revivals, functioning as a badge of country legitimacy at points of overcommercialization or political uncertainty. It has thus become associated, on one hand, with radical populist movements (such as the so-called folk scare of the McCarthy era), as well as with proud nationalism, traditionalism, and social conservatism, on the other.

HISTORY

Bluegrass is inextricably linked to three groups of musicians living and performing in the Appalachian piedmont during the late 1930s. These groups played a common style that became an extremely popular genre in the 1940s and early 1950s. Mandolinist and singer Bill Monroe and his older brother had played so-called hillbilly music on the guitar and mandolin, touring professionally as the Monroe Brothers during the 1930s. After they parted ways, Bill Monroe founded a new band, the Blue Grass Boys, named after his home state of Kentucky (the Blue Grass State), and the band soon held a regular position on Nashvilles Grand Old Opry, one of country musics most acclaimed radio shows. The classic sound of what came to be known as bluegrass crystallized in 1946 as the bands repertoire and core group of musicians stabilized. This group included Earl Scruggs, who immediately popularized an impressive new technique for the five-string banjo, in which chords are arpeggiated and ornamented extremely rapidly with three picking fingers (rather than strummed or played more melodically). The appearance of this new banjo style on the radio helped generate a wave of popular enthusiasm for the Blue Grass Boys across the Southeast.

Citing fatigue, Scruggs and vocalist/guitarist Lester Flatt (1914-1979) left the band at the height of its popularity, and soon formed their own group, the Foggy Mountain Boys, the second of the classic bluegrass triumvirate. Trading on Scruggss vaunted virtuosity and Flatts smooth vocal style and engaging stage presence, Flatt and Scruggs quickly achieved widespread success. The third of these widely acknowledged innovators was the Stanley Brothers, Ralph (b. 1927) and Carter (19251966), who initially imitated the sound of Monroes Blue Grass Boys, whom they had heard on the radio and on records. However, the Stanley Brothers soon began to emphasize older musical traditions, such as balladry, thus cementing history and nostalgia as integral to the blue-grass aesthetic.

Despite its origins as a new sort of sophisticated country music (the Blue Grass Boys all wore unconventionally formal attire), and its dependence on modern mass media for its dissemination and popularity, the core of bluegrasss identity has come to rely on concepts of nostalgic authenticity, linked to ostensibly bygone ideals of purity, straightforwardness, and honesty. These tropes of purity are expressed lyrically, through themes that emphasize labor, family, nostalgia, pathos, regret, and grim prospects, and musically through the use of string instruments that do not require modern electricity (though the sounds of these instruments are commonly electrically amplified). This instrumentation typically includes the five-string banjo, mandolin, fiddle (violin), steel-string acoustic guitar, upright (double) bass, and often the resophonic guitar (Dobro), with the occasional pragmatic addition of light percussion or electric bass.

PERFORMANCE

Professional bluegrass performance is mostly executed on summer tours, supported by an informal network of locally organized festivals. These festivals specialize in bluegrass, though other closely related genres may be represented. Local groups are typically given earlier slots on festival schedules, and participating professional and amateur musicians commonly congregate and play before and after performances. Casual parking-lot picking on festival grounds is an important aspect of these events, as amateur performance is a highly valued aspect of bluegrass music. Amateur performance is also widely sustained through informally organized (but highly regular) jam sessions and pickin parties.

GENRE FEATURES

Bluegrass has proven to be a remarkably robust genre, maintaining a generic coherence over many decades. It is notable for its foregrounded adherence to its own genre rules, commonly stated among practitioners thus: If it dont have X, it aint bluegrass. However, it exists both as a generic template that can be applied to other kinds of music (a successful series known as Pickin On markets bluegrass-style versions of the music of nonbluegrass artists, such as Pickin on Dylan, Pickin on R.E.M.), as well as a flexible paradigm that can absorb other musical parameters without losing its identity (for example, Pete Wernicks 2002 recording Live Five interpolates clarinet and vibraphone).

Emerging from vernacular musical traditions, the bulk of the bluegrass repertoire has typically been written in keys that allow for playing in open or first positions, utilizing open strings for accompanying drones and full, ringing chords or double (or triple) stops. However, fast tempi and tight arrangements have bred a sense of virtuosic pride into bluegrass performers, and many pieces written in formerly awkward keys are now commonplace.

Instrumentals are commonly written as tunes to be repeated with different musicians playing the melody in sequence. Typical repeatable forms are AABB or AABA. Vocal pieces are commonly in verse/chorus A(A)BABA form, though strophic ballads, true to bluegrasss nostalgic bent, are also common (AA A). As noted above, however, the pride of bluegrass musicians in their technical abilities has allowed for many idiosyncratic song forms.

SEE ALSO Music; Music, Psychology of

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Goldsmith, Thomas, ed. 2004. The Bluegrass Reader. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Rosenberg, Neil. 2005. Bluegrass: A History. Rev. ed. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Jonathan T. King

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"Bluegrass." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. 12 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Bluegrass." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Retrieved December 12, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/bluegrass

bluegrass

bluegrass, any species of the large and widely distributed genus Poa, chiefly range and pasture grasses of economic importance in temperate and cool regions. In general, bluegrasses are perennial with fine-leaved foliage that is bluish green in some species. One of the best known and most important is the sod-forming Kentucky bluegrass, or June grass (P. pratensis), believed to have been introduced from the Old World and now widely naturalized in the United States; Kentucky is known as the Bluegrass State because this species is so prevalent there. Others are rough bluegrass (P. trivialis), used for shady lawns; Sandberg bluegrass (P. secunda), the most common native species; and big bluegrass (P. ampla), an important range grass. Bluegrass is classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Liliopsida, order Cyperales, family Gramineae.

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"bluegrass." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 12 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"bluegrass." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved December 12, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/bluegrass

bluegrass

blue·grass / ˈbloōˌgras/ • n. 1. (also Kentucky bluegrass) a bluish-green grass that was introduced into North America from northern Europe. It is widely grown for fodder, esp. in Kentucky and Virginia. 2. a kind of country music influenced by jazz and blues and characterized by virtuosic playing of banjos and guitars and high-pitched vocals.

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"bluegrass." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. 12 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"bluegrass." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved December 12, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/bluegrass-0

bluegrass

bluegrass Type of grass that grows in temperate and Arctic regions and is used extensively for food by grazing animals. Family Poaceae/Gramineae; genus Poa.

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"bluegrass." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 12 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"bluegrass." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved December 12, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/bluegrass

bluegrass

bluegrassarse, baas, brass, carse, class, coup de grâce, farce, glass, grass, Grasse, impasse, Kars, kick-ass, kvass, Laplace, Maas, Madras, outclass, pass, sparse, stained glass, surpass, upper class, volte-face •badass • lardass • sandglass •eyeglass, spyglass •wine glass • tooth glass • subclass •hourglass •fibreglass (US fiberglass) • underclass •masterclass • weather glass • bypass •underpass • wheatgrass • ryegrass •knotgrass • sawgrass • bluegrass •goosegrass • smart-arse

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"bluegrass." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. 12 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"bluegrass." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved December 12, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/bluegrass