Drawing on the traditional hillbilly music of his Kentucky childhood, Bill Monroe created the high lonesome sound of bluegrass; his accomplished mandolin-playing and haunting high-range voice, backed by fiddle and five-string banjo. The youngest child of eight, Monroe lost both his parents while still a teenager, and, as an adult, was a guarded, extremely private man. He was also a compulsive womanizer, whose longtime affair with the wife of a Tennessee highway patrolman was an open secret in Nashville. As one of the early stars of the Grand Ole Opry he inspired many young stars including Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley (whose first single for Sun Records was Monroe's Blue Moon of Kentucky ). Ironically, the success of rock 'n roll caused Monroe some lean years in the 1950s but by the early 1960s, the folk revival movement had rediscovered him as the Father of Bluegrass and he found a whole new audience which continues today. His accomplishments are ranked with those of other musical giants including Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Charles Ives and Hank Williams. He died in 1996, aged 84.
Richard D. Smith is a journalist whose work has appeared in a number of publications including The New York Times and The Journal of Country Music. He lives in Rocky Hill, New Jersey.