The music of British settlers, and later, African slave gospel and blues, were key in the creation of the unique sound that is bluegrass music. In fact, the banjo is based on the design of an African instrument, possibly brought to the Americas by African slaves. Other influences on Bluegrass include jazz and rag-time.
Bluegrass began as European settlers moved away from established colonies to the backcountry and mountains. These settlers started writing music that described daily life, such as life on the farm or the hardships of living in the rural South. Jimmie Rodgers from Meridian, Mississippi began singing professionally in 1927. He would go on to change the music scene forever mixing the early sounds of country, jazz and folk musics to create a unique and new sound. Bill and Charlie Monroe from rural Kentucky began performing in the early 1930s and began to embrace this sound of Jimmie Rodgers with an added twang of mountain music. The Monroe Brothers disbanded in 1938. Bill Monroe formed The Kentuckians in Little Rock, Arkansas, but the group only lasted for three months. Monroe then left Little Rock for Atlanta, Georgia, to form the first edition of the Blue Grass Boys with singer/guitarist Cleo Davis, fiddler Art Wooten, and bassist Amos Garren. In 1939, Bill Monroe and The Blue Grass Boys played on the Grand Ole Opry in 1939, first establishing the national audience for the sound. It was after WWII in the mid-1940s, though, when war-time rationing ended, that radio could finally bring the unique sound nationwide to private homes. Bluegrass music gets its name from Monroe’s band, which he named for his home state of Kentucky, the Blue Grass State.
Bluegrass’s notable sound is characterized by a number of specific traits, such as its focus on vocals. The vocals take precedence over the instrumental accompaniment, some songs even performed without any instrumental accompaniment at all. The vocals are exemplified by two, three, and even four-part harmonies, with a ‘high lonesome’ lead voice as the focal point. This lead voice is also distinctive for its dissonance with the other harmonies, distinguishing bluegrass from other music styles. The harmonies of the other vocals draw upon the influences of gospel music, string bands, work songs and shouts of Black workers, country music and blues music.
Another important feature of this style is the use of acoustic instruments over electric ones, which often include the mandolin, fiddle, guitar, banjo, and bass guitar. In addition to these traditional instruments, bluegrass music can also be recognized by the style of playing – three finger plucking style (Scruggs style) on the banjo and flatpicking on the guitar.
Similarly, bluegrass music features improvising by each instrument, each of which also takes a turn in playing the melody, much like jazz. Finally, aside from the traditional instruments, the Dobro, accordion, harmonica, piano, autoharp, drums, and drum kit, may also be used. More progressive bands may include electric instruments, instead of the preferred acoustic instruments, as well.
From 1948 to 1969, bluegrass music was introduced to the US public through TV and live performances at schools and universities. Its use in popular media, such as the film Bonnie and Clyde, gave the style a kind of popularity it otherwise might not have attained. Other media influences include The Beverly Hillbillies, Deliverance, and O Brother, Where Art Thou?; this newfound popularity may have led to its garnering of new and younger audiences, including its being played by rock bands.
For generations Bluegrass has entertained humble citizend across Dixie and continues to do so today.
Source>>Bluegrass & Southern culture