Bluegrass is a genre of music that was very popular from the second half of the nineteenth century onwards in the mining and rural society in various states of the southeastern United States.
It is also known as Hillbilly music and has its roots in traditional music from England, Ireland and Scotland, brought by immigrants from the British Isles to the region of Appalachia, but also had influences from African American musical styles, mainly jazz and blues.
In 1940 Bill Monroe, a mandolin player from Kentucky, formed a band which had influences from many musical styles, though primarily it used the basic rhythm of the blues and the vocal harmonies of the Protestant Church.
Monroe created an innovative technique using three fingers of his right hand and metal finger-picks to play at an astonishing speed.
Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys were highly successful and gave birth to a new wave of music which was imitated by many other musicians.
Bluegrass music is performed by bands whose main instruments are guitar, banjo, mandolin, violin and bass, to which is added occasionally Dobro. The vocals are harmonized in two or three parts with a very high distinctive voice which sounds torn and captivating and is known as a “high lonesome sound.”
The lyrics tell simple stories, often deeply tragic, others talk about love, usually seen from the feelings of another, and some have religious devotion… but all have a sense of authenticity in common.
Bluegrass was popular until the 1960’s until Rock and Roll replaced it as the dominant sound.
In the mid-’80s several important changes occurred in the style of bluegrass. Double Bass was replaced by the Electric Bass and use of the Rhythm Guitar became less frequent. Some bands such as Lonesome River Band developed a style known as the “wall of sound”.
In recent years, Bluegrass has made a strong comeback being performed at Folk Music Festivals the whole world over.
Popular Bluegrass bands/musicians are Alison Krauss, Bill Monroe, Earl Scruggs and The Ditty Bops.