Why Is Kentucky Called the Bluegrass State?

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  • Written By: Bonnie Doss-Knight
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 21 August 2014
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Kentucky originally was called the Bluegrass State because it was known for its bluegrass pastures. This nickname led to a type of music that was played by the state's immigrant Appalachian musicians becoming known as bluegrass music, a genre that also is strongly associated with Kentucky and has been declared the official state music. In addition, many places, companies and organizations in Kentucky have the word "bluegrass" in their name, including a large part of northern Kentucky that is known as the Bluegrass Region.

Although bluegrass is native to Europe and Asia, it grows more commonly in Kentucky than in other parts of the United States. Bluegrass is believed to have been brought to the U.S. by early settlers, possibly because bluegrass seeds are able to withstand harsh weather conditions. This type of grass grows especially well in Kentucky's limestone soil, and the Bluegrass State's pastures feed many of the thoroughbred racehorses that are raised in the area. Some people are surprised to learn that blades of bluegrass are not blue, they're green. Its name comes from its purple-blue buds that provide fields of bluegrass with a bluish tint in the spring.


The Bluegrass State is divided into five regions. The northernmost region is known as the Bluegrass Region, and it is further divided into two parts, called the Inner Bluegrass and the Outer Bluegrass. The Outer Bluegrass consists mainly of steep hills and is not conducive for horse farms. Hundreds of thoroughbred horse farms are located within the Inner Bluegrass.

Bluegrass music is an acoustical genre that is derived from traditional Scottish, Irish and English music. In bluegrass music, musicians playing instruments such as the guitar, banjo, fiddle, base and Appalachian dulcimer take turns improvising on the melody while the other musicians provide backing and rhythm. The commercial pioneer of this type of music was Bill Monroe, who hailed from the Bluegrass State. His band, known as Bill Monroe & His Blue Grass Boys, was popular for several decades starting in the 1930s. This style of music continues to be celebrated at annual festivals throughout Kentucky.


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