What is Bluegrass Music?

Kathy Hawkins

Bluegrass music is a musical form that incorporates elements of country, folk, jazz, and blues, and it is usually played on acoustic stringed instruments. Though it is influenced by Scottish and Irish folk music, it is a distinctly American form. The name "bluegrass" comes from the band name, the Blue Grass Boys, whose singer, Bill Monroe, is often considered the founder of this musical genre.

Many country music artists have recorded bluegrass albums.
Many country music artists have recorded bluegrass albums.

Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys became popular in the 1940s. Their group featured instruments such as the banjo, the mandolin, and two fiddles. In 1954, Elvis Presley recorded a cover of their "Blue Moon of Kentucky." The group was a fixture of the music scene for many years, with 150 changing musicians over the decades.

Bluegrass bands and concerts can be found in every state in America.
Bluegrass bands and concerts can be found in every state in America.

Perhaps the most mainstream outlet for bluegrass music was the Coen Brother's film, O Brother Where Art Thou?, released in 2000. The film, which starred George Clooney, featured the actor and his prison friends as a band called the Soggy Bottom Boys. The movie's award-winning soundtrack featured bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley, along with other musicians like Gillian Welch.

In recent years, several modern country music artists have recorded bluegrass albums. These artists include Ricky Skaggs, Dolly Parton, and Allison Krauss, a female country singer who has won 20 Grammy Awards, more than any other female musician in history.

For bluegrass music fans, there are many summer festivals held annually throughout the United States, including Colorado's Telluride Bluegrass Festival, which draws mainstream country artists like Emmylou Harris and rock bands like Guster and Counting Crows; the Oklahoma International Bluegrass Festival, and the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival in Ancramdale, New York.

In recent years, particularly since the release of O Brother Where Art Thou?, bluegrass music has increased significantly in popularity and become a major presence in American musical culture. Today, bluegrass bands and concerts can be found in every state in America.

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Discussion Comments


@ Grumpy Guppy : I was interested by the origination of the banjo based upon your comment. I learned from my grandfather, who is a classic bluegrass musician. In 1620 Gourds with strings were discovered being played in Africa. In the 1840's they were urban instruments, used widely.

I love the feeling I get when listening to bluegrass music. I especially love the sound of the banjo picking. Does anyone have any good suggestions that include musicians or bands that feature banjo bluegrass styling?


I have heard that the roots of bluegrass music started with the people who were migrating to America in the early 1600’s. It is said that slaves from Africa brought the design idea for the banjo which is used in bluegrass.

When the early Jamestown settlers started spreading out into Tennessee, Virginia, the Carolinas, and Kentucky, they started writing songs about day-to-day life experiences. These songs often reflected life in the hills and on the farm and used to be called mountain music. When the phonograph was invented and radio was started, people all over the United States got to hear this popular Southern music.

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