To see a revered piece of Monroe's legacy, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville continues to exhibit his beloved Gibson F-5 mandolin. Monroe bought the instrument in a pawn shop in Miami in the 1940s. By bringing banjo player
Yet, well-versed bluegrass fans know that the Gibson F-5 has a rich history of its own. After a dispute with Gibson, reportedly because repairs were taking too long, Monroe scratched off the company name from the mandolin's pearl inlay during the early 1950s. And according to the Gibson website, the instrument had to be completely restored after it "had been smashed to smithereens with a fireplace poker by an irate woman."
At the Bluegrass Hall of Fame in downtown Owensboro, Ky., the original nameplate -- scratches intact -- is part of a special display honoring Monroe's 100th birthday. The artifact is owned by
This week, the museum has booked Earl Scruggs,
Naturally, Monroe was one of the primary inductees to the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) Hall of Honor in 1991, along with Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. Although the IBMA is now based in Nashville, the Hall of Honor remains in Owensboro. In addition, the city's museum of fine arts and botanical garden are both paying homage in unique exhibits.
About 30 miles southeast of Owensboro, you'll find Jerusalem Ridge. One of Monroe's most enduring instrumentals is named for this spot, although locally it's known as the Homeplace. The renovated site is open every day. Just be prepared to drive up the rugged hill.
Fortunately, the blue sign on Highway 62 is easy to spot. Carrying the blue theme even further, this stretch is known as the "Blue Moon of Kentucky Highway," named for one of Monroe's most famous compositions.
A birthday party, complete with cake, will take place at the Homeplace lawn on Tuesday, followed by music from David Parmley & Continental Divide, King's Highway, Blue Lonesome and more. Just down the road, pause in Rosine, Ky. At the main intersection in town, turn at the general store, and the cemetery is about a block away. The likenesses of Monroe and his beloved dog, Stormy, adorn the tombstone. The youngest of eight children, Monroe is buried next to his mother and father. His brother, Birch, rests nearby.
If you happen to pass through on Friday night, you can enjoy live bluegrass at the Rosine Barn Jamboree. Take a moment to enjoy the bronze plaque hanging on the side of the barn -- one of Monroe's final requests for bluegrass fans making the pilgrimage. It's a beautiful opportunity to hear bluegrass music drifting through the open air.
Meanwhile, a four-day event titled Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Hall of Fame & Uncle Pen Days Festival begins on Sept. 21 in Bean Blossom, Ind. The traditional-leaning lineup boasts James Monroe (Bill's only son), Ralph Stanley and Jesse McReynolds, as well as Larry Sparks, James King Band, Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out and the Boxcars, among many others.
Later in the month, the Del McCoury Band will perform a free show on the grounds of the Ryman on Sept. 27. McCoury sang lead in Monroe's Blue Grass Boys in 1963, setting the stage for leading his own band. McCoury, who will join the Bluegrass Hall of Honor this year, will pay tribute to his former boss on a new album, Old Memories: The Songs of Bill Monroe, due on the same day as the Ryman concert.
Of course, Monroe will linger on everyone's mind during the IBMA World of Bluegrass week, held Sept. 27 to Oct. 2 in downtown Nashville. Because Monroe performed at festivals and the Opry well into the 1990s, it will be easy to find some old-timers with stories to share.
If you're planning a road trip to investigate Monroe's life, a few new tribute albums will keep you entertained along the way.
In addition, Rebel Records has compiled With Body and Soul: A Bluegrass Tribute to Bill Monroe and Let the Light Shine Down: A Gospel Tribute to Bill Monroe. The compilations feature the Country Gentlemen, Del McCoury, the Seldom Scene,
Monroe, a Country Music Hall of Fame inductee in 1970, went on to receive countless honors, including the first-ever Grammy given in a bluegrass category. One hundred years after his birth, though, the high, lonesome introduction of bluegrass music remains his greatest achievement.