Bluegrass music is considered a form of American roots music with its own roots in the English, Irish and Scottish traditional music of immigrants from the British Isles (particularly the Scots-Irish immigrants of Appalachia), as well as the music of rural African-Americans, jazz, and blues. Like jazz, bluegrass is played with each melody instrument switching off, playing the melody in turn while the others revert to backing; this is in contrast to old-time music, in which all instruments play the melody together or one instrument carried the lead throughout while the others provide accompaniment.
Bluegrass as a style developed during the mid 1940s. Because of war rationing, recording was limited during this time, and the best we can say is that bluegrass was not played before World War II, and it was being played after. As with any musical genre, no one person can claim to have “invented” it. Rather, bluegrass is an amalgam of old-time music, blues, ragtime and jazz. Nevertheless, bluegrass’s beginnings can be traced to one band. Today Bill Monroe is referred to as the “founding father” of bluegrass music; the bluegrass style was named for his band, the Blue Grass Boys, formed in 1939. The 1945 addition of banjo player Earl Scruggs, who played with a three-finger roll now known as “Scruggs style,” is pointed to as the key moment in the development of this genre. Monroe’s 1945-48 band, which featured banjo player Earl Scruggs, singer/guitarist Lester Flatt, fiddler Chubby Wise and bassist Howard Watts, aka “Cedric Rainwater,” created the definitive sound and instrumental configuration that remains a model to this day.
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