Program Notes

Blue Moon of Kentucky

By Bill Monroe
Arranged by Teddy Abrams

Often referred to as the “father of bluegrass music,” Bill Monroe was born in Rosine, Kentucky, to James Buchanan Monroe—possibly a descendant of President James Monroe—and Melissa Vandever Monroe. Music filled the farming home of the parents and their eight children. Bill's father was an expert in a local dance called the Kentucky Backstep, and Melissa played the accordion, harmonica, and fiddle. Melissa's brother and Bill's uncle, Pendleton Venderver, was a well-known local fiddler who taught Bill mandolin and guitar.

After Melissa and Bill died within a year of each other, Bill was raised by “Uncle Pen,” who often played fiddle at local gatherings while Bill played guitar. When he was 16, Bill joined his brothers Birch and Charlie in a musical group in Hammond, Indiana. The group continued to evolve, and after Birch left in 1934, Bill and Charlie styled themselves as the Monroe Brothers. While they continued to attract attention, their offstage relationship deteriorated. When they disbanded in 1938, Charlie Monroe created the Kentucky Pardners. Bill formed the Blue Grass Boys, joining the Grand Ole Opry the following year.

Just after Bill Monroe turned 36, his song “Blue Moon of Kentucky” was released on the Columbia Records label on September 23, 1947. Described as a bluegrass waltz, it was Monroe’s biggest hit and ultimately became the official bluegrass song of Kentucky. Many artists have since recorded “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” ranging from Elvis Presley—who chose it as the flip side of “That's All Right”—to Patsy Cline and Paul McCartney. In 2002, “Blue Moon of Kentucky” was selected as one of 50 recordings in the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress.

Musical America’s 2022 Conductor of the Year, Teddy Abrams just won his first GRAMMY Award with the Louisville Orchestra, where he serves as music director. Abrams is committed to engaging with the public in new ways, as evidenced by this arrangement of “Blue Moon of Kentucky.” As Abrams explains,

There are multiple reasons for emphasizing this… One of them is as simple as bluegrass and old—time music basically coming from Kentucky—certainly, bluegrass with its history going back to Bill Monroe, but even just the Americana and old-time styles within American history that have a tremendous intersection with Kentucky history. It’s important to remind ourselves that this is the cultural heritage we are living right now. So anytime we can put that style of music on the stage and celebrate it so the orchestra can participate in it equally is something that is really special. It changes, perhaps, somebody’s idea of what an orchestra is.

Program notes by © Jennifer More 2024