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A Tribute to William Smith Monroe 1911 - 1996

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Bill MonroeSeptember 9, 1996 was a solemn day in the history of bluegrass music. The father of our music, Bill Monroe, who was loved and admired by all, passed on to the heavens to pick with those of his time. Bill created a unique American musical form which has become a standard of American genres. During the days after the great depression, Bill played in small clubs in the steel towns north of his Commonwealth of Kentucky home. Chicago is where the music was born but its roots were deep in the heart of his homeland on the south. The Big Mon, as he was affectionately known, will be missed by the entire world. Bill worked the oil refineries to sustain the family and the hard labor was something he felt would maintain his strength - both physical and spiritual.

Tributes rained in from around the world for this great man. Bill was not only loved by his followers and others in bluegrass but was also loved by artists in many other styles of music. Bill was 84 and just shy of his 85th birthday when the toils of age took him from us. Bill had heart surgery last year and earlier this year, suffered from a stroke which ended his public performances.

Messages flooded my mailbox from everywhere. Estonia, Belgium, Japan, Australia, and of course, the United States. Reader comments via Cybergrass were also overwhelming and kind. They were all appreciated greatly.

Friends of his visited him often in both the hospital and in the care home in Tennessee. Bill, sadly, did not die on his farm but in another place. His friends often wrote or called me to let me know how he was doing and until the last day, the words were always encouraging. Thus, his passing came as a shock and a surprise to us all.

Radio, television, print media and, yes, the Internet all carried tributes to Bill and the joy that he brought the world. There are some additional links at the end of this article bearing tributes on the web from others. Stars such as Emmylou Harris, Marty Stuart, Ricky Skaggs, Jimmy Martin, and scores of others payed tribute and mourned the loss of this unique individual. Bill will be sadly missed by those of us who knew him. Many people wrote to say how much they were going to miss him and yet, they never had the opportunity to meet him or get to know him. They also payed tribute just the same.

WSM, home of the Grand Ole Opry, spent the better part of the past three days on Bill and what he has done for American heritage. Every major news network carried some information on him and his achievements. The newspapers were all paying tribute somewhere between their pages - many on the front page. Yes, this was a very popular individual even if many didn't know him by name. They knew of his achievements. Even the Station Inn honored this great father of bluegrass music as did many other large and small clubs across the country.

After all, a man isn't measured by who he is but rather by what he does and leaves behind. Bill did so much for so many that he will never be forgotten. The big things as an ambassador to Americana or the little things as when he gave quarters to children and others in need. What he gave to the communities in charity. What he gave to the world in his music. What he gave in dedication to the art. Yes, Bill will be hard for anybody to measure up to. His creative spirit is not to be found often and the ability to make it happen during the hardest of times, is a tribute to his spirit. Yes, Bill is a man and a great man. I am honored to have met and known him. I am also honored to have seen him play on many occasions.

Probably Bill's greatest gift was that of love. He brought people together. He played his music from the soul and drenched the souls of others. His love was as widespread as any on Earth. He gave more of himself than Presidents and many others of high stature. He gave this love for his entire life. Bill was active in his music until his stroke but his love continued on even then. Bill allowed others to enjoy his music and the music of other bluegrass and country artists. By doing this, he brought millions of people together so that they could know each other as well. Just another measure of his greatness. How many other people have given so much and asked for so little in return?

How Bill affected so many was brought to light in all the letters and messages from people who reflected upon their experiences with this man. How they met, what they did, and how he impacted their lives forever. All tributes from everyday people, the big music artists, and the fans around the world. Bill created a lifetime of memories for thousands of people whom he caressed the hearts of over the years. This strong but gentle man was true in spirit as he was in his music.

I remember the first time I went to a Bill Monroe concert and there was just no place to park as it was held in a small area of a congested town. The only place to park was directly behind Bill's bus but, if I did that, he couldn't get out. Bill came up and said to go ahead and park there and he'd find me when he had to leave. I graciously accepted his offer. During the intermission, we got the chance to talk for quite a while about the music. This was a real treat for me. After the long show, I bought some albums from him and had him autograph the disk labels. Bill waited as I carefully unwrapped the LPs and removed them from their jackets. Then, I purchased a second set which I could play and the autographed disks remain unplayed to this day.

Since that time, I've had the pleasure to meet him on several other occasions and over the years, he has pretty much remained the same sincere person he's always been to me. Our last meeting was in Owensboro last year (95) and I shall cherish that moment in memory for as long as I live. He was tired from giving autographs at the Gibson booth yet found the time to greet those in the room and give a firm handshake to everybody. He was tired but he kept on going.

I am going to miss his wonderful view on life and his professionalism towards the music. I am going to have to listen to every thing I have from him over and over again without any new material. But, this too shall pass as every time I listen to a Bill Monroe tune, I too will remember him and the times we shared. In this way, he will live on forever in my heart.

Originally posted in 1996 following his passing.

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