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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 267

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This is the grave of Charlie Monroe.

Born in 1903 on the family farm in Rosine, Kentucky, Monroe grew up in a musical family. His uncle Pendleton Vandiver was a well-known fiddler and nearly everyone in the family played multiple instruments. In the mid 20s, he and his family–his younger brother Bill on mandolin, his brother Birch on fiddle, and Charlie on guitar–started a band and had a little success. But then their parents died and Birch and Charlie went to Detroit to work in the factories, a common migration for southern young people, black and white, during these decades. There just wasn’t much money to be made on the farm. Bill eventually followed them up and the band reformed.

In 1932, the band received some attention and they began touring with Tom Owens, a regional prominent early country musician. In 1934, the Texas Crystals pharmaceutical company offered the Monroe Brothers a sponsored radio show. Birch dropped out at this time and it became just Charlie and Bill. They had a lot of success and became based out of Charlotte, North Carolina. They kept up the show until 1938 and became popular in the Carolinas. But by 1938, Bill was unhappy that Charlie was dominating the singing. A tremendously competitive individual, Bill wanted equal share, at least. They broke up over this. Bill went on to invent bluegrass music, a combination of the old-time music the Monroe Brothers played with jazz, blues, and mainstream country. He would become famous, although his irascible personality actually delayed that for several years as more pleasant people who started under Monroe such as Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs were the first bluegrass musicians to really break through. Anyway, Charlie continued with his musical career, with mixed success, until 1957. He toured and recorded a lot, but was obviously several steps of creativity behind Bill. But his band The Kentucky Pardners was a popular touring ban throughout the South in the 1940s, and included stints by various famed musicians from Flatt to the great Ira Louvin.

In 1957, Monroe gave up the music business. He really never made much money and had to go back into industrial labor in Indiana after his first wife died, who is also buried here. He occasionally played in his later years and got picked up by the folk festival circuit by the late 1960s. He played relatively often until 1974, when he was diagnosed with cancer. He died the following year.

Let’s listen to some Charlie Monroe tracks.

Charlie Monroe is buried in Rosine Cemetery, Rosine, Kentucky.

This grave visit was supported by LGM contributors and I am quite grateful. If you would like this series to visit the graves of some of the other great musicians mentioned in this post, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Ira Louvin is buried in Nashville and Lester Flatt in Sparta, Tennessee. In fact, the next major grave trip I have planned is to Nashville in the late fall, so imagine the glory I could have detailing our great country musicians, not to mention terrible politicians. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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