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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 411


This is the grave of Pendleton Vandiver.

Born in 1869 in Butler County, Kentucky, Vandiver was an old-time fiddler. That wasn’t uncommon. No one made any real money at this, but there wasn’t much to do in the Kentucky hills, or most other rural places for that matter. Music was entertainment. The fiddle was probably the most common instrument in American music at that time. If you were good at it, you could get a little side business at it for the many barn dances around. Vandiver was a pro, knowing that the hundreds of tunes he knew could provide some income for himself. Moreover, at some point, Vandiver had been injured and he needed the money. A lot of the early old-time musicians were blind or otherwise disabled.

But let’s get to the point. The real reason we know about Vandiver is that his nephew was Bill Monroe and he helped raise the boy. Later, after Monroe became a star inventing bluegrass music, a combination of the old-time music Vandiver and others taught him, along with jazz and other influences, he wrote one of his most famous songs about his beloved uncle. That is “Uncle Pen.” Let’s listen to it.

That is just the best. What a classic tune.

Vandiver died in 1932, about 5 years before Bill began his recording career. He is buried in Rosine Cemetery, Rosine, Kentucky. Of course, that is not the original gravestone. Monroe had this put up in 1973. Sorry you can’t really read it very well, but I caught the very last light to get to that rather remote cemetery.

This grave visit was supported by LGM reader contributions. For that, I am very grateful. I was so freaking excited to see this, I can’t even tell you. If you would like this series to visit other old-time musicians, you can donate to support the required expenses here. Fiddlin’ John Carson is in Atlanta and Charlie Poole is in Spray, North Carolina. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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