Antedating of "Blue Grass" Music

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Thu Mar 21 00:34:29 UTC 2013

On Mar 20, 2013, at 7:59 PM, Shapiro, Fred wrote:

> The OED's first citation for "blue grass," in the meaning "A type of country music played on acoustic stringed instruments," etc., is dated 1955.  In the Christian Science Monitor, May 29, 1939, page 10 (ProQuest Historical Newspapers), in listings of radio programs, one of the programs on WEEI is listed as "'Bluegrass' music".  It seems odd that such a term would first be found in connection with a Boston radio station.  It is also possible that the term here is referring to some other kind of music emanating from Kentucky.
> The OED quotes a reference to "Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys," dated 1942, in square brackets.  Monroe's group is widely considered to have inspired "blue grass" as the name of this musical genre.  ProQuest Historical Newspapers yields a mention of "the Blue Grass Boys" in the New York Times, Jan. 14, 1940.
I believe Monroe did form his group under the moniker The Blue Grass Boys in 1939 (Monroe on mandolin with guitar, banjo, and bass players--I think the fiddle came later), although I don't know whether this preceded the May 1939 date in the CSM.  That listing and the radio show it refers to do seem odd, even if Boston/Cambridge in more recent times has been hospitable to bluegrass.   I also believe that the generic use of the term "bluegrass (music)", not necessarily referring to Monroe and his group(s), didn't really catch on until the 1950s as the OED cite suggests.  I don't know what Flatt and Scruggs (who had begun with Monroe but branched off by the 40s as The Foggy Mountain Boys, whose name was later parodied as "The Soggy Bottom Boys" in "O Brother Where Art Thou") called their kind of music, or what others called it back then.


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