Author: Daniel, Bert

Gospel According to Monroe

Bluegrass music is special. We all know that. It is distinct from other forms of music but at the same time, it is a unique blending of many of those other forms of music. Blues, Old Time, Country and Gospel music had to exist before Bluegrass could ever hit the air waves. The creators of Bluegrass had to have a starting point and the starting point was the music they liked to play and listen to. Our California Bluegrass Association is not just about Bluegrass music. Old Time and Gospel are important enough to also be mentioned in the CBA mission statement, because the life blood of all of this music comes from the same well. As Bluegrass continues to evolve, it incorporates new musical influences too. But the "true vine" will always start with the musical currents that made Bluegrass happen in the first place.

Most people agree that Bill Monroe did more to assimilate the music we call Bluegrass than any other musician. He was certainly influenced by a lot of musical styles. His Uncle Pen played Old Time Fiddle. He heard Arnold Schultz's blues guitar playing. But Bill's big break in the music business came from singing Gospel Music with his brother Charlie. Their What Would You Give in Exchange? sold so well in the South that they continued to record version after version (kind of like they do now in the movie industry with sequels).

Over his long career, Bill Monroe performed countless Gospel tunes. I scanned through my iTunes Bill Monroe file recently and discovered that fully twenty percent of the tunes I had from Bill were religious. He recorded traditional tunes like Angels Rock Me to Sleep, I Am a Pilgrim, Farther Along, Working on a Building and Walking in Jerusalem. He recorded Albert Brumley's I'll Meet You in the Morning, Charles Moody's Drifting Too Far From the Shore and Hank Williams's I Saw the Light.

And he wrote a number of true Gospel classics. I did a quick search of Bill's BMI copyright file and found that fully an eighth of his compositions were Gospel tunes. Some of those he wrote himself and others he didn't, but simply copyrighted his own version.

Obviously, Gospel music was very important to Bill Monroe. How else could he create classics like these?

I hear a voice calling
It must be our Lord (it must be our Lord)
It's Coming from heaven on high
I hear a voice calling
I've gained a reward (I've gained a reward)
To a land where we never shall die

(A Voice From on High)

Oh the River of Death lies just before me
Can I find a place where I can cross
Or will I be in sin forever
Oh Lord don't let my soul be lost

(River of Death)

Oh, my brother take this warning
Don't let old Satan hold your hand
You'll be lost in sin forever
You'll never reach the promised land

(The Old Crossroads)

Oh, I'm gonna shine like stars in the morning (in the bright morning)
Many mansions will be mine (will ever be mine)
When I enter the gates of heaven (glory hallelujah)
I'm gonna shine, hallelujah. I'm gonna shine

(Shine Hallelujah Shine)

Remember the cross on which Jesus died
Follow in His footsteps each day
He shed His blood for you and He shed His blood for me
Never cast that cross aside

(Remember the Cross)

Mansion for me, a mansion for me
Built by my Lord upon Calvary
But my little hut, I'll just let it be
For Jesus is building a mansion for me

(Mansions for Me)

Oh, I want the Lord to protect my soul
To lead me on to the heaven's shore
My life down here will soon be o'er
And I want the Lord to protect my soul

(Lord Protect My Soul)

Those are just a few of my favorites from the father of Bluegrass. We live in a secular society these days but these songs still resonate with every Bluegrass fan no matter what their philosophical persuasion. Bluegrass just wouldn't be Bluegrass without those tight Gospel harmonies in the vocals. Bill knew that and we are all fortunate to have the legacy of some great Gospel music at the core of the Bluegrass music we all enjoy today.

Posted:  8/15/2013

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