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World of Bluegrass fest coming to Raleigh, 9/30-10/4: Digging up North Carolina’s Bluegrass Roots

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EarlScruggs, San Francisco 2005, by Volker Neumann on Flickr. Used under license CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Earl Scruggs, San Francisco 2005, by Volker Neumann on Flickr. Used under license CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

In a few weeks Raleigh will host the International Bluegrass Music Association’s “Wide Open World of Bluegrass” festival on September 30-October 4.  With the event just around the corner, I’m inspired to go digging once again into NCpedia to share the collection and North Carolina’s contribution to this ever-evolving, deeply rooted, and uniquely American art form.

The origins of the name “Bluegrass” are often associated with the legendary mandolin player Bill Monroe, native Kentuckian who named his band the “Blue Grass Boys” for his home state in the late 1930s.  The term “bluegrass”, however, appears not to have been applied to the developing form until well into the 1940s or 1950s. The roots of the genre itself are old and wide, originating from a deep and complex mix:  the folk music and dance forms of Appalachia brought to North America by European immigrants beginning in the 17th century (especially from the British Isles); traditional music brought by African slaves and handed down into the African American traditions of gospel and blues; and particularly in the innovative, front and center use of the banjo which came to colonial America with African slaves.

North Carolina’s own Earl Scruggs is credited with developing Bluegrass’s emphasis on the banjo played in a unique style.  Born in Shelby in Cleveland County, Scruggs utilized a three-finger roll or crawl style that helps give Bluegrass its bright sound and drives its forward momentum and energy.  Scruggs played with Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys for a time, then formed his own band the Foggy Mountain Boys, and later teamed up as a duo with Foggy Mountain’s guitarist Lester Flatt.  For a time Flatt and Scruggs called Raleigh home.

And if you’d like to listen to some Flatt and Scruggs from the archives, visit Archive.org for a sampling — https://archive.org/search.php?query=flatt%20%26%20scruggs.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll feature more on North Carolina’s Bluegrass legends.  In the meantime, visit NCpedia to learn more about Bluegrass and Earl Scruggs, and dust off your dancin’ shoes for the festival.

Earl Scruggs on NCpedia

Bluegrass Music on NCpedia

— Kelly Agan, Government & Heritage Library

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