Bluegrass with Michael
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Genre and Artist Overview
Bluegrass is a style of American roots music that dates back to the 1700s, when English, Scottish, and Welsh immigrants settled in Appalachia, and brought with them ballads (unaccompanied narrative songs) and reels (dance tunes accompanied by a fiddle). These came together with African American traditions—first the banjo, which came from west Africa, then elements of blues, and later jazz and gospel. Bluegrass is an acoustic country style rather than an urban one. Bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe described it as: “Scottish bagpipes and ole-time fiddlin’. It’s Methodist and Holiness and Baptist. It’s blues and jazz, and it has a high lonesome sound.” The classic bluegrass band includes banjo, fiddle (violin), guitar, mandolin, and bass. As in jazz, the instrumentalists take turns playing the melody and improvising around it as the rest of the band accompanies them.
Michael was born in Atlanta, Georgia, and says he grew up “in the grand tradition of staying up late, singing real loud, and playing music with his parents.” Although he’s since moved north, he says that the humid South remains in his heart and sinus cavities.
Introduce your students to Michael with this “Meet Michael” video. Visit the video index to watch all the videos for Michael and the other Program Six artists.
Resources for Teachers
The following resources provide background information about the musical genre and culture. Some are intended to be shared with students; others are for teachers who may want to explore further on their own.
- Visit michaeldaves.com to hear more of Michael’s music.
- Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys: Live Recordings 1956–1969: Off the Record Volume 1, Smithsonian Folkways
- Bill Monroe and Doc Watson: Live Duet Recordings 1963–1980: Off the Record Volume 2, Smithsonian Folkways
- Bluegrass: A History, Neil V. Rosenberg
- Can’t You Hear Me Callin’: The Life of Bill Monroe, Father of Bluegrass, Richard Smith
- Hidden in the Mix: The African American Presence in Country Music, edited by Diane Pecknold
- African Banjo Echoes in Appalachia: A Study of Folk Traditions, Cecelia Conway
- Homegrown Music: Discovering Bluegrass, Stephanie P. Ledgin
- Béla Fleck: Throw Down Your Heart, Sascha Paladino
- High Lonesome: The Story of Bluegrass Music, Rachel Liebling
- Bill Monroe: Father of Bluegrass Music, Steve Gebhardt