There is a discussion about whether bluegrass music, a kind of music promoted and developed by Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys band from 1950s, is “authentic” folk music. According to the research I did, by the time bluegrass music had been labeled as “folk”, the hallmarks of the style (e.g. acoustic instruments, fast tempo and high tenor vocals) included many of the features that had originally made up by Monroe himself, as an “original invention”, not a subgenre of “folk” music or folk revival. However, bluegrass was adopted by the revivalists later as a type of “folk” music since revivalists subjected bluegrass to ideals of authenticity that have.
When Steve Rathe interviewed Bill Monroe in Dec. 10, 1973, Bill Monroe first told audience about “what bluegrass music is and what elements have gone into its composition”.
From this interview, I can see that Bill Monroe saw his music as a new production, a synthesis of genres he admired, and a way of making profits. However, at this time bluegrass music had not been ”absorbed” by folk revivalist and the best way of gaining this kind of acceptance was to characterize bluegrass as ”folk”. I assumed that it won’t be hard to see bluegrass as folk music, since it featuring much of the traditional repertoire that interested the revivalists.
For example, from the interview Bill Monroe also mentioned his reproduction of Mule Skinner Blues, which completely fit in his definition of bluegrass. I was disappointed of not being able to find an online score of this song, but I can still recognize some characteristics he mentioned in the recording.
The song uses the instrumentation of bass, fiddle, mandolin, guitar, banjo. The rhythm, especially the syncopation featured a combination of blues songs and early 20th-century pop song, with fast-paced instrumental breakdowns. After a short entrance, Bill starts with his high-pitched, “lonesome” vocal line with four-parts harmony; and he shows his use of the folk tune “the little mule” in the second stanza. Also, he separates song verses and choruses with virtuosic instrumental soloing.
However, since bluegrass had its origins as a commercial country music in which artists performed on the Grand Ole Opry and recorded for major labels, the music couldn’t hold up as an unchanging tradition that was anti-commercial and “from the mass”. As far as I understand, putting bluegrass in folk genre was an imagined construction and lack of grounding support. Asserting membership in a genre can thus be a form of cultural affirmation, a process that Allan Moore has identified as “second person” arises when a performer succeeds in conveying the impression to the listener that the listener’s experience of life is validated.
I would love to end with what Charles Keil said about folk music: