Bill Monroe is credited with the creation of Bluegrass Music, and that distinction has earned him inductions into both the Country Music and Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame, as well as the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Hall of Honor. Though the singer passed away in September 1996, his legacy still casts a huge shadow on the Country and Bluegrass worlds. Now, over two decades since his passing, fans of the “Father of Bluegrass Music” have a unique opportunity to own the rights to the name and likeness of the musical pioneer.
Music industry veteran Tony Conway, who booked the performer for years, says the sale is multi-faceted. “The sale is in six blocks,” he told Billboard. “The only heir to the estate, James Monroe, felt that it was time for him to retire and to stop playing music professionally. He thought the best thing to do was to put this in other peoples’ hands who could be creative and do the work, and spend the time on it.”
Conway said there is a number in mind for each piece of the estate, but there are other factors at play than just selling to the largest bidder. “With the bid process, we do have some restrictions,” he asserts. “There are some agreements that go along with it that basically incorporates that into the deal.” He admits that as a longtime friend, there are mixed emotions. “For me, it’s a conflicted feeling. I’ve been working with Monroe and his family for 30 years. I think that obviously the most amazing and powerful part of this is have ownership of Bill Monroe’s name, likeness, image, and rights — as well as of The Bluegrass Boys, which is a worldwide brand. Obviously, he’s the father of Bluegrass Music, and is credited with creating that genre. As he would say himself, it’s a powerful thing.”
The sale also includes many of Monroe’s final recordings from the early to mid 1990s, including over three hundred recordings from his Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival in Indiana. “There are also two studio albums that were never released, with one of them being an instrumental. The Bean Blossom recordings were done in 1994. I think that’s another big opportunity, to be able to have those recordings and release them in a number of ways. This is basically unheard Bill Monroe music.”
Another individual piece that is for sale is Monroe’s prized violin, which he had in his possession for close to 70 years. “We don’t know how he got it exactly, but we’re assuming because he came into possession with it when he left Kentucky in 1929, we assume it was given to him by his Uncle Pen, but we don’t know. He had it with him for his whole career…. It’s a pretty amazing piece. We also have the tuning keys from his original mandolin. He would change the tuning keys about every two years. We also have part of a fret from his original mandolin. And, that will be incorporated in with the fiddle.”
The six parts of the sale are as follows:
• The Bill Monroe name and likeness
• Monroe’s merchandise company and website
• Monroe’s personal items – including thousands of checks he signed and contracts — including many to his former employees, such as Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs — credit cards, his last will and testament, neckties and suits
• His prized fiddle
• Uncle Pen’s Cabin, located in Rosine, Kentucky. The home has special significance in the history of Bluegrass Music, given it’s where young Bill went to live with his uncle after the passing of both parents in 1927. As the only child among his siblings who went to live with Pendleton Vandiver, Monroe received an education about the music of the area from his uncle through the historic fiddle tunes he would learn — a musical legend that he would eventually take to stages around the world. Bill left the home in 1929, but the music he was exposed to would take hold. Monroe crafted the iconic “Uncle Pen” as a tribute.
Over the years, the song was covered by artists such as Hank Williams, Jr., Buck Owens, and Ricky Skaggs — who made it the first Bluegrass song to top the charts in over two decades in 1984. “The home has been completely rebuilt, James bought the original cabin, had it dismantled, and rebuilt with the same logs and same wood – within walking distance of the monument at the cemetery in Rosine,” offered Conway.
• Finally, the live recordings from Bean Blossom and the two unreleased studio albums.
Buyers can make offers on one or all of the layers of the sale, and Conway says that offers have been placed from around the world. “Fortunately, there are a lot of people who love Bill Monroe, and want to continue his legacy. We’ve had quite a number of people inquire. We’re going to try to have this all done by July 1.”
Conway added that while he has found instances of such sales being held with Hollywood stars before, this is new territory for an estate of a musician. “I tried to find some examples of something like this. There have been estates that have sold certain rights, but nothing like this — down to the house, recordings, or personal items.”
This article originally appeared on Billboard.