Charlie Monroe Biography

4 July 1903, on a farm near Rosine, Ohio County, Kentucky, USA, d. 27 September 1975. Charlie was the elder brother of Bill Monroe who, after the death of his parents, moved to Detroit with fiddle-playing brother Birch Monroe. Here they worked for a time in the motor industry, before moving to work in the oil refineries at Whiting and East Chicago, Indiana. In 1929, they were joined by brother Bill and during the Depression, the three began to play at local venues; eventually Bill and Charlie worked professionally together as the Monroe Brothers.

In 1938, they decided to pursue their own careers. At the time of the split, they had a contract with RCA - Victor Records, for whom they had recorded 60 songs; Charlie, who had always taken the lead vocals (though Bill had written many of their songs), kept this contract. Throughout the 40s, he toured and recorded for RCA-Victor, and at times his band, the Kentucky Pardners, which became one of North Carolina’s most popular hillbilly bands, included notable musicians such as guitarist Lester Flatt and mandolin players Red Rector, Ira Louvin (Louvin Brothers) and Curly Sechler. He differed from his brother in that his band played a mixture of country and bluegrass, and Charlie, a highly respected guitarist, frequently used an electric guitar. He made many fine recordings, and although he never achieved a chart hit, Monroe is remembered for his versions of numbers such as ‘Down In The Willow Garden’ (an old folk song) and his own compositions ‘Rubber Neck Blues’, ‘It’s Only A Phonograph Record’ and ‘Who’s Calling You Sweetheart Tonight?’. He joined Decca Records around 1950, and although they made some concert appearances together, further recordings with brother Bill never materialized.

In the early 50s, tired of the touring, he broke up his band and semi-retired to his Kentucky farm. In 1957, he supposedly retired to manage a coalmine and yard near Rosine, but made some special appearances, and during the early 60s, recorded two albums on the Rem label. His wife became ill with cancer, and to meet the medical expenses, Monroe left Kentucky and worked in Indiana for a lift company until his wife died. He remarried in 1969 when he moved to Tennessee, and in 1972, he was persuaded to appear with Jimmy Martin at a Gettysburg bluegrass festival, which led him to make some further appearances at similar events. He relocated to Reidsville, North Carolina, and in late 1974, he, too, was diagnosed as suffering from cancer. He made his last public performance in his old home area of Rosine, Kentucky, around early August, and died at his home in Reidsville in September 1975, but is buried in the Monroe family plot on Jerusalem Ridge, Rosine, Kentucky. Although his work was not as important as that of brother Bill, he nevertheless made a significant contribution to the formation of what is now known as bluegrass music.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.