THE BLUEGRASS HALL OF FAME: INDUCTEE BIOGRAPHIES 1991-2014—BY FRED BARTENSTEIN, GARY REID & OTHERS—Holland Brown Books 9780989754415. Hardbound, with photos, 242 pp., $39.95. (IBMM, 207 E. Second St., Owensboro, KY 42303, www.bluegrassmuseum.org.)
It’s hard to imagine, but there will come a time when the name Bill Monroe will sound as remote as Stephen Foster does to us today. Time dances on. And that’s why this book is so important. It is, on one level, a biographical collection of every inductee into the Bluegrass Hall Of Fame from 1991 through 2014. On another level, it’s a timely reminder of the variety and uniqueness of the talents that created this music and business.
Bluegrass is still young. Young, in that young people are attracted to it, and young in that the first generation artists are still within living memory. Many of us got a chance to hear and talk with these folks. Very human stories about them still circulate. But bluegrass is getting older. The music has changed, and if we’re lucky, will continue to change. But we also must remember those artists, promoters, writers, researchers, and executives who created and changed the music in their own time.
This book was the brainchild of Fred Bartenstein who, by the way, should be inducted into the Hall. Fred is a man of many talents, writing and organizing being just two. He also has the vision to see a need and the energy to fill it. Bartenstein and Gary Reid wrote most of the chapters, with support from Martha Adcock, Gabrielle Gray, Neil Rosenberg, and Steve Spence. The biographies are concise, thorough, and generous in the sense of keeping with the laudatory nature of any Hall Of Fame. (You won’t find much in the way of those very human stories here, but that’s for another book.) Well designed, with wonderful photos, I especially liked the marginalia called “Led the way” and “By the way,” which cite the importance and influence of each inductee as well as offering smaller items of interest—such as John Hartford being a cousin of Tennessee Williams.
I said at the outset that this was a timely book. Too much divides us—both fans and professionals—these days. This book is a reminder of what we have in common: a shared history and memories of a time when giants (in all their greatness and flaws) roamed the stages. This book brings the plaques to life and will spark memories and conversation about these wonderful—and very much missed—people. Essential.CVS