I grew up in a musical family. I majored in music during college and played professionally for many years. But, I was a classical musician and my knowledge of country, rock and roll and pop music was very limited.
In 2005, Clay Aiken introduced me to another style of music. In a special Christmas gift to his Grandfather, Clay performed “Beautiful Star of Bethlehem,” a bluegrass song. It was a poignant moment and I loved the entire performance. However, I wanted to know…….what, exactly, is bluegrass music.
Bluegrass music is a part of country music and is pure American music. Bluegrass was inspired by the music of immigrants from Ireland and the United Kingdom. It also has some African-American inspiration with a touch of jazz and blues.
Bluegrass relies mostly on acoustic stringed instruments. The fiddle, five string banjo, acoustic guitar, mandolin and the upright bass are traditional instruments in bluegrass music. Sometimes, the resonator guitar is added.
Traditional elements are important. The musicians play folk songs with simple traditional chord progressions. A distinguishing characteristic of bluegrass is vocal harmony featuring two, three, or four parts.
Bluegrass, as a style, developed during the mid-1940s some time after World War II. It wasn’t called bluegrass back then. It was just called old time mountain hillbilly music. One of the most popular hillbilly musicians was Bill Monroe and since he was from Kentucky, the bluegrass state, the music was named bluegrass.
I doubt if there was a dry eye in the concert hall when Clay sang for his grandfather. This one-time performance was a gift from the heart to Clay’s Papa.
We are lucky that Aflack was at the concert that night and able to tape the performance. This beautiful song is not only a tribute to Bluegrass music, but a special performance filled with love.