WUMB June Program Guide

Charlie Monroe

I want to put in a good word for Charlie Monroe. Everyone knows and loves the music of his younger brother, Bill Monroe, a.k.a., the Father of Bluegrass. But I want you to know that Charlie was a formidable musician in his own right, even though his career was not as ground-breaking as Bill’s.
Along with their sister Bertha and fiddling brother Birch, they started playing professionally in the late 1920’s. Times being what they were, the brothers ended up in the mid-west working in the oil refineries. The Monroe Brothers band sprang up around that time. Good ol’ Birch Monroe begged off the sponsorship offered by “Texas Crystals Pharmaceuticals” for a radio show, and so never achieved the fame of either brother. However, Birch did work as a side-man with his brother’s bands from time to time. I got to see Birch playing with Bill at the Cosby-Newport Bluegrass Festival in 1976, which was quite something! But that’s another story.
The Monroe Brothers recorded many sides for Bluebird Records. If you’re lucky you can still find the 2-LP reissue set I cherished as a kid. Here’s what it sounded like: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3tsmcXoxTVs

That’s Charlie with the guitar. But they were both wanting to be in charge, have creative control, sing lead, whatever. You know how brothers can be. So they split up in 1938. Bill had several country bands that we reasonably successful in the early 40’s, with a sound that was nothing like the break-through Bluegrass sound he would develop when he hired the young Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs in 1945. But that, too, is another story. We’re here to talk about brother Charlie.

Unfortunately, Charlie played a bunch of live radio, but didn’t leave much of a recorded legacy between 1939 and 1946. However, this gem which was released on County Records in the 70’s really, really captures the spirit of his band. I play this record plenty on the Dixie Bee Line, on WUMB Saturday nights at 9pm EST.
Here’s the cover:

From left to right, that’s Paul Prince, Lester Flatt (!!), Gladys Flatt (a.k.a., Bobby Jean), Charlie Monroe, Helen Osborne (a.k.a., Katy Hill), Tex Isley, and Birch Monroe from 1944. You can hear this album on YouTube, and I hope you do! Right down to the Man-o-Ree Laxitive Compound commercials (did you know your bowels helped the war effort??) It’s just terrific:

Here’s a look at a mid-career Charlie Monroe band, around 1951. That’s him with the guitar in the middle. From left to right, it’s Ted Mullins, mandolin; Buddy Osborne, steel guitar; Charlie; Slim Martin, fiddle; Joe Medford, banjo; and Wilma Ann Martin, bass.

In later years, Decca Records (Bill’s label) put out this stellar album featuring both Bill and Charlie Monroe! This is great! They must have reconciled in their later years. NOT! While this album contains terrific cuts of each brother, at no point do they join forces to reprise the Monroe Brothers sound.

So that’s all for now, folks! Please join me this month and we’ll listen to some more of Brother Charlie’s music on the Dixie Bee Line, Saturdays from 9pm – Midnite Eastern. Write to me!


~ Jon Gersh, jon.gersh@umb.edu

Here are some more great pictures…

Leave a Reply