Saturday, July 2, 2011

Uncle Pen

Pendleton Vandiver, recognize that name? He was Uncle Pen to Bill Monroe, considered the Father of  Bluegrass. His influence in Bill Monroe's life gave the legendary songwriter a bank of memories to draw from and share with the world. Even if country music is not your "cup of tea," Bluegrass is a part of our heritage, brought to the Appalachian mountain region from our Scotch/Irish ancestors. For 50 years Bill Monroe influenced the music industry. His well-known song "Blue Moon of Kentucky" has been covered not only by bluegrass but also rock and country artists like Elvis Presley, Paul McCartney, and Patsy Cline.
James Pendleton Vandiver (1869–1932)
"He was uncle to  musician  Bill Monroe, who immortalized him in a song, Uncle Pen. Monroe used to hear his uncle playing fiddle on the hilltop where he lived, while Monroe put away his mules at night. He later said that Vandiver was "the fellow that I learned how to play from." Vandiver played fiddle at local square dances and social events, his nephew backed him up, playing mandolin. Monroe's parents had both died by the time he was 16, he lived part of the time with his Uncle Pen in his two-room hilltop house in Rosine, Kentucky. Bill Monroe's biographer, Richard D. Smith writes, "Pen gave Bill more: a repertoire of tunes that sank into Bill's aurally trained memory and a sense of rhythm that seeped into his bones. Sometimes Bill played guitar behind his uncle, sometimes the mandolin. On September 13, 1973, a monument in honor of Uncle Pen was unveiled by Monroe at the Rosine Cemetery."
In my family, probably because we have southern roots, when we speak of them we say Uncle Troy, Uncle Burl, Aunt Walsie, Aunt Garla. Even though they are greats or great-greats, they are still Aunt Walsie. It's a way that we teach each generation our connection to where we came from and where we are going.


  1. How interesting! Just a few miles from here, near Bean Blossom, Indiana, is the Bill Monroe Music Center. For years, he held a bluegrass music festival every summer. Sorry to say, I never attended. In our morning paper, it was announced that there will be a weekend Southern Gospel Music event held there next week. I was surprised when your Uncle Pen story included Bill Monroe!

  2. We do the same thing. My mother had older cousins that we referred to as Aunts and Uncles, even though technically, they weren't. We saw it as a sign of respect. (and familiarity)

  3. I so wish I had a "connection"...:)JP

  4. Pendleton Vandiver - now that's a name!

  5. I am from a long line of Scotch-Irish people. Dad could play almost any instrument before he lost his arm. I didn't realize until much later that when they all got together and played, it was Blue Grass I was hearing.

    I have a small collection of old country (not the new artists)music that I love to listen to while on the computer. Some almost bring tears to my eyes remembering.

    I would wake up in the morning to the radio playing Lulu Bell and Scotty in the kitchen while Mom was cooking breakfast.


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