Are Bluegrass and Appalachia Synonymous?

Bluegrass and the Appalachian region have always had a strong connection to one another, however the question raised when discussing the two is this: Are bluegrass music and Appalachia synonymous? It is widely concluded that bluegrass music began with Bill Monroe who was born in Rosine, Kentucky. But wait! Rosine, Kentucky isn’t Appalachia! This might be true, however, it is in my opinion that while there is a lot of bluegrass music played and rooted in the Appalachian region, the music is not linked to the region necessarily by being solely played there. I think that what connects bluegrass music to Appalachia is not only the physical region, but the concepts and identity as well.
Just like in other genres of music, many people can connect to a certain song or genre. For example, someone who listens to country music songs about farming, trucks, fishing and hunting, and beer may not directly relate to these subjects, however they can relate to the emotion that is emitted from the music. The same goes for bluegrass music. While much of this type of music is written about coal mines, lost love, mountains, family/community, and other subjects pertaining to Appalachia, there are musicians and listeners across the country who relate to this genre; even across the world! There are bluegrass music festivals all over in places such as California and bluegrass styles appreciated all the way in China; for example, Abigail Washburn.

this video is of Abigail Washburn, showing how bluegrass music style can be appreciated all over the world.

Although bluegrass music is made and appreciated all over the world, its strongest ties reside in the Appalachian community. I think this is because of the importance of identity. Bluegrass music strongly identifies with the scene of Appalachia; the people, the lifestyle, etc. The music creates an identity of a culture that is associated with the Appalachian region.

Who is Buell Kazee?

     In the 1920s, folk music had made its introduction and was on the rise in the Appalachian region of the United States. Buell Kazee, being born in Burton Fork, Kentucky in 1900 was bound to become apart of this scene as a result of the strong presence of music in this region. He grew up with not only the musical influence of his town and family, but also his church. Buell began pickin’ the banjo at the age of five in his church and later went on to study English, Greek, and Latin.

     Buell was taught traditional folk music, which he later looked to contemporize while still maintaining the history and importance that tradition plays in this music. He was asked to record songs for Brunswick in 1927 in New York. His “high lonesome” mountain sound appealed to the new infatuation many had with bluegrass/folk music.

     A major influence in his music was religion. As a teenager, Buell prepared for the clergy. In songs such as My Christian Friends, Bread of Heaven, and Eternity, there is a strong presence of Christian influence that shaped his identity as both a musician and minister. He put his music aside in the 1930s to focus on his ministry in Kentucky.

     As folk music once again began to boom in the late 1960s, Buell returned to the music scene with a performance at the Newport Folk Festival. He continued singing, playing, and preaching until his death in 1976.