Andy's Notes - An Intermittent Article Series

Defining Bluegrass

by Andy May

Western Massachusetts and the Pioneer Valley area had a great music scene in the 70’s. When I moved there to attend UMass, Amherst, I found some fellows who loved bluegrass music as much as I did. While I was still a student we started jamming regularly and performing a few local gigs. John Bollard, one of these picking buddies, was a fine banjo player who also happened to be a linguist working for Webster’s Dictionary. One day, he told me that he had been assigned the job of writing the first definition of the word “bluegrass” (as in bluegrass music) for the Webster dictionary.

I could hardly believe it  – how cool was that?!! 

Here’s how he defined it:

[from the Blue Grass Boys, performing group, from Bluegrass state, nickname of Kentucky] :  country music played on unamplified stringed instruments (as banjo, fiddle, guitar, and mandolin) and characterized by free improvisation and close usually high-pitched harmony

Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Cooler yet, John’s wording is still the current definition of bluegrass music on

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