September 4th Trivia Question

This Contest is Closed
The winner is Steve Margulis

September 4, 2020 TRIVIA QUESTION

Bluegrass music has a somewhat “morbid” reputation because of all the songs about DEATH. Of course Death is just part of Life, and romantic writers and poets have produced uncounted volumes of work about Death. Bluegrass does have roots in Romantic writing, of a sort. Certainly Bluegrass is filled with nostalgia…

Roy Acuff had two huge morbid hits at the same time Bluegrass was being born – “The Precious Jewel” and “Wreck on the Highway”. Bluegrass and country music (Hank Williams for instance) followed that well-trodden pathway. Audiences of the 1940s and 50s seemed to like the morbid numbers. Fred Rose was asked how to write a song for Roy Acuff and he replied “Just imagine yourself out in a graveyard with Roy’s fans!”

Which of the following songs is/are NOT an actual morbid bluegrass “Death song(s)”?

A.   The Little Girl and the Dreadful Snake
B.   The River of Death
C.   Pretty Polly
D.   400 Children Shut Up in a Mine
E.   O Death
F.   Things in Life
G.   Mother’s Not Dead She’s Only Sleeping
H.   Death Came Creeping in My Room
I.   None are fake, all are actual Bluegrass Death songs
J.   F and G
K.   A and B and H


Additional Bowden Comments
The answer “400 Children Shut Up in a Mine” is an old joke that Scottish comedian (and banjoist) Billy Connolly used to include in his act as he told the audience about his earlier career in a “folk” band. He told them they used to do crowd pleasing sing-a-longs such as “400 Children Shut Up in a Mine” which always got a big morbid laugh.

Bill Monroe wrote and recorded “The Little Girl and the Dreadful Snake” after hearing about a little girl that fell in a well and died. He was very soft-hearted about hard luck kids. He and Jimmy Martin sang the fire out of this dreadful composition. Decades later, a bluegrass band was formed to make ONE LP. All-stars, and they named themselves and the record “The Dreadful Snakes” after Bill’s song. Pat Enright, Bela Fleck, Jerry Douglas, Blaine Sprouse, Roland White, etc.

The “River of Death” is another Monroe composition, a Blue Grass Quartet, “led out” by Jimmy Martin. Filled with River Styx imagery.

“Pretty Polly” is a murder song (ol’ Willie at it again) that became one of Ralph Stanley’s signature solos.

“O Death” is an old gospel song that entered bluegrass as a Stanley Brothers duet. Eventually Ralph turned it into the a cappella solo that was featured in the movie “O Brother Where Are Thou.” Won him a Grammy and a huge boost to his career.

“Things in Life,” written and recorded by Don Stover, sounds like it wouldn’t be a death song, but it is, pondering death of loved ones’ (“the fairest love I ever had now sleeps beneath the clay…”) and death of the singer. A GREAT bluegrass song performed at a brisk pace.

“Mother’s Not Dead” was a big song in the 1940s with slightly different versions all recorded within a year by : 1. Charlie Monroe (and Curly Seckler) 2. Bill Monroe (and Lester Flatt), and, 3. Roy Acuff and the Smoky Mt. Boys. The Stanley Brothers, of course, “covered it” and it probably helped inspire Carter to write some of his great songs about his and Ralph’s mother’s imagined passing. (Carter’s mother outlived him by many years.) The song was actually written by an obscure brother duet act. Can’t remember their name right now, they disappeared.

“Death Came Creeping in My Room” was written by fiddling Curly Ray Cline who was a founder of the Lonesome Pine Fiddlers, and who played fiddle for Ralph Stanley for decades. Performed most in bluegrass by the Goins Brothers (survivors of the Lonesome Pine Fiddlers). For such a deadly title, it’s actually a fairly sprightly song.


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