Bill Emerson to get Washington Monument Award

Bill EmersonThe DC Bluegrass Union is a strong and growing organization dedicated to promoting bluegrass music in the Washington, DC area, which includes the heavily populated Northern Virginia and Southern Maryland regions. They are hosting their first festival on March 27 at Langley High School in McLean, VA.

They hope to see this festival become a larger, annual event that will help restore the prominence that The District and its environs once enjoyed in bluegrass lore. After all, it was from this area that Bluegrass Unlimited, The Country Gentlemen, Seldom Scene and The Johnson Mountain Boys emerged. Not to mention bluegrass radio on WAMU, which has grown now into the 24/7 online station, Bluegrass Country.

In addition to performances by Mountain Heart, Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper and a number of other fine acts, the DC Bluegrass Festival will present their first Washington Monument Award to Bill Emerson, a DC native whose impact on the 5 string banjo and bluegrass music can scarcely be overstated. According to DCBU, this award celebrates Washington, DC-area musicians who have been instrumental in shaping the direction of bluegrass music nationwide.

Emerson has been at the cusp of several important events in bluegrass history. He was a founding member of The Country Gentlemen, recorded the very first version of Fox On The Run in a grassy style, blazed the trail for bringing banjo into the US Navy Band program, and deposited a substantial legacy of banjo standards into the repertoire. His time with Jimmy Martin & The Sunny Mountain Boys helped define the Jimmy Martin sound, and saw the debut of Theme Time, a banjo tune played at jams and in parking lots to this day.

Stelling Banjo Works created a signature banjo for Bill in the mid-1990s and this Red Fox model remains a staple in their line. Emerson’s banjo albums, Gold Plated Banjo and Home Of The Red Fox are essential listening for students of bluegrass banjo and, after a period of semi-retirement, he is back with his own band, Bill Emerson & Sweet Dixie and a new CD, Southern, on Rural Rhythm.

Though accustomed to receiving awards for his accomplishments in our music, Bill tells us that this one in his hometown is special.

“The Washington Monument Award is truly the honor of a lifetime for me. It has been my good fortune to be a part of many successful Washington bands. I take pride in the fact that I grew up in this area which has long been considered the Bluegrass Capitol of America. I would like to thank all those who have encouraged and inspired me during my 57 year career in Bluegrass Music.”

Well deserved. Kudos to a banjo legend!

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.