Bill Monroe for Sale

These four words, somewhat extreme in black and white, have been met with gasps of alarm and incredulity, and much sadness among Bill Monroe’s many admirers. The response is understandable given the sudden attempt to dispose of his name and likeness through his estate.

Locally (in and around Rosine, KY), there’s an understanding that it’s a financial decision; among the attendees at the Rosine Festival some were disgusted at the news, feeling this is the last effort to squeeze more money from Bill Monroe’s good name and the disposal of some very personal items; there were feelings of sorrow, perhaps for the same reason.  

There was relief expressed by Jody Flener, on behalf of the Bill Monroe Museum, that they can continue to use the name “Bill Monroe.”

Nevertheless, the announcement recently (Monday, June 5, 2017) sets out the reality, but hides the strings that are attached.

The Press Release, on behalf of Mr Tony Conway, President/CEO, The Bill Monroe Estate, c/o Conway Entertainment Group, begins ….

Fans of the “Father of Bluegrass Music” have a unique opportunity to own the rights to the name and likeness to Bill Monroe. Regarded as the man who started the format, Monroe joined the WSM Grand Ole Opry in 1939, and was a member for almost six decades – until his passing in September 1996. One of the few members of both the Country Music Hall of Fame and The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Monroe’s musical legacy included legendary stints on Columbia Records and MCA / Decca, with whom he was associated for forty years. Monroe cast a shadow over music by influencing a wide variety of musical artists.

In what seems like an everything-must-go situation, some of the particulars include …….

  • Bill Monroe’s name, image and likeness rights
  • Uncle Pen’s Cabin, where Bill lived with his uncle from 1927–1929 after his parents had died, and valued recently in the order of $550,000
  • The Bill Monroe website
  • The rights to the name “the Blue Grass Boys”
  • Monroe’s last will and testament
  • Monroe’s personal record collection and over 250 live recordings from his Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival
  • A fiddle, with Monroe’s initials inscribed inside
  • Remnants of Monroe’s famous Gibson 1923 Lloyd Loar, damaged in 1985
  • Some personal effects, such as social security card, ATM card, business documents and various items of apparel.

Bluegrass Today has contacted Mr Conway seeking clarification on a number of points but at the time of posting we have not received a reply.

However, a number of answers were obtained by Craig Havighurst for WMOT Roots Radio 89.5FM. In a telephone interview he was told …  

…… potential buyers will be screened and will have to agree to “certain standards to continue the promotion and legacy of Bill Monroe.”

“One of my hard jobs is to qualify the buyers,” said Conway. “And also because of the fees – (what) the price would be – you’re talking about somebody that has to have a serious love of bluegrass music and of Bill Monroe – and somebody that will treat this with respect and continue his legacy.”

Conway did not go into detail about what those limits would be, suggesting that they would be tailored to the specific buyer.

As for the timing and motivation of the sale, Conway said James Monroe, Bill’s only son and heir, is not able on his own to manage his father’s property, intellectual or otherwise.  

“And it’s just at the point where he’s realized that he’s an operation of one and that he doesn’t know necessarily certain things that could be done with the licensing of the name. He wants to retire from the music industry and performing. And that’s the real reason,” Conway said.

Conway said there are six lots of items, each of which is only offered as a whole.

Other questions were raised about potential liability for entities using Monroe’s name and likeness today, such as a new Bill Monroe Museum in Rosine, KY, which broke ground last month. A new statue of Bill Monroe was just unveiled at the Ryman Auditorium on Tuesday. And Monroe’s likeness is institutionalized on the walls at bluegrass music venues such as the Station Inn in Nashville. Conway said they shouldn’t worry.

“We have monitored all those items and location and basically when you acquire the rights to his name and likeness that is from the date of purchase forward,” said Conway. “We’ve taken a lot of stuff down that is not authorized. But I’d say that 90% of what’s out there is going to stay out there and won’t have anything to do with the new ownership.”

Conway and the estate have calculated valuations for the blocks of property in consultation with appraisers. But those will only be shared with qualified buyers under the cloak of non-disclosure agreements.

The Press Release concludes ….

It goes without saying that this is going to be a private opportunity of historic proportions, and there will be interest from buyers around the world. Interested parties should contact Tony Conway, Conway Entertainment Group, the exclusive agent for the Bill Monroe Estate, at 615-724-1818 for more information.

Further details for Tony Conway are as follows …..

President/CEO, The Bill Monroe Estate
c/o Conway Entertainment Group
1516 Broadway #500
Nashville, TN 37203
Tel: 615-724-1818

Feelings such as that of sadness, and comments like “there goes James again” were evident among early attendees at the 51st Annual Bill Monroe Bean Blossom Bluegrass Music Festival, occurring this week in Indiana.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.