His speech addressed two main themes: that the period when bluegrass music emerged was a time of uncertainly in the music business, and that many parallels could be drawn between the development of bebop jazz and bluegrass music in the 1940s and ’50s.
An ASCAP strike in 1941 meant that radio and TV were prohibited from using most compositions and the composers were not being paid royalties. An AFM strike in 1942-43 meant that instrumental musicians were largely out of work. The jukebox was seen as a disruptive technology that might well destroy the market for live performance. Some estimates are that as many as half the working musicians quit. Big bands which had been ascendant took a body blow and never fully recovered.
Out of the rubble of this period the vocalists (who were not covered by the AFM strike by the way) got the upper hand on the bandleaders and have ruled popular music ever since‚ÄîBing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee and Nat King Cole sold an unprecedented number of records in the immediate post-war period.
Be-bop, with its radical harmonic and rhythmic complexity emerged from the work of Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Thelonius Monk and others who had been creating this innovative new sound in New York City under the cloud cover of the recording ban.
At almost the same moment, Bill Monroe added Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs to his Blue Grass Boys, juiced up the tempos, tightened up the strings and let fly. And a new genre in American music was born.
You can read the address in its entirety online.
Brown also spoke with us just after delivering this speech on September 29, and the video of that interview is posted below. He condenses the content of his longer address, and discusses what Berklee has been doing with bluegrass music of late.