James Monroe opens Uncle Pen’s cabin

James Monroe at the entrance to Uncle Pen's cabin in Rosine, KYAre there any bluegrass fans who don’t know the story of Uncle Pen?

Bill Monroe’ uncle, James Pendleton Vandiver, has been immortalized in song, one written and first recorded by Monroe in 1950. Uncle Pen was later a hit for Porter Wagoner in 1954, and for Ricky Skaggs in ’84.

It tells the story of the man Monroe claims informed his music, and whose fiddling style influenced the instrumental music he would write over his long career.

Vandiver lived from 1869–1932, and took a teenaged Bill in to his home when his parents passed away about six years apart in the mid-1920s. Pen was Bill’s mother’s brother, and Monroe spoke often about the inspiration he took in accompanying his Uncle Pen, who was a renowned fiddler at the time in western Kentucky. As the chorus of his memorable song tells it:

Uncle Pen played the fiddle lordy how it would ring
You could hear it talk, you could hear it sing.

James Monroe at the entrance to Uncle Pen's cabin in Rosine, KYNow 81 years after his passing, Bill’s son James Monroe is set to dedicate a memorial to his great uncle, a loose replica of Vandiver’s two-room cabin, erected on the spot it had originally stood on the Monroe family property near Rosine. KY. Lacking definitive photos of the structure, this new cabin is meant more as a tribute than an historically-accurate replica, based on James’ memories of his father’s descriptions of the home he shared with his uncle for several years.

The cabin will be officially opened on March 21, and James will perform with his band, The Midnight Ramblers. The dedication is scheduled from noon to 2:00 p.m. tomorrow. It will function as a mini-museum, allowing bluegrass fans to get a glimpse into the home life of a young Bill Monroe, and his legendary Uncle Pen.


More details about the Bill Monroe Homeplace can be found online.

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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.