New Bill Monroe book

Bill Monroe & FriendsSeptember is very significant in the life of Bill Monroe, inasmuch as it is the month when he was born (September 13, 1911), and and the one in which he passed away (September 9, 1996).

Recently, I learned of a new book about Bill Monroe that was published yesterday, Bill Monroe & Friends, written by Javonda (Charlene) Smith, one of Monroe’s closest friends during some of his later years. How appropriate that she has chosen September for its release.

Inside the life of Bill Monroe, as the book is sub-titled, is a collection of black and white photographs, taken from various sources, including the author’s own collection, and from Denise Painter and Scott Farnum, predominantly. The author provides extended captions with background information.

Naturally, given the sources, the pictures, for the most part, have never been published before. Some of them are very intimate. There are pictures taken around the farm, working and tending to the animals, and inside Monroe’s cabin in Goodlettsville, Tennessee. Several were taken at Monroe’s birthday party in September 1993, celebrated with around 250 guests. A small number show Monroe with son James and grandson Jimbo together during Christmas 1992.

Many pictures show Monroe on various stages, primarily at the Bull Pin Lounge in Nashville and at Bean Blossom. Others show the author with Bill Monroe and friends from inside the music business, Monroe with some of his friends from inside and outside the music business. Elsewhere, there are individual photographs depicting some of Monroe’s fellow musicians.

As the author indicates below, she makes ceramic goods and some of these items are shown in the book, displayed by proud recipients Roy Acuff, Jimmy Martin and Monroe himself.

Javonda Smith told me about how she met Bill Monroe and became a friend and assistant

“I meet Bill in Chatham, Alabama, at a bluegrass show; he walked right up to the table and started talking to me. I sold ceramics; it was his son James birthday and he bought him a ashtray. We talked some at that show, We got to know each other at other shows through the south and over an year or two became real friends. He learned that I was the only child of a farm family so I knew a lot about animals. I even interned in high school under our local vet, so I was a lot of help with the stock. When I decided to move to Nashville, Bill was glad. He was always looking for someone to help with the farm, because he was away so much . That is how it started, but over time his daughter moved out and she had to have someone who could help her with all the meds. So I moved out to the farm.

After she died, Bill had got use to having me take care of everything at the farm, so I stayed on until February of 1994. I had to come back to Mobile to care for a new grandson, who was real sick for almost a year.

I was planning to go back to Nashville when Bill went into Hospital. I did go in April before he passed in September.

He had asked me to write the book a long time ago because he knew I would not let his fans down by telling bad stuff, and I have done him proud. I self published because so many of the his friends are passing away that I wanted it done before anymore were gone. The book is a good look at him out of the spotlight without saying anything bad. One thing my Daddy always said was, ‘If you are going to say something about someone say something good or don’t say anything’, that is how I wrote this book.

I am sure someone with more schooling could have done better, but I feel I did him proud and in the end that is enough for me.”

The book provides a very interesting pictorial insight into Bill Monroe’s life during some of his last 10 years. It is undoubtedly the work of a fan of Bill Monroe’s music, but it is the product of someone who has been part of Monroe’s inner circle for a while and thus it isn’t an ordinary fan’s eye view of the Father of Bluegrass music. It is a very sincere tribute to her friend. Bill Monroe was certainly a very important 20th century musician, but he was an ordinary man also and this book shows that.

The book is being sold through and is listed on Ebay. If you would like a signed copy, contact the author by email.

Published by Infinity – ISBN 0-7414-4936-6

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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.