September 20, 1996 at 04:00 AM EDT

Bill Monroe dies at age 84

If bluegrass music has a face, it is the stoic, taciturn visage of Bill Monroe. For nearly 60 years he stubbornly clung to the traditions of a music he created and named in honor of his native Kentucky. Monroe, who died of a stroke Sept. 9, just shy of his 85th birthday, was as important to country as Duke Ellington was to jazz. He lived long enough to see rock bands such as the Eagles and the Grateful Dead mimic the instrumental interplay of his Blue Grass Boys, and Elvis Presley and Paul McCartney record his ”Blue Moon of Kentucky.” A man of towering physical strength, he seemed as indestructible as his music — a defiant blend of Scottish fiddle tunes, old-time country, gospel, blues, and jazz, driven by his fierce, soulful mandolin and hair-raising tenor. Born near Rosine, Ky., Monroe hid from strangers as a child, embarrassed by his crossed eyes and shabby clothes. The youngest of eight in a musical family, he chose the mandolin because no one wanted to play it; he was helped by his uncle Pen Vandiver, immortalized in the Monroe standard ”Uncle Pen.” By 1939, after playing professionally with brothers Charlie and Birch, he had developed his dignified, emotional, and unique style — a powerful mandolin technique with a close-chorded rhythm chop and drumlike beat — which ultimately revolutionized country and inspired rockabilly. Monroe always took great pride in his creation. Asked who would carry on after him, he replied: ”There’s bluegrass people all over the world. They’ll never let it die.” Recommended recordings:

The Music of Bill Monroe, From 1936-1994 A four-CD set with an overview of Monroe’s recording career in 98 cuts on four different labels, from the pre-bluegrass sounds of the Monroe Brothers to a 1994 track. A

The Essential Bill Monroe: 1945-49 Covering the Columbia years in 40 cuts on two CDs, this collection finds Monroe with his most famous band, including Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. A

Country Music Hall of Fame Series Sixteen of Monroe’s most famous songs, including original versions of ”New Mule Skinner Blues,” ”Uncle Pen,” ”Walk Softly on This Heart of Mine,” and a faster remake of ”Blue Moon of Kentucky,” inspired by Elvis. A

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