Bill Monroe

Stephen Jerkins/WPLN

It's an estate sale for the ages. Stuff belonging to Bill Monroe, the "Father of Bluegrass," is on sale this weekend just outside of Nashville. As the patriarch of a genre and of a passionate musical family, artifacts from his rise to prominence are in high demand.

Now, 20 years after his death, the Monroe family is cleaning out the closets. Some of the relics from Monroe's life have become almost priceless — like his Gibson mandolin, which he played almost exclusively and famously sold for a million dollars. But that's at the Country Music Hall of Fame, not here at the Monroe family studio in Gallatin, Tenn. The place is surrounded by horse pastures, and some old favorites are playing through the speakers.

As Monroe's "high lonesome" sound rings out, shoppers pick through items that are a little more garage-sale-grade. Hannah Fitzpatrick, snagging some deer antlers, says she's not even much of a bluegrass fan. But another customer, John Vaughn, is, and he's already wearing his funky leather jacket. He says it has "energy."

"I paid 200 bucks for it," he adds. "So now all I can do is pray for fall to get here so I can rock it every day."

Others throw down $10 for a mandolin pick with a certificate of authenticity. Monroe's old musician's union card went for $30. The signed portraits from Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard go quickly.

A western Kentucky tourism official says fundraising is continuing toward the construction of a proposed museum dedicated to bluegrass music legend Bill Monroe.

Ohio County Tourism Commission executive director Jody Flener told the Messenger-Inquirer  that the project's goal is to raise $1 million and conduct a groundbreaking next spring.

Although an architect has yet to be hired, Flener says the museum will focus on Monroe, his family and his band, the Bluegrass Boys.

Flener says Ohio County has received $300,000 in state funding for the project.

Monroe died in 1996. Three years later the county spent $250,000 for several Monroe memorabilia items that have been kept in storage.

A museum website was started in April. The website is selling customized bricks for $75 and $250, depending on size.

Lisa Autry

Ohio County is home to Bill Monroe, the man known as Father of Bluegrass music. 

His hometown is preparing to kick off a campaign to raise a half-million dollars to build a museum in his honor.  That’s despite the fact that a much larger International Bluegrass Museum in Owensboro is only 40 miles away.

For more than a decade, a collection of Bill Monroe’s personal items has been sitting in a dusty storage facility.  The location is secret for security reasons.  Locked away are his old gray Cadillac, a plow, furniture, suits, and awards.  Monroe’s last mandolin is stored in a separate, climate-controlled facility. 

Sixteen years ago, Ohio County bought the collection from Monroe’s family.  Jody Flener heads the county’s Tourism Commission and says part of the deal was that the items had to stay in Ohio County.

”The connection is to Ohio County for Bill Monroe," Flener told WKU Public Radio.  "What’s exciting about living in Ohio County is that you still have people who grew up with Bill Monroe and we even have relatives still here."

In December, the county hopes to start fundraising for a 15,000-square-foot museum to house the memorabilia.  It’s planed for the tiny town of Rosine, just a few miles from where the Bluegrass icon was born and buried.  That’s only a half-hour drive from the International Bluegrass Museum in Owensboro – but Flener says it wouldn’t be redundant.

The Kentucky Supreme Court has denied a request to review a case over how the name of legendary bluegrass musician Bill Monroe can be used.

The Messenger-Inquirer reports that means a court of appeals ruling stands. The panel concluded that county officials meant to grant the festival the legal right to use Monroe's name but failed to formalize the agreement in writing before a falling out occurred in 2004.

The battle isn't quite over yet, though.

Jerusalem Ridge Bluegrass Music Foundation of Kentucky Inc. Director Campbell Mercer said the Ohio County Industrial Foundation and Bill Monroe's son, James Monroe, obtained a temporary injunction in Tennessee to prohibit him from using the name.

Mercer says he hopes the Kentucky court rulings will help his case in Tennessee.

Fight Over Bluegrass Music Legend's Name Continues

Feb 17, 2013

A court fight over the use of the name of legendary bluegrass musician Bill Monroe isn't over yet.

The Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer reports the Ohio County Industrial Foundation has filed a petition with the Kentucky Court of Appeals seeking a rehearing on whether a non-profit organization can use Monroe's name to promote the Jerusalem Ridge Bluegrass Music Festival and for tours of the musicians home in Rosine.

The appelas court decision in favor of the nonprofit pranization was a reversal of a lower court decision that found Ohio County held the intellectual property rights to Monroe's name and could stop the festival from using it. The Ohio County Industrial Foundation voted unanimously this month to seek the re-hearing.

Campbell "Doc" Mercer is throwing an annual festival celebrating the life and music of Bill Monroe but without the name of the "Father of Bluegrass Music" to promote it. Mercer, the head of the Jerusalem Ridge Foundation, is locked in a legal fight with Ohio County, Ky., and its industrial foundation about whether he was ever given the legal right to use Monroe's name for commercial purposes.