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Professor Jaeger's History of Bluegrass   
history_bruce.jpg (3140 bytes) Copyright 1985 by Bruce Jaeger. All rights reserved.  

Published in Inside Bluegrass in 1985, month unknown


No matter how much he digs and studies and ponders and theorizes, there are some historical facts man will never know for certain, until the lucky day, perhaps, when someone invents a time machine. Who invented the wheel? Who first discovered the use of fire? Who developed the first language? And lastly, but by far not the least importantly, who created Bluegrass Music? One thing is known for certain, however. Bluegrass has always been a "minority" music. Not in the strictly racial sense, but in a more popular sense; all through recorded and prerecorded history, there has always been some kind of music more popular than bluegrass. And, to make the musical historian's job even more difficult, during host of Bluegrass's history there have been seemingly malevolent forces working against it, as suggested, for example, by the destruction of all hieroglyphical mentions of Bluegrass in 18th Dynasty Egypt by Thutmose III, the smashing of all existing Bluegrass instruments (during the Roman sack of Carthage, 3rd Punic War, 146B.C.), and the burning of all Bluegrass sheet music during the Spanish Inquisition.

Yet, bits and fragments of Bluegrass history have survived, enough to make possible this overview of the music. Please bear in mind that the work of many scholars was drawn upon to compose this History, and that a number of the conclusions 1 have drawn are in direct conflict with those laid down by my predecessors. History is a living, changing subject: Like the playing of the "fiddle" (a Bluegrass instrument), the more we learn, the more we realize we do not know.

Bruce Jaeger, February, 1985


Evidence of Bluegrass music in prehistoric times is scattered and inconclusive. Pottery shards found in the Chalcolithic strata of a Swiss lake village are decorated with figurative drawings of a large, blue-painted dog. And excavations of a Mesolithic cave site in southern France have unearthed flint chips that bear a startling resemblance to mandolin picks, although mainstream archaeologists consider them "broken spear points." More data is needed before any definitive conclusions can be reached concerning the existence of Bluegrass in proto and prehistoric times.


The next evidence we can find of any identifiable Bluegrass culture is in Ancient Egypt. And, while future archaeologists may discover other clues and artifacts, the earliest we can place Bluegrass in Egypt is in the 18th Dynasty, approximately 1500 B.C.

One of the most powerful (and, for all practical purposes, one of the few) Bluegrass patrons in the entire history of Egypt was Queen Hatshepsut, the daughter of Thutmose I and Ahmose. Initially a woman of no real political power, she had nothing at all to do with Bluegrass until the death of her half brother/husband Thutmose II. (The Egyptians had a somewhat different view of family life than we do). Then she became regent during the minority of the young Thutmose III, and shortly thereafter (1501 B.C.) made herself absolute ruler.

Queen Hatshepsut was fascinated with the musical abilities and inventions of one Munrokhept, a talented slave of old Thutmose I. Munrokhept performed in Hatshepsut's court from the beginning of her reign until her death in 1479 B.C. He had many other household slaves playing with him at different times; some would quit periodically to go back to work on the pyramids, or go to play at other king's courts. (Most notable of these were the two minstrels Fhlattokohep and Skhrugfzu, who left to bring Bluegrass to the Hittites.)

Upon Hatshepsut's death the jealous Thutmose III, who had been bilked out of 22 years of his reign by the Queen, angrily ordered all mention of her and of her favorite Bluegrass music chiseled off every monument and obelisk in Egypt. (In a later time, Nikita Krushchev would attempt to do the same thing for Joe Stalin.) This erasure of history by Thutmose III accounts entirely for the complete lack of any mention of Bluegrass music in any standard Egyptian historical text. Egyptian Bluegrass, dependent as it was upon Hatshepsut's patronage, became essentially extinct.

Nothing is known for sure about the remainder of Munrokhept's life. One of the mummies in Hatshepsut's burial chamber, however, was found by the French archaeologist Marquis de Lomax to be clutching an unidentified stringed instrument with the scroll knocked off the headpiece. Additionally, the hieroglyph at the top was completely scratched out by a sharp object.

Hieroglyphics found on the wall of the tomb of Rhebus.
Approximate translation: "Munrokhept play 'Blue Moon of Khufu' many time until Queen make stop"



Despite the apocryphal tale about God telling Adam and Eve they could do anything they wanted in the Garden of Eden, but "DON'T PLAY ANY BANJOS!" (and the Devil's subsequent tempting of Eve with same), there is no direct, obvious mention of Bluegrass in any Hebrew writings, including the collection if sacred writings the Christian world refers to as the "Old Testament." (To a Jewish person, of course, it would more properly be called the "Current Testament." This is something that probably won't be resolved until the end of the world, when Vishnu welcomes us all to Valhalla.)

Some scholars have noted that certain Biblical stories seem to be patterned after ancient Bluegrass songs; note the old Bluegrass line, "Take your shoes off, Moses, You're on Holy Ground." From this might have come the inspiration for the Exodus, the story of the Hebrews leaving Egypt. (The actual, historical reason for the Exodus is more likely related to Thutmose III's persecution of Bluegrass. The Bluegrass-loving Hebrews were led out of the country and into the "Promised Land" by the widely respected band leader, Monroses.)

Another possible indication of Bluegrass's influence in Hebrew culture is the old song "Walking in Jerusalem." The ancient city of Jerusalem was almost certainly named after this song. Doubters should note that all of the other contemporary villages had jaw-busting names like "Achzib," "Bet Yerah," "EnGedi," and "Bet She-Arim." The name "Jerusalem" was obviously from a different source.

(Worthy of mention is the fact that archaeologists are still searching the city for the promontory named after "Jerusalem Ridge".

But, if Bluegrass had such an influence on the early Hebrews in early Israel, why is there no direct mention of it in the Bible? In explanation we can only offer theories. The most credible of these is that King David, who wasn't allowed to play his harp in a Bluegrass band, jealously stamped out Bluegrass in all of Israel, and, like Thutmose III chiseling Bluegrass off all the obelisks, had the books of the Bible re-edited to eliminate any reference to Bluegrass. Hopefully, future finds like the Dead Sea Scrolls will throw more light onto the mystery.


NEXT INSTALLMENT:                 (Mercifully, there were no further installments)

Pericles and his "Golden Age Boys": Bluegrass in Ancient Greece
Nero and his Hot Fiddle: Bluegrass in the Roman Empire

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