Earl Scruggs, born in North Carolina on January 6, 1924, taught himself the five-string banjo at the age of four and developed his trademark three-finger picking style before he reached his teens. At age 15, Scruggs was playing with a band that performed on a local radio station in Knoxville, Tennessee, and by 1944, he had joined Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys, where he met his future partner, guitarist Lester Flatt. Scruggs played with Monroe’s band until January 1948.
Although the genre was yet to be named, the addition of Scruggs to Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys provided the crowning moment in the definition of bluegrass. Scruggs astounded everyone with an extraordinary banjo style that allowed him to roll out a rapid barrage of notes that nevertheless sounded out the melody as clearly as the fiddle. What is now known as “Scruggs style” banjo playing became the critical component of Bill Monroe’s distinctive sound that would eventually be called bluegrass. In a 2012 interview, Scruggs described his love of the banjo saying, “It produces the sound that my ear’s looking for. Maybe I’ve just gotten used to it, but I like the sound that I get out of [the] banjo. I feel at home with it when I take it out of the case and start–you know, when you start with another instrument, they all have their feel, and playing the same instrument, you know what it’s going to feel like when you take it out of the case and start to perform.”
Read on in Encyclopedia of music in the 20th century (2013, RILM Music Encyclopedias) and Homegrown music: Discovering bluegrass by Stephanie P. Ledgin (Westport: Praeger, 2004).
Earl Scruggs’ birthday is January 6! Below he performs Foggy mountain breakdown with some friends.