History of bluegrass at Katharine Cornell

Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys. — Photo courtesy Tribeca Film Institute

A film exploring the history of bluegrass music will be screened at the Katharine Cornell Theatre in Vineyard Haven on Thursday evening, Feb. 20. “High Lonesome: The Story of Bluegrass Music” is a 1994 study of a musical form that had its origins in the mountain and country music of Appalachia and rural America. The style reached a definitive form with Bill Monroe, often called the father of bluegrass, and his band “The Blue Grass Boys.” The screening is free.

Monroe’s band included Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs among other accomplished musicians during the 1940s and 50s. In the film, Monroe visits his old Kentucky home, now dilapidated and full of memories. There are also interviews with bluegrass greats, informative anecdotes, archival footage, and concert performances. The film is fourth in a series of films celebrating American music, sponsored by the Vineyard Haven Public Library.

The series features six award-winning documentary films about uniquely American musical genres: gospel, blues, jazz, bluegrass, Broadway, and hip hop. The films are followed by short talk and performances by local musicians and musicologists. Peter Boak, the director of the Martha’s Vineyard Community Chorus, is the program scholar for the series.

The America’s Music series was created by the Tribeca Film Institute in partnership with the American Library Association and the National Endowment for the Humanities, in consultation with the Society for American Music. The Vineyard Haven Library was one of 50 institutions across the U.S., among hundreds of applicants, to be awarded a grant for this series. The grant includes copies of the movie DVDs which will become part of the library’s permanent collection.

The fifth film in the series, screening Thursday, Feb. 27, is “The History of Rock and Roll, episode 6, Plugged In,” a Quincy Jones-produced film showing how rock music moved from acoustic to electric in the 1960s. The film begins with Bob Dylan’s rise in folk music, and runs through Monterey Pop, Haight-Ashbury, and the Vietnam protests.

The sixth and final film on March 6 is “From Mambo to Hip Hop.” It tells the story of how mambo, the Cuban hybrid of danzón — the traditional musical genre and dance of Cuba — fused with syncopated Afro-Caribbean rhythms, migrated to New York City from Havana in the 1940s, and broke social and musical rules.

Iconic photos of legendary American musicians by Island photographer Peter Simon will be on display at the Vineyard Haven Library during the month of February in conjunction with the series.

For more information on the America’s Music series, call the Vineyard Haven Library at 508-696-4211, or see vhlibrary.org.