Bluegrass Music: Best Bands and Artists

From Old-Timey to Mainstream, These Are the Names to Get to Know

The roots of American bluegrass music include everything from jazz to Celtic folk, but since the 1950s, the genre has become widely popular and even more remarkably diverse. Today's bluegrass players range from old-time and country-influenced artists to those that are more mainstream and even showcase their rock 'n' roll or pop influences. If you're a new fan of bluegrass music, this list of players can give you a really good start on your new hobby. They are listed in alphabetical order by the artist's first name.

Alison Krauss & Union Station

Alison Krauss
Alison Krauss. photo: Tasos Katopodis / Getty Images
Alison Krauss started her career at the ripe young age of 16, after having received a slew of acolades and awards from various fiddling championships. Her prodigious fiddling and lovely voice pair with the inimitable skills of her band Union Station for a great bluegrass sound.

Bill Monroe

Bill Monroe
Bill Monroe. courtesy Humble Press

Bill Monroe is known as the grandfather of bluegrass music and is credited with developing the sound and instrumental line-up that's still used in conjunction with bluegrass today: acoustic guitar, bass, fiddle, mandolin and banjo.

Originally from Washington, D.C., the Country Gentlemen counted among its members bluegrass greats like Charlie Waller, Doyle Lawson, Jerry Douglas, Ricky Skaggs, Bill Emerson, John Duffey and Eddie Adcock. They alternated between traditional bluegrass and more contemporary styles, and many of their songs have become standards.

Del McCoury Band

Del McCoury
Del McCoury Band. photo: Kim Ruehl/About.com

Del McCoury started out as a guitar player with Bill Monroe & the Blue Grass Boys. The bluegrass record the Del McCoury Band recorded with alternative country artist Steve Earle is largely responsible for the resurgence of bluegrass in the 1990s.

The Dillards band was one of the first bluegrass bands to go electric in the '60s. They appeared as The Darlings on ​"The Andy Griffith Show" from 1963 to 1966, where they achieved much of their acclaim. With their innovative blend of bluegrass and rock, the Dillards were influential in the rise of folk-rock and alt-country.

Dolly Parton

Dolly Parton - 'The Grass is Blue' CD
Dolly Parton - 'The Grass is Blue' CD. courtesy Pricegrabber

Dolly Parton is often considered a country artist, but her roots are really in Appalachian bluegrass. Since recording bluegrass songs in the early '70s, Dolly has gone on to become one of the most influential singer/songwriters and country artists in the country.

Earl Scruggs began as a banjo player with Bill Monroe & the Blue Grass Boys. He later left the group and started a new one with Lester Flatt -- the Foggy Mountain Boys. Scruggs' three-finger picking style ​changed the way the banjo was played.

Women are not exactly flying across the stages at bluegrass music festivals, but this hard-hitting woman with the great voice and acoustic guitar strumming is as great and notable as any male group on the circuit. Hazel Dickens has been compared to the likes of Woody Guthrie and Kitty Wells -- and tons of other bluegrass folks.

The Infamous Stringdusters started out as a group of well-traveled, well-placed Nashvillian session and touring players. They got together in 2006 and recorded "Fork in the Road," which quickly became one of the most remarkable debuts in the bluegrass and folk worlds. Their instrumentalism is incredible, and it's paid off in numerous International Bluegrass Association awards.

Banjo player J.D. Crowe is one of bluegrass music's biggest pioneers. He started playing with Jimmy Martin and the Sunny Mountain Boys when he was a teenager. From there, he went on to join up with the band The New South. He's received Grammy awards, Bluegrass Assoication awards, among other acolades, and is considered one of the greatest players in bluegrass.

Jerry Douglas is, by almost any account, one of the best Dobro players to have ever met the instrument. Now a fixture in Alison Krauss' band Union Station, Douglas is also an accomplished solo artist and has lent his gift to artists like the Country Gentlemen, J.D. Crowe & the New South, Paul Simon, Earl Scruggs and James Taylor, among many others. among many others.

Another protegee of Bill Monroe, Jimmy Martin started with the Blue Grass Boys in 1949, when he was the lead singer of the group. After leaving the Blue Grass Boys, he formed his own group, the Sunny Mountain Boys. Martin came to be known as the King of Bluegrass and Mr. Good 'n' Country.

Jim Lauderdale

Jim Lauderdale
Jim Lauderdale. photo: Rick Diamond/Getty Images

Singer/songwriter Jim Lauderdale has had a hand in folk, bluegrass and country, and he's been one of the most successful bluegrass songwriters in the history of the genre. He's won Grammy and American Music Association awards and has released 17 albums in all.

Larry Sparks

LarrySparks.jpg
Larry Sparks. courtesy Rebel Records

Larry Sparks was originally a member of the Stanley Brothers' Clinch Mountain Band, for whom he eventually became the lead vocalist after Carter Stanley died. He started the Lonesome Ramblers in 1970, which gave rise to Ricky Skaggs. He was awarded the Blugrass Music Association's Male Vocalist of the Year honor twice and has become one of the most influential artists in traditional bluegrass.

Since winning the coveted Bluegrass Music Association's Emerging Artist of the Year honor in 1999, Mountain Heart has quickly become one of the most notable bands in the genre. The band members are as adept at lightning-fast picking as they are at integrating other styles -- blues, country, pop -- into their work.

The Nashville Bluegrass Band

NashvilleBluegrassBand.jpg
Nashville Bluegrass Band. promo photo

The Nashville Bluegrass Band originally formed in 1984 to tour as a backup band for Minnie Pearl and Vernon Oxford. The members soon signed a deal with Rounder Records and began turning heads with their adaptations of black gospel tunes. They've toured all over the world, playing in some of the most notable venues, as well as being the first bluegrass band to play in China.

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band is another one of those supergroups that have, throughout its rather extensive run, has had a hand in the country, folk, folk-rock and bluegrass worlds. The band has played with Ricky Skaggs, Doc Watson, Roy Acuff and Jimmy Martin. The band has recorded more than 30 albums and gone through nearly a dozen line-up changes, but its influence is still felt across the musical spectrum.

Rhonda Vincent, along with her band The Rage, has become one of the most influential women in contemporary bluegrass after her start in her own family band, the Sally Mountain Show. Her skill as a mandolin player is impressive, as are her gifts on guitar and fiddle. She's recorded more than a dozen albums and received several awards from the Bluegrass Music Association and the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America.

With a career dating back to the early 1970s, Ricky Skaggs has come to be known as bluegrass music's official ambassador. Skaggs began his career as a singer and mandolin player with J.D. Crowe and the New South in the 'early 70s. Twenty years later, he opened up his own label, Skaggs Family Records. His first release on his own label brought new standards to the way bluegrass was played.

Ben Eldridge (banjo), Dudley Connell (guitar, lead vocals), Fred Travers (Dobro, vocals), Ronnie Simpkins (bass, vocals) and Lou Reid (mandolin, vocals) make up Seldom Scene, one of the most cutting-edge bands in bluegrass today. Their members have played with stars that include Ricky Skaggs,The Tony Rice Unit and Johnson Mountain Boys, and their music has been described as "fiery" and "masterful."

Sam Bush

Sam Bush
Sam Bush. promo photo

Mandolin player Sam Bush has become one of the most influential artists on his insrument -- through both his solo work and the work he's done with other artists. He's been credited with starting the newgrass style with his band New Grass Revival. He's played with giants like Bela Fleck and Lyle Lovett, along with Jerry Douglas, Garth Brooks and Tim O'Brien.

Ralph and Carter Stanley were, arguably, one of the best teams in the history of bluegrass music. Their style and musicianship has influenced and inspired nearly every artist that followed in their wake. They formed the Clinch Mountain Boys and quickly became contemporaries of bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe. They went through nearly two dozen members over the course of the Clinch Mountain Boys' career and were inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Honor in 1992.

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien
Tim O'Brien. photo by Kim Ruehl

Fiddler, acoustic guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Tim O'Brien is not only one of the most skilled multi-instrumentalists, he's also one of the most versatile artists in bluegrass today. His music ranges in scope from clear Celtic bluegrass influences to Southern country roots with a smattering of mountain music. His band Hot Rize won the Bluegrass Music Association's first Artist of the Year award in 1990.

Fiddler Tommy Jarrell never really made a living off of his music, but he did manage to influence and inspire an entire generation of artists. Although his style of playing has become known as old-timey fiddle, his influence has been felt throughout the old time, folk and bluegrass communities.

It seems almost silly that, alphabetically, Tony Rice's entry in this list puts him very last. He is quite possibly one of the greatest bluegrass guitarists ever to meet the instrument and, until he lost his voice, one of the most legendary vocalists in the genre. Most up-and-comers would list him as one of their influences. His collaborations with David Grisman are remarkable, as is the work he's done with Norman Blake.

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Ruehl, Kim. "Bluegrass Music: Best Bands and Artists." ThoughtCo, Jun. 18, 2017, thoughtco.com/essential-bluegrass-music-artists-1321993. Ruehl, Kim. (2017, June 18). Bluegrass Music: Best Bands and Artists. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/essential-bluegrass-music-artists-1321993 Ruehl, Kim. "Bluegrass Music: Best Bands and Artists." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/essential-bluegrass-music-artists-1321993 (accessed December 12, 2017).