Earl Scruggs’ Funeral Honored the Legendary Banjo Player

by J-Mirabelli

At Scrugg's 80th birthday party in 2004, country singer Porter Wagoner said, "Earl was to the five-string banjo what Babe Ruth was to baseball."

Earl Scruggs’ funeral, held on Sunday, April 1, 2012 at the former home of the Grand Ole Opry, remembered the legendary banjo player as a “humble musician” and “the last original architect of the original bluegrass music.”

About 2,300 of Scruggs’ loved ones, friends, and fans packed into Ryman Auditorium in Nashville to pay tribute to the bluegrass pioneer in the same building where he recorded his final album. Scruggs died in Nashville on March 28, 2012 of natural causes. He was 88 years old.

The two-hour funeral service, during which Scruggs’ five-string Gibson Mastertone banjo rested in its stand on the stage, paid homage to Scruggs’ influence with songs and included speeches by some of bluegrass’s biggest stars.

The pioneering banjo player and his guitar picking partner Lester Flatt, had teamed for 20 years to become the most famous duo in bluegrass history.

Flatt and Scruggs were best known for their song The Ballad of Jed Clampett from The Beverly Hillbillies TV series. For many television viewers, it was their first introduction to country music. Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs also made many appearances on the TV series.

Their song Foggy Mountain Breakdown was featured in the 1967 movie Bonnie and Clyde and enhanced its status as a bluegrass standard. It had been recorded in 1949.

Earl Scruggs’ use of three fingers – instead of the limited clawhammer style that was once prevalent – elevated the banjo from a part of the rhythm section to a lead instrument that was as versatile as the guitar and much flashier. He is credited with helping create modern country music with a string-bending style of playing.

Flatt and Scruggs, known as The Foggy Mountain Boys, appeared in Rhode Island at the first Newport Folk Festival in 1959, an offshoot of the Newport Jazz Festival, and introduced the Scruggs style to the folk-music revival of those years. Young folk musicians started adopting his style, and Flatt and Scruggs began to play the college folk-festival circuit. Earl also began to work with his growing sons, Gary, Randy and Steve, and he recorded material by Bob Dylan and other folk-rockers.

In 1969 Earl, with his sons, formed the Earl Scruggs Revue, a mostly acoustic group with drums and electric bass. It broadened his repertory to include rock, and the group played on bills with acts like Steppenwolf and James Taylor, sometimes before audiences of 40,000.

Earl Scruggs received a National Medal of Arts in 1992, and in 2005 Foggy Mountain Breakdown was selected for the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry.

At the age of 77, he released Earl Scruggs and Friends, his first album in ten years. On the album, he collaborated with Elton John, Dwight Yoakam, Travis Tritt, Sting, Melissa Etheridge, Vince Gill, John Fogerty, Don Henley, Johnny Cash and Steve Martin.

Grand Ole Opry announcer Eddie Stubbs gave the eulogy at Scrugg’s funeral, and other speakers highlighted Scruggs’ great humility, dignity, musical originality, and devotion to his wife and family.

The eulogy was followed by a performance of a Scruggs and Flatt song about death called Who Will Sing For Me.

Though the performances moved the audience, the longest ovation went to Scruggs, who was escorted from the auditorium in a silver-colored casket. He was buried at Spring Hill Cemetery which is the final resting place of many legendary country music performers.

Read more:

Funeral honors legendary banjo player

Bluegrass Pioneer dies at 88 | NY Times

Who will Sing for Me | YouTube

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