A Blue Moon, A Woman, A Song (Not Necessarily In That Order)

By the 16th century the church calendar and lunar cycle had become out of sync, and every two or three years a second full moon would appear within the same month. It was nicknamed a “belewe” moon from old English, or the “betrayal” moon.

Bessie Lee Mauldin

In the blue moon year of 1920, Bessie Lee Mauldin was born on December 28 in Norwood, North Carolina. She was the third of four girls, and God help the father. By all accounts the girls were mischievous, clever, funny, talented cooks, dancers and musicians. They were curvy, beautiful women, and Bessie Lee was that special brand of spirited trouble boys have a hard time staying away from.

Richard D. Smith writes in his wonderful and definitive biography of the Bluegrass father, Bill Monroe, that Bessie and Bill first met in 1938. She would go on to become his bass player in the Bluegrass boys from 1953-1964 and played on many recording sessions of the band. She would also be his great tumultuous love. The affair began around 1941 and carried on largely while Bill was touring with the Bluegrass Boys. She was his road girlfriend. In their years together she would be his confidant and lover, have his child, and act as peacemaker between the world and this volatile man. She would leave him and come back. He would callously discard her and silently cry for her.

She left him first in 1944 after meeting and marrying a handsome navy man, Nelson Gann. The two moved to California, and betrayal was on Bill’s mind. As Smith points out, it’s doubtful that Bill knew the etymology of a blue moon. All the more to wonder how things are snatched from the air.

The fat Kentucky moon Bill wrote about was seen shinning down over Florida while he was on tour one lonely night and reminded him of home. On September 16th, 1946, in a Chicago studio Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs joined Bill Monroe and recorded “Blue Moon of Kentucky” for the first time. It’s a waltz in 3/4 time and perfectly bittersweet, as bluegrass should be.

Blue moon of Kentucky, keep on shining
Shine on the one that’s gone and left me blue

Blue moon of Kentucky, keep on shining
Shine on the one that’s gone and left me blue

It was on one moonlight night
Stars shining bright
Whisper on high
Love said goodbye

Blue moon of Kentucky keep on shining
Shine on the one that’s gone and left me blue


About Iaan Hughes

Iaan Hughes is a deejay on 91.3 KBCS in Seattle. He plays country & western music.
This entry was posted in Bluegrass, Country, Folk, Honky Tonk, Music, Oldtime, Radio, Rockabilly and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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