House Honors Bluegrass Legend Lester Flatt

The House of Representatives voted unanimously Tuesday to honor bluegrass legend Lester Flatt. Rep. Lincoln Davis (D-TN), who now represents the area Flatt was born in, says the music and the late musician are as important to American culture as its best writers and painters.

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(Soundbite of song, "Foggy Mountain Breakdown")

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is foggy mountain breakdown, the iconic bluegrass instrumental played by legendary duo Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. In the 1940s and '50s, Flatt and Scruggs, along with a handful of other bluegrass musicians, popularized world roots music. Though Lester Flatt has been dead some three decades, today the House of Representatives honored him.

NPR's Andrea Seabrook was there.

ANDREA SEABROOK: These days Lincoln Davis is a Congressman from Tennessee. But in the late 1940s, he was an American boy in the rural South.

Representative Lincoln Davis (Democrat, Tennessee): Listening to a radio operated by battery on a Saturday night was one of the special times when the family got together, but certainly for this particular occasion for that hour-long session, The Grand Ole Opry.

SEABROOK: That's where he first heard Lester Flatt's unmistakable voice.

(Soundbite of song, "The Ballad of Jed Clampett")

FLATT AND SCAGGS (Band): (Singing) Come and listen to my story about a man named Jed, a poor mountaineer, barely kept his family fed.

SEABROOK: This is how most people know Flatt's playing, the theme song to "The Beverly Hillbillies." Its real title is "The Ballad of Jed Clampett." When he was a boy in rural Tennessee, Flatt sang in the church choir and taught himself to play the guitar. In 1945, he joined Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Boys, that where he met Earl Scruggs. Congressmen Davis, who now represents the area Flatt was born in, says the music and the musician are as important to American culture as its best writers and painters.

Rep. DAVIS: He gave us, all of us who live in America and all of those of us who love bluegrass music on a Saturday night, our Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and gospel music on Sunday night, this bluegrass style.

SEABROOK: The House of Representatives voted unanimously to honor Lester Flatt today. And though he died some 30 years ago, one can only hope he's up in that great bluegrass band in the sky.

(Soundbite of song, "Bluegrass in Heaven")

FLATT AND SCAGGS: (Singing) Yes, there'll be bluegrass in heaven, took (unintelligible) by and by. Bluegrass in heaven in the sky, in the sky.

Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, the Capitol.

(Soundbite of song, "Bluegrass in Heaven")

FLATT AND SCAGGS: (Singing) ...banjo drinking. I'm going to be a member of a (unintelligible) bluegrass band.

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