BMI’s database credits Bill Emerson with 76 published compositions and arrangements, including:

  • “Banjo Whiz”
  • “Cowboys and Indians”
  • “Home of the Red Fox”
  • “Sweet Dixie”
  • “Theme Time”
  • “Welcome to New York”


  • A central figure in establishing Owensboro, Kentucky as a welcoming destination for bluegrass music activities.
  • Board chairperson, International Bluegrass Music Association, 1986-1989.
  • Chair, International Bluegrass Music Museum.
  • Chair, RiverPark Center, Owensboro, Kentucky, 2000-2001.
  • Owner, Wax Works/Video Works.
  • Sponsor, Video Oral History Project, Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and Museum, IBMA.
  • IBMA Distinguished Achievement Award, 2005.
  • IBMA Bluegrass Hall of Fame, 2018.

Early Influences

  • Bill Monroe
  • Flatt and Scruggs
  • John Duffey
  • Mac Wiseman
  • Smitty Irvin
  • Buzz Busby
  • Don Stover
  • Don Reno
  • Ralph Stanley

Came to Fame With

  • Jimmy Martin and the Sunny Mountain Boys, 1961-1963 and 1965-1966

Performed With

  • Uncle Bob and the Blue Ridge Partners, 1955
  • Roy and Curly Irvin and Art Wooten, 1956
  • Buzz Busby and the Bayou Boys, 1956-1957
  • Country Gentlemen, 1957-1958 and 1969-1973
  • Stoneman Family, 1959
  • Harry and Jeanie West, 1960
  • Jimmy Martin and the Sunny Mountain Boys, 1961-1963 and 1965-1966
  • Wayne Yates, 1966-1967
  • Red Allen and the Kentuckians, 1967
  • Bill Emerson, Cliff Waldron and the New Shades of Grass, 1967-1969
  • Country Current, 1973-1993
  • Bill Emerson and Sweet Dixie, 2007-

By the Way

  • Got his start on the banjo with help from future partner John Duffey
  • Played on the first bluegrass album released by a female, Jeannie West’s Country Music in Blue Grass Style, 1960.
  • Suffered an arm wound in a random drive-by shooting incident, Bethesda, MD, 1972.
  • Co-owned Webco Records, 1989-1994.
  • Entered the U.S. Navy and spent 20 years with its band Country Current, 1973-1992.

Led the Way

  • One of the most influential banjo players in bluegrass history.
  • Co-founded the first bluegrass band to incorporate modern folk and jazz styles, the Country Gentlemen.
  • Performed with influential first and second-generation performers, including Jimmy Martin, the Country Gentlemen, and Red Allen.
  • A partner in the contemporary duo Emerson and Waldron.
  • Introduced to bluegrass Manfred Mann’s rock hit “Fox on the Run.”
  • Virginia Country Music Hall of Fame, 1984
  • IBMA Distinguished Achievement Award, 2016
  • IBMA Hall of Fame, 2019

From the Archives

“Cliff [Waldron] and I were just starting out and we realized that we had to do something different to attract people’s attention—we couldn’t just do the same things that had been done down through the years, over and over again traditionally, so that’s the reason we went to do things like ‘Proud Mary’ and like ‘Fox on the Run,’ which the Country Gentlemen recently recorded.”
Quoted by Bill Vernon in “The Country Gentlemen On Tour in Japan,” Muleskinner News, June 1972.
“Getting back to the Gents came as a result of Eddie Adcock leaving in late ‘69 or early ’70. They had some dates booked and needed someone to fill in until they could get someone. I was working with Cliff Waldron and they asked if I would go to Ohio . . . Oberlin College. It was a big success. People were standing up and cheering for breaks and intros. After the gig they said, ‘Why don’t you just stay with us?’ We talked about it. After thinking about it for about ten minutes I said, `OK, I’ll do it.’ I think I was with ‘em three years. In that three years we covered a lot of territory, I’ll tell you. We went all the way to California, we went to Canada, we did TV shows there, we went to Japan, all over the United States, almost every state. Always had big crowds, always had good audiences. Always sold lots of records. It was a fun time.”
Quoted by Gary Reid in booklet notes to Country Gentlemen – the Early Rebel Recordings, 1962-1971.
“Nobody's making the money that artists in other idioms are making. Those that have the talent and commitment may be better off leading their own bands. That was my advice to Ricky Skaggs twenty years ago and to Doyle Lawson fifteen years ago. It takes a lot of patience, professionalism and persistence just to become a superior musician and vocalist, let alone a successful bandleader. You have to be good but different. There's no instant gratification, just hard work. If you have the talent and commitment, you have a chance. It's a business and must be treated as such.”
Quoted by Joe Ross in “Bill Emerson – Banjo Player Extraordinaire,” Bluegrass Unlimited, March 1992.