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Bill Monroe's Name For Sale, With Strings Attached


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Craig Havighurst) -- Music fans and historians were surprised this week by the announcement that the estate of bluegrass patriarch Bill Monroe has offered for sale the rights to the icon’s name, likeness and web domain.

A press release on Monday described the sale as “a private opportunity of historic proportions.” But fans of Monroe’s music took to social media after the announcement to express anxiety or dismay that the Monroe brand could potentially be exploited commercially in undignified ways, expressing sentiments including “bizarre,” “sad,” and “awful.”

Yesterday however, Tony Conway, Monroe’s former booking agent and now key representative of the estate, told WMOT that potential buyers will be screened and will have to agree to “certain standards to continue the promotion and legacy of Bill Monroe.”

“One of my hard jobs is to qualify the buyers,” said Conway in a telephone interview. “And also because of the fees – (what) the price would be – you’re talking about somebody that has to have a serious love of bluegrass music and of Bill Monroe - and somebody that will treat this with respect and continue his legacy.”

Conway did not go into detail about what those limits would be, suggesting that they would be tailored to the specific buyer.

As for the timing and motivation of the sale, Conway said James Monroe, Bill’s only son and heir, is not able on his own to manage his father’s property, intellectual or otherwise.  

“And it’s just at the point where he’s realized that he’s an operation of one and that he doesn’t know necessarily certain things that could be done with the licensing of the name. He wants to retire from the music industry and performing. And that’s the real reason," Conway said.

Besides the controversial offer of name and likeness, the estate is also selling personal property and the historic, reconstructed home of Monroe’s famous Uncle Pendleton Vandiver in Kentucky.

Conway said there are six lots of items, each of which is only offered as a whole. One lot includes clothing, records, musical instrument parts and even the musician’s back brace. Another block is comprised of audio tapes from Monroe’s Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival, an ongoing annual event launched in 1967.

Other questions were raised about potential liability for entities using Monroe’s name and likeness today, such as a new Bill Monroe Museum in Rosine, KY, which broke ground last month. A new statue of Bill Monroe was just unveiled at the Ryman Auditorium on Tuesday. And Monroe’s likeness is institutionalized on the walls at bluegrass music venues such as the Station Inn in Nashville. Conway said they shouldn’t worry.

“We have monitored all those items and location and basically when you acquire the rights to his name and likeness that is from the date of purchase forward," said Conway. "We’ve taken a lot of stuff down that is not authorized. But I’d say that 90% of what’s out there is going to stay out there and won’t have anything to do with the new ownership.”

Conway and the estate have calculated valuations for the blocks of property in consultation with appraisers. But those will only be shared with qualified buyers under the cloak of non-disclosure agreements.