James Pendleton Vandiver (1869–1932) was a Kentucky fiddler, born there shortly after the American Civil War. He was uncle to bluegrass musician Bill Monroe, who immortalized him in a song, “Uncle Pen”.
Monroe used to hear his uncle playing fiddle on the hilltop where he lived, while Monroe put away his mules at night. He later said that Vandiver was “the fellow that I learned how to play from.” Vandiver played fiddle at local square dances and social events, and his nephew backed him up, playing mandolin. Monroe’s parents had both died by the time he was 16, and he lived part of the time with his Uncle Pen, in his two-room hilltop house in Rosine, Kentucky. Vandiver had been crippled earlier, and he made some money with his music.
Bill Monroe’s biographer, Richard D. Smith writes, “Pen gave Bill more: a repertoire of tunes that sank into Bill’s aurally trained memory and a sense of rhythm that seeped into his bones. Sometimes Bill played guitar behind his uncle, sometimes the mandolin.” On September 13, 1973, a monument in honor of Uncle Pen was unveiled by Monroe at the Rosine Cemetery.
Bill Monroe left Vandiver another memorial, in the words of his song about his uncle:
Late in the evenin’ about sundown
High on the hill and above the town
Uncle Pen played the fiddle
Lord, how it would ring
You could hear it talk
You could hear it sing
Construction has begun on the 2.5 acre tract of land in Rosine, Kentucky. The site is the original location where Bill Monroe lived until he left Kentucky at age 18. Plans are to build a new log cabin and historic center as a memorial to Uncle Pen. James Monroe purchased the property as a birthday gift for his father in the mid-70s.