Bill Grant and his partner Delia Bell were among the best male-female duets in bluegrass music. Grant was known for his inimitable singing style, unique mandolin playing, and skill as a songwriter; he was also the founder of an annual bluegrass festival in Hugo, Oklahoma, the area in which he was born and raised. His partner Delia Bell was born in Texas and raised in Oklahoma. Grant was a friend of her husband’s; in 1959 they teamed up to sing at local events and on the Little Dixie Hayride at station KIHN Hugo. They also played once a month on a TV station in Ada, Oklahoma. In 1969, Grant and Bell attended Bill Monroe’s Beanblossom Festival before forming the Kiamichi Mountain Boys with the Bonham Family.
Grant founded the Kiamichi label in 1971 and during the ’70s recorded a number of albums. Bell cut a solo country record in 1978; the next year, she and Grant toured Great Britain and recorded a country album there. The Kiamichi Boys disbanded in 1980 because the Bonhams refused to travel, while Bell and Grant wanted to work the national festival circuit. That same year, Emmylou Harris cut one of Bell’s songs, “Roses in the Snow; ” Harris claimed that Bell was her very favorite singer and helped her get a contract with Warner Bros. As the decade wore on, Bell and Grant recorded a pair of albums for Rebel and three for Rounder before switching to the Old Homestead label.
The Bill Grant Bluegrass Festival began at Hugo in August 1969 and attracted an audience of more than twelve hundred to this southeastern Oklahoma town. At the beginning of the twenty-first century between twelve thousand and twenty thousand music lovers from all over the United States annually attended the five-day event. The festival’s popularity often lead visitors to arrive months and weeks ahead in anticipation of large crowds.
Started by Hugo native Bill Grant (1930– ), with the first festival featuring Bill Monroe and Ralph Stanley, the event is held every summer in Hugo’s Salt Creek Park and is known as the oldest festival of its kind west of the Mississippi River. At this lively affair bluegrass tunes could be heard from professional and amateur musicians alike, playing guitars, mandolins, banjos, harmonicas, and fiddles around the clock.
Known for playing the mandolin as well as for hundreds of musical compositions, Bill Grant has performed with singing partner Delia Bell (1938– ), a Bonham, Texas, native who relocated to Hugo as a child, since the beginning of their professional relationship in 1959. Among the first promoters of an American Bluegrass music festival, the duo have been inducted into the National Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and annually perform at Hugo. The festival’s events have been documented by National Geographic photographers and Japanese publications.