Bill Monroe, the “Father of Bluegrass,” combined influences from early types of American music to create an art form that is as relevant as ever. He was responsible for penning a plethora of bluegrass standards – “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” “Can’t You Hear Me Callin’,” “Rocky Road Blues,” and others. But he also covered the work of many other writers, such as Johnny Cash (“Big River”), Hank Williams (“I Saw the Light”), and, unusual for the time and the genre, Virginia Stauffer, who wrote “With Body and Soul.”
The song was the B-side of the 45 rpm “Fireball Mail” in 1967, and was included a decade later on the album Bill Monroe Sings Bluegrass, Body and Soul. Bearing no resemblance whatsoever to the jazz standard with a similar name, “With Body and Soul” is about the death and burial of a man’s true love. Not many female songwriters were getting cuts in 1967, especially in bluegrass, but Virginia Stauffer was an exception thanks to Monroe, as he cut five songs she wrote. Despite being some 30 years his junior, she obviously had a great feel for the genre he gets credit for originating. This song isn’t as well-known as some of Monroe’s classics, but its popularity has grown over the years. It’s also been recorded by the Kentucky Headhunters, the pre-John Cowan New Grass Revival, and former V-Roys principal Scott Miller on last year’s Ladies Auxiliary album, among others. Monroe duetted with Waylon Jennings on the song in 1983.
Stauffer had several years of songwriting experience under her belt by the time she wrote “With Body and Soul,” though the extent to which Monroe mentored her and shared his own songwriting tips is lost to history. In this song, it’s clear she understood the value of similes, and descriptive words using color, in the second verse:
Her beautiful hair was the purest of gold,
Her eyes were as blue as the sea,
Her lips were the color of summer’s red rose,
And she promised she would always love me.
Mandolinist Roland White of the Roland White Band is a veteran of a late ‘60s incarnation of Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys, as well as bands like Country Gazette and the Kentucky Colonels (with his late brother, guitar legend Clarence White). Instead of mandolin, though, he played guitar with Monroe, as the bandleader himself pretty much had the mandolin position covered. While White didn’t play on the song’s original studio recording, he performed “With Body and Soul” on stage with Monroe, and he remembered its writer well. “She traveled on the bus with us all the time,” White recalled by phone from his Nashville home. “And as far as I know, Bill’s the only one [who cut her songs].”
Indeed, it is difficult to find any record of Stauffer’s songs being recorded by anyone else. She was a BMI-affiliated writer whose catalog looks to have been published by Bill Monroe Publishing, with only six songs registered with BMI. But considering the number of times “With Body and Soul” was included on Monroe collections and various bluegrass compilation albums, she hopefully saw some mechanical rights income from it until she died in 2011.