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Country Music





Country music was described by Laurence Leamer in his book title as


Roots of Country Music



The roots of country music began in folk music.  Folk music is the indigenous music of a culture that is passed from generation to generation by oral transmission.  In other words, it's not written down, but

your mama sang it to you, and her mama sang it to her, and her mama sang it to her, . . .


Most of this folk music originally came from the Celtic countries of Europe

Listen to this Celtic fiddle tune.  Does it remind you of country music?



How did Country Music become Popular Music?   In other words, when did it start making  $$$ ?

It started in Bristol, Tennessee in 1927. 









Ralph Peer

Ralph Peer was a record producer and talent scout.  In the 1920s,  he traveled looking for local talents.  He recorded Fiddlin' John Carson in 1923 and was surprised to find how well the recording sold.  At the beginning of the 20th century, American musical culture was mostly regional.  Ralph Peer had tapped into a thriving market!


Here is Fiddlin John Carson singing "Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane"  listen


He also recorded Gid Tanner and the Skillet Lickers!  Sensing a trend in commercial potential, Peer set out to find other performers in the south.


Two recordings made on the same day in 1927 in Bristol Tennessee would propel country music into a full-blown commercial enterprise.  They were:


The Carter Family


Jimmie Rodgers


Early country music was referred to as Hillbilly music and was looked down upon by some who couldn't imagine "popular" music originating from anywhere outside New York and Tin Pan Alley.  It certainly wouldn't be the last time that New York underestimated the influence of grassroots middle America.


The Carter Family

A.P. Carter, his wife Sarah, and their sister-in-law,  Maybelle

A.P. handled the business of the group,

Sarah played the autoharp and Maybelle played the guitar

"Wildwood Flower"  listen

(There is an analysis of this song on p. 131 in your textbook)

Theirs was a conservative and stoic style.  When they performed, they stood still and showed little or no emotion.  Their tone was nasal in quality.  This was the southeastern style of country music, with roots in Appalachian folk songs and white gospel.  Their style of performance reminds me of a famous painting by an American artist.  This is "American Gothic" by Grant Wood.  No emotion there!




Jimmie Rodgers (1897-1933)

known as

The Father of Country Music

He was the first superstar of country music

and his national popularity changed how America perceived country music.


"Waitin' for a Train"   listen

(There is an analysis of this song on p. 133 in your textbook)



Jimmie also made yodeling popular.  He combined blues songs with yodels between verses.  Have you ever had the experience of having your voice "crack"?  Yodeling is similar.  It is the rapid change of the voice from chest voice (the range where you speak) to falsetto (the very high part of your voice).  Here are a couple of examples.  Then give it a try!

Blue Yodel #8


Blue Yodel #11

Jimmie Rodgers' style was more relaxed, a more pop style.  He sang a wider variety of song types, including blues and parlor songs.  His style came to be known as the southwestern style, in contrast to the southeastern style.  His career was relatively short as he died at age 36 from tuberculosis.  However, his influence was profound.  He was marketed as the "Singing Brakeman" - this technique of constructing an image influenced the singing cowboys who came after him.

These two acts paved the way for the commercial music industry powerhouse that became Country Music.


Vernon Dalhart (1883-1948)

Country Music's first million-seller


"The Prisoner's Song"    listen

Country Music's first million selling single


Vernon Dalhart was an opera singer who also sang Tin Pan Alley popular songs.  Seeing an opportunity to revitalize his career, he began recording hillbilly songs and became the first country artist to become a million-seller.  His voice didn't really sound "country."  Why was he so successful?  He made "hillbilly music" sound more acceptable to a "non-hillbilly audience."  There are those who prefer only country or only pop, but crossover artists will always take a larger share of the market.




Next step:  Country AND Western



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