Country music is one form of music that has both an extensive history and also has a prominent place in the public consciousness right now. It is one of the most interesting types of music because of the fact that many people completely misunderstand where it came from and its roots. Though much of the history country music can be traced to many southern venues, it has since grown to be a much more “national” type of phenomenon, with influence stretching from Bakersfield, California to the Atlantic coast of the United States.
Performers now come from all over the world to take part in the country music phenomenon and in recent years the, country music has gained a much more mainstream following than it had in the past. By both celebrating its roots and being willing to branch out to reach new listeners, country music as a whole has positioned itself for much greater success in the future, as well. In order to truly understand the origins of country music, one has to look as far back as the turn of the twentieth century.
Though country did not truly get its start until later, the groundwork for the industry was being laid by musicians who probably did not even know what country music was. Old jazz musicians and church gospel singers provided the original motivation for what would become the country music movement. Singers would later draw influences from those old styles in order to develop the characteristic country sound that is so popular and prevalent in today’s music world. Country officially got its start in 1921 in Bristol, Tennessee.
Before that time, people had been singing songs in order to pass down stories and to fill the idle time, but there had never been an organized country music industry. According to Roughstock’s History of Country Music, “Although musicians had been recording fiddle tunes (known as Old Time Music at that time) in the southern Appalachians for several years, It wasn’t until August 1, 1927 in Bristol, Tennessee, that Country Music really began. There, on that day, Ralph Peer signed Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family to recording contracts for Victor Records” (Roughstock).
Those two popular acts laid the framework for country to come, and they are both remembered for their innovation and their ability to connect with singers of that time. Over the course of time, country music has seen many different movements that have all helped to shape the sound that is prevalent today. The Bluegrass movement, headed up by the famous Bill Monroe of Kentucky was a type of music where people relied heavily on the banjo, the acoustic guitar, and the mandolin.
Before Monroe starting experimenting with these instruments, people had never thought to use the guitar as a lead instrument before. This Bluegrass sound would prove to be a characterizing sound and it has influenced many of today’s most popular singers, including women like Allison Krause. According to Jeri Rowe of The News and Record, the Bill Monroe movement is something that almost all of the famous musicians have felt over the course of time. According to Rowe, “Ask anyone familiar with bluegrass music and they’ll probably have a Bill Monroe moment” (Rowe, 1996).
Other movements have become popular in country music, including the innovations that came along with the Bakersfield sound. Though country music had long had its roots in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia, young people out in California changed the way that people thought about the country music industry by expanding the sound to include something of an “Outlaw” movement (Encyclopedia of Country Music). Among those people who led this popular movement were Merle Haggard, who became a spokesperson for the common man during his time.
His songs like “Long Haired Country Boy” and “Okie from Muskogee” made him famous. Another famed musician that was a part of the progressive country movement, as it came to be called, was Willie Nelson. Nelson is known as a popular singer and songwriter today and he has worked alongside dozens of extremely popular musicians during his career. He sang songs like “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” and “Mommas, Don’t Let your Babies Grow up to be Cowboys” that were able to really connect to fans on a very personal level.
One of the unique things about the country music industry is that all of these different movements have helped to create the sound that characterizes country music today. Starting with the Outlaw movement, the Bluegrass movement, and things like the Nashville sound, people have begun to combine all of these different elements to create a very real sound of today. The Nashville sound is something that came about, as one might guess, in the heart of country music located in Nashville. This came about when Roy Acuff made the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville a popular thing.
It started out as just one of the many barn shows that played country music across the powerful radio airwaves. Over time, the Grand Ole Opry became much more than that. It came to characterize the Nashville sound, which was a new sound that included things like the old steel guitar and drums in the background. The Nashville sound changed the way people felt about country music, as musicians like Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs brought their unique methods to Nashville and gained popularity.
All in all, the Nashville sound represented a brand new vision for country music, where people could experiment with different things on the highest level at the Grand Ole Opry. The Opry gave legitimacy to these acts and people began to quickly respond to the new techniques and new sounds that they were hearing up on the stage (Hemphill). Today, the country music world has moved even more into the mainstream than it was in the past. It is safe to say that widespread radio is what helped country music take off and now people are enjoying it in different ways.
When things like TNN and CMT came about, country music was put on television for the world to see. Though this made some people in the country music world mad because the networks opted for the new styles and neglected some of the older heroes of country music, it helped the industry at large. People could not watch country music as much as they wanted and they could begin to put faces with the voices that they had heard on the radio. The innovation of music on television really helped the country music industry as much as it helped all of the other music industries.
More records are sold today than ever before, as people like George Strait have sold hundreds of millions of records. Strait owns the record for most number one hits for a singer, while the South Carolina-based group Alabama owns the record for most number one hits for a group. Other acts that have become popular today are people like Garth Brooks, who helped change the way country music was looked at in a sense of live performances. Brooks turned the country music world into something of a rock show and made the shows more appealing to younger people.
In the past, country music had been looked at as something that was a little bit boring when seen in concert. People went to see country music shows because they liked the sound of the music, not because they wanted to be entertained. This all changed when Brooks came about in the late 1980s. He added things like lights and great technology to his shows. The sound was impressive and finally the country music world was able to compete with the rock world at least on some level. This was a very important change for country music and predictably, more and more artists starting picking up where Brooks left off.
It is fair to say that the country music world has not been completely embraced by the media at large, but the media has at least picked up on the national importance of some of the acts. In the past, the country music world might have been pushed off to the side with the rock and roll world taking center stage a little bit more. People are now coming to realize that rock and country are much more inter-connected than they might have originally imagined and that country music deserves to be recognized for its huge following.
With country music selling at high rates in record stores and television channels getting great ratings, there is no choice in the national media but to pick up on the new and changing times, even if they do not totally believe everything that is being said. There is some perception out there that country music is a music based in the south and for southern people, though evidence has been provided to the contrary. One media controversy worth remembering happened with the popular group The Dixie Chicks, who were ostracized by the media and the mainstream country music world for their comments about President George W. Bush.
Their political talk earned them a place on the proverbial country music blacklist. A Gazette Newspaper article speaks to the fact that the controversy may have been overblown by some media outlets, as country music singers are certainly not the first musicians to speak out in a political way. In fact, music has always been an avenue for this type of free speech. That article says, “Even entertainers have a right to say whatever they want to about U. S. foreign policy and politics – and in fact, many have been doing so for decades, getting rich and famous while thumbing their noses at the nation that makes them so” (Gazette).
One of the concerns of many country musicians today is that the media is willing to give time to the current stars, but no one will recognize the people who laid the framework for the country music movement. One People Magazine article quotes popular country music star Alan Jackson talking about living legend George Jones and how no one is willing to recognize him. The article writes, “Jackson spokeswoman Kay West said Alan was inspired by a visit to Jones earlier this year in the hospital after Jones was involved in a near-fatal car wreck.
“Alan said that had George Jones died there, there would have been a 10-minute tribute to him on the show,” West said. “But he lived, and they wouldn’t give him three minutes” (People). All in all, country music seems to be growing at a faster rate than it ever has. Helped along by more coverage in the media and the fact that more and more types of musicians are currently getting involved in country music, the industry has taken off at a higher degree than most might have imagined in the past.
Though the roots of country music are strong and many people seek to preserve and celebrate those roots, there is no denying that the industry in branching out in a desire to incorporate new fans and new acts alike going into the future. With that in mind, the future of the industry is strong and as stable as it can possibly be. Works Cited Hemphill, Paul. The Nashville Sound. 30 September 2005. Everthemore Press. Kingsbury, Paul. The Encyclopedia of Country Music. Oxford: 2004. People Magazine.
Country Music Controversy. 2008. < http://www. people. com/people/article/0,,616549,00. html> Roughstock’s History of Country Music. The Beginnings. < http://www. roughstock. com/history/begin. html> Rowe, Jeri. The News and Record. 12 September 1996. BILL MONROE’S INFLUENCE FELT BY MUSICIANS IN THE TRIAD; AREA BLUEGRASS FANS REMEMBER BILL MONROE, THE “FATHER OF BLUEGRASS MUSIC. ” The Gazette. 7 May 2003. Whistling Dixie Freedom of speech not at issue in country music controversy.