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Country music started as the music of the white working class. It was a style of music that originated in the southern United States. It came from Appalachian folk music, the blues, and Celtic folk music, and was originally called Hillbilly music. Most country music is based with lyrics treating the subjects of love and life’s disappointments, accompanied primarily by one or more guitars. Though country music has always been based on the big events in life the way in which it is played, and the lyrical material is constantly changing with what is happening in the world to keep it relevant and popular.
When country music was first starting out its driving force was a man by the name of Ralph Peer. He was a prominent business man in country music, he would tour the countryside looking for artists, and recording hillbilly music for his company, OKeh’s records. Though good artists were few and far between, he finally hit it big with, “the first money-making country-music record, Fiddlin’ John Carson’s “The Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane” b/w “The Old Hen Cackled and the Rooster’s Going to Crow” was an accidental success (as was the first race music best-seller three years earlier (Hagar and Peer’s production of Mamie Smith’s “Crazy Blues.”).” (Ralph Peer.) His main success, known as one of the most important groups in the history of country music the Carter Family is the group that gave country music its’ mainstream start. Their repertoire included adaptations of old songs from the Anglo-American folk music tradition, old hymns, and sentimental songs reminiscent of turn-of-the-century Tin Pan Alley hits. Country Music became popular in Hollywood with Gene Autry, America’s first singing cowboy. “Before World War II, Gene Autry sang with a variety of singing groups in his movies, on his radio shows, and on record. After the war, the Cass County Boys were Gene’s back up band in the movies and television shows, on radio, on record and at personal appearances.” (Got a Gene Autry Question.) He was country music’s first genuine “multimedia” star, the best-known country singer on records, in movies, on radio, and on television from the early ’30s until the mid-’50s. This is where country music started to get popular throughout the United States.
Country started to round out its’ place in the music industry Johnny Cash was a very influential country/rockabilly recording artist and television host who first found success in the 1950s and experienced a career resurgence in the 1990s. He was famous country music artist who was a regular on The Grand Ole Opry. Cash was an outlaw country artist in the 60’s known for always wearing black and performing in prisons. As far as his songs and lyrics went, he took bob dylan like liberal approach on social issues like war, and correctional institutions unlike other ‘outlaw artists’ of his time. In 1970 Hank Williams, Jr. signed the biggest contract in MGM Records history. The 1970’s was a time of peace and love in America, with the hippie movement in full swing it makes sense that “All for the Love of Sunshine,” recorded for the movie Kelly’s Heroes, starring Clint Eastwood, was his first #1 country hit. Dolly Parton was one of the next main country artists of this time. Continuing with the peace and love theme, “Parton scored her first number 1 country hit in 1971 with “Joshua,” a bluegrass-inspired track about two solitary figures who find love. More number 1 hits followed in the mid-’70s, including “Jolene,” and “I Will Always Love You”. Other country hits from this era included the ethereal “Love Is Like a Butterfly,”, the spiritual “The Seeker” and the rollicking “All I Can Do.” For the range of her compelling work, she won the Country Music Association award for female vocalist in 1975 and 1976.” (Dolly Parton.) Country music like most other things adapts to the time in which it’s being written.
The biggest change in country music happened very recently, where country music is now crossing into rap and hip- hop music. One of the first instances of the country rap movement was Tammy Wynette with british group the KLF in 1991, on their album “Justified and Ancient” with the song “Stand by The JAMs”. Although it was ahead of its time, the reaction was surprisingly supportive “In 1995, a celebrity panel working for The Times compiled a list of 90 songs that represented the decade in music so far, with no more than one song per band allowed. “Justified & Ancient” was The KLF’s entry (at number 44), with the lyrics described as “delightful nonsense”. Splendid Magazine echoed this, but even more eulogistically.” (Billboard.) Even though the crossover could be considered a success, this mix between country and hip hop artists was not seen in the mainstream media again until 2004, with the song “Superman”, by prominent country artist Willie Nelson, and rapper Snoop Dogg. Nelson sings featuring acoustic guitar and harmonica classic country music instruments. Snoop Dogg not only raps on the sing, but he also sings alongside Nelson, as the guys commiserate about being less than invincible a topic fans of both genres can relate to. ‘Superman’ appears on Snoop’s Doggumentary album, and was a big hit, spurring many other duets between him and Nelson. Again in 2004 St. Louis native Nelly was one of the biggest rappers in the world, and Tim McGraw was arguably country music’s biggest star. “when Nelly wanted a male voice to sing the hook on his mournful ballad “Over and Over,” he didn’t hesitate to turn to McGraw. The odd couple discovered they had a great personal rapport, and they sounded so alike on the track that at times it was difficult to figure out who was singing. The unpredictable team-up rocketed to No. 3 on the pop chart and No. 2 on our list of the best country-rap collaborations of all-time.” (Collaborations in the ’00’s.) Because of the great successes of these and other country rap songs, many other artists took notice, got on board, and are moving towards this new genre of country. Most of the songs played on popular country music stations feature many country rap songs, such as “Break up in a Small Town” “Make You Miss Me” and “House Party” by Sam Hunt, “Kick the Dust Up” by Luke Bryant “Cruise” by Florida Georgia Line, “Bottoms Up” by Brantley Gilbert, “Somewhere on a Beach” by Dierks Bentley, and “Boys ‘round Here” by Blake Shelton, to name a few.
To get to where it is today, we’ve witnessed some epic generations come and go, from Fiddlin’ John Carson to Johnny Cash, through to Dolly Parton and Hank Williams Jr., to now with hot artists like Blake Shelton and Dierks Bentley. Music like everything else changes with the times to stay significant and popular. Southern Legends said it best “The words to the songs could stand some improvement from time to time, however, all in all it was great entertainment and some people made a full time living singing and playing.” Thankfully with the music platforms we have available to us today, all types of music from the first to the most recent are available to us whenever and wherever.
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