- Jocelyn R. Neal
The origins of country music are the folk music of mostly white, working-class Americans, who blended popular songs, Irish and Celtic fiddle tunes, traditional ballads, and cowboy songs, along with African American blues and various musical traditions from European immigrant communities. In the 1920s, the recording industry and newly emerging radio industry transformed their music into a commercial genre known primarily as “hillbilly,” along with descriptors such as “old-time,” “old familiar tunes,” and “hill and range” music. Over the subsequent century, country music has evolved into a vibrant commercial genre that maintains allegiance to concepts of tradition and rusticity, even as the music continues to reflect the modernization and urbanization of its audience.
Its primary themes include an imagined rural idealism, a celebration of working-class identity, an iconography drawn from the traditions of the American cowboy, and a predominantly Southern, white, Christian, socially conservative and patriotic philosophy. Nonetheless, each of those themes has been challenged within country music, which has spread far beyond the American South and features prominent African American artists, Hispanic audiences, and politically diverse viewpoints expressed in song lyrics. Musical signifiers of the genre include the traditional string-band (especially fiddle, acoustic guitar, and banjo) and steel guitar. Vocal performances are often marked by Southern or Texan accents and twang, which is a general description of timbre that is linked to nasal singing, and the songwriting emphasizes linear storytelling and clear narratives. At various times, country music has also intersected with other popular genres, most notably blues, swing, Southern gospel, rock ‘n’ roll, Southern rock, and mainstream pop, while also occasionally incorporating elements from disco, mainstream pop, and hip hop....