Since its humble beginnings around a century ago in the remote mountains of the United States, country music has spread like a wildfire across the world and has become one of the most popular music genres heard by music lovers across the world today. Here are some details about its history and the artists who brought American culture and tradition to a global audience through their talent and contributions.
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Origins of Country Music
The origins of country music, which is also called western music, can be traced back to the south and west of the United States. This style of music started to develop in the early 20th century among the English, Scottish, and Irish settlers from the mountains. Due to its rural beginnings, it was also commonly referred to as hillbilly music, which was considered disrespectful and derogatory, and the current terms, country and western music, were adopted by the music industry in 1949.1
Emergence and Popularity of Country Music
The earliest country songs were performed by bands that only played string instruments, and the lyrics were usually about tragedies based on the religious ideas and beliefs of the time. John William Carson, aka Fiddlin’ John Carson, was the first country musician to have his music broadcast on the radio in 1922, and a year later he also recorded the first country music record, which sold out and popularized country music.2
Small radio stations that were started in the south and Midwest in the 1920s played a bigger role in popularizing country music along with talented country music artists such as the Carter Family and Jimmie Rogers. The music had a huge impact on artists who came after them and generally featured instruments such as the fiddle, guitar, banjo, Appalachian dulcimer, harmonica, and mandolin.
Country Music and Artists Over the Decades
The spread, development, and transformation of country music was greatly influenced by some artists and their music. Here are the various decades and the artists who made a significant contribution to the country music genre during these periods.
Country music spread to the rest of the United States with people from the south migrating to industrial cities during the Great Depression and World War II. At this time, country music mixed with other genres such as blues and gospel music, which gave rise to its early variants such as honky-tonk and western swing. Artists such as Bob Wills, Ernest Tubb, and Hank Williams were key artists during this era.
During this time, several country music artists were trying their best to take country music back to its original sound. While artists such as Bill Monroe were working on retaining the traditional country music sound, the establishment of country music publishing houses, performing venues, and recording studios around the same time were on the lookout for country music artists who could deliver hit albums and songs that could generate sales and income.
By this time, country music as a genre had become widely popular and a huge commercial success, and songs recorded in the “Nashville style” gained popularity. Tex Ritter, Johnny Cash, Tammy Wynette, Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, and Charley Pride were major artists of the time.
A progressive subgenre of country music called outlaw music gained popularity during this period. The introduction of electric guitars had a part to play in the branching out of country music to this style, which was mixed with rock and folk music. Musicians such as Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings were prominent figures in this style of country music. At the same time, country music was slowly gaining the reputation of being a popular music genre.
With artists such as Dolly Parton, Randy Travis, Garth Brooks, Reba McEntire, and Emmylou Harris creating music that appealed to the urban audience, country music gathered fans and inspired artists across the United States with its indigenous American style music. It gave rise to 21st century country music artists such as The Eagles, Kenny Chesney, Alan Jackson, Taylor Swift, Blake Shelton, Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert, and the Zac Brown Band, who released country songs with mass appeal and introduced country music to the global audience, making it one of America’s most recognizable music genres.
We hope this BYJU’S FutureSchool article has enriched your knowledge of the rich history that has shaped country music. If you want more music resources, you can sign up for a FREE trial class where you can learn the piano and guitar in a live 1:1 setting with knowledgeable instructors—or check out some more helpful articles.
- country music summary | Britannica. (n.d.). Retrieved July 11, 2022, from https://www.britannica.com/summary/country-music
2. Daniel, W. W. (2015, November 5). Fiddlin’ John Carson. New Georgia Encyclopedia. Retrieved August 1, 2022, from https://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/arts-culture/fiddlin-john-carson-ca-1868-1949/