History of Country Music
Country Music, also commonly known as country and western music, is one of the most popular forms of contemporary music in North America, as well as in many other countries around the world. Country music spawned from the folk and popular music of pre-20th-century British and Irish settlers and was further influenced by African-American blues, Cajun and Latin folk music.
Country music emerged in the early 1920s when folk music was taken a step further (mostly from the Appalachians) with the "hillbilly" sound targeted at southern, rural, white audiences. Regional musicians such as the Carter family recorded old ballads and sentimental songs, using traditional southern mountain vocal techniques and instrumentation. The more blues and western-oriented Jimmie Rodgers, often considered the father of country and western music, introduced what he called "blue yodels" into the vocal mix.
In 1925 the radio station "WSM" in Nashville began airing a program known as the "WSM Barn Dance", two years later the show was renamed the "Grand Ole Opry." Most of the music was instrumental, but that changed in the late 1930s, when the singer and fiddler Roy Acuff and his band, the "Smoky Mountain Boys", became regulars on the show. With Acuff as the headliner, the Opry began nationwide broadcasts over the NBC radio network in 1939. Three years later, Acuff and songwriter Fred Rose founded "Acuff-Rose", Nashville's first music publishing company.
During the 1930s and 1940s two new substyles emerged, "Western Swing" and "Honky-Tonk". Bob Wills, often considered the father of Western Swing and, blended elements of blues, jazz, and mainstream popular music, along with instrumentation of saxophones, drums and traditional fiddle-based string instruments. The similar related style called "honky-tonk", used small electrified bands, and flourished in rural Texas and Oklahoma taverns. Ernest Tubb and Hank Williams were the leading pioneers of the "honky-tonk" style, packing roadside pubs and bars every Friday and Saturday evening throughout Oklahoma and Texas with fans and curiosity seekers anxious to see and hear the fast-rising sounds of steel guitars and drums.
Al Dexter was the first artist to use the term "honky-tonk" in a country song when he recorded "Honky Tonk Blues" in 1936. Ernest Tubb's single, "Walking the Floor Over You" released in 1941, would go on to sell more than one million copies, which was quite a feat in any form of music. "Your Cheatin' Heart", recorded by Hank Williams in 1953, is one of the best-known songs of the honky-tonk era.
During the 1930s and '40s country and western cowboy songs also became popular by "singing cowboys" such as Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. Another style that also emerged during this time period was "Bluegrass" music, pioneered by Bill Monroe and by the guitar-banjo duo of Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. Two key women vocalists emerged during this period that were instrumental in opening the door for women in country music, Patsy Montana - the "Yodeling Cowgirl", and Kitty Wells - the "Queen of Country Music".
Country music morphed once again in the early 1950s with a sound that became known as "rockabilly", which was a mix of the southern hillbilly music and the blues. This sound was made popular by artists and performers like the Everly Brothers, Jerry Lee Lewis, Conway Twitty, Carl Perkins, and of course, the king himself, Elvis Presley. With its faster paced sound and constant rhythm, this form of country quickly became popular with young people who at the time found themselves living a lifestyle that was quicker paced than the generation of their parents. Rockabilly music was the foundation for what would later become known as "Rock n' Roll" music.
The emergence of rock and roll in the mid to late 1950s transformed the music business and left country music at a crossroads. Established country stars and younger performers immersed in the Opry tradition of country music had to decide on how to appeal to a rapidly evolving audience. It was around this time that record companies replaced the label "hillbilly" with the term "country and western", which included adding more amplified instruments and slicker, pop-style arrangements to country music in an attempt to make it more accessible and appealing to a broader audience, thus the "Nashville Sound" was developed. It was this sound, made popular in the 1960s and 1970s, that would enable artists from many different genres of music to venture into the country music industry. Cross-overs from the pop genre included Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, Conway Twitty, all having enormous success in the new style of the "Nashville Sound".
At the same time, the increasingly assimilated sound emerging from Nashville spawned a rebellion within the country music community. Johnny Cash, along with Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings, were at the forefront of this "outlaw" movement, which marked a return to the more unrefined and natural, honky-tonk style of music.
By the 1980s country music was struggling and the traditional country and western sound was becoming almost extinct, the rock and pop cross-over influences were all but redefining modern country music.
In 1981 a "new traditional" country artist emerged, his unique style of "western swing" and "honky-tonk" music was fresh yet traditional country music that rejected most elements of modern country music. George Strait sky rocketed to success after his debut single "Unwound" in 1981. While contributing to the new traditional movement of country music, during the 1980s, he amassed 18 number one singles and seven number one albums. George Strait has been credited with being instrumental in bringing back and saving the traditional sounds and roots of country music, which later earned him the title of "King of Country".
Today's country music is at it's highest peak in popularity. With pop cross-over sensations like Shania Tawin and Taylor Swift, and traditional country styles like George Strait and Alan Jackson, all have managed to achieve success in country music and equally find a fan base and share in it's immense popularity.