The History of Country Music’s Beginnings
Kenneth Ray “Kenny” Rogers was born on August 21, 1938, in the city of Houston, Texas. He happened to arrive at a particularly advantageous point in the history of country music. As early as the 1920s, a curious genre that fused Appalachian folk music with blues began to gain national attention for its unique blend of influences. It was primarily comprised of soulful ballads and up-tempo tunes that were played at barn dances. By the 1940s, audiences flocked to the movies to see “singing cowboys” like Gene Autry and Roy Rogers perform in their own movies. Country music was no longer derided as “hillbilly music,” but had entered the mainstream.
Country music got its start in the early twentieth century among working-class Americans who lived in the southern United States, particularly in the Appalachian Mountains, and spread from there. For generations, English ballads were mixed with Celtic and Irish fiddle songs, with influences from a variety of European immigrants who had settled in the area. The influence of African Americans was frequently underappreciated. Besides having an impact on country artists, jazz and blues also had an impact on white musicians, many of whom, like Hank Williams, learned their craft from black instructors. The banjo was brought to the United States from West Africa, where it was played by slaves who passed on their picking skills to their children. DeFord Bailey, a harmonica player from the African-American community, was one of the Grand Ole Opry’s biggest stars.
From 1930 to 1960, country music was popular.
Before the invention of television, American families would frequently gather around the radio to listen to their favourite programmes. Another popular programme was a live country-music variety show called the “Grand Ole Opry,” which aired on NBC every weeknight. Music City USA was broadcasted from Nashville, Tennessee, which had grown into a major centre for the country-music industry. Old-time music, as well as another style known as Western music, was played for the audience. This style was characterised by clip-clop rhythms reminiscent of horses and songs about lovesick cowboys and gun-fighting outlaws. Musical cowboys began appearing in Hollywood cowboy films, dubbed “Westerns,” in the 1930s and 1940s, and Western music became increasingly popular during this period. Musicians who sang like cowboys, such as Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, became huge country-music stars, and executives in Nashville decided that the cowboy image was more appropriate for country music than the hillbilly image associated with old-time music. Eventually, the genre was renamed “Country & Western music,” and their musicians began dressing in cowboy attire.
Country Music from the 1960s to the Present
A number of country artists in the 1960s were dissatisfied with what Nashville had done to country music, which resulted in the emergence of new styles such as the Bakersfield sound and outlaw country. Artists such as Buck Owens and Merle Haggard led an electric guitar-driven revival of honky tonk in Bakersfield, California, while in Nashville, artists such as Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, and Johnny Cash infused the outlaw country sound with progressive themes from folk music and a rebellious attitude from rockabilly, resulting in the outlaw country sound that we know and love. Later in their careers, these four musicians formed The Highwaymen, which recorded and toured together.