Love it or hate it, country music is a defining aspect of the American soundscape, with its whiskey-soaked nostalgia and wailing steel guitars, trains, trucks, and lost love. Ken Burns’ documentary series, as well as an outpouring of Dolly Parton tributes on NPR, Netflix, and the Grand Ole Opry stage this fall, have shone a light on the genre. Even still, misconceptions pervade many people’s perceptions of country music, and some of them are crucial to the genre’s popularity.
The first myth is that
Country music is music made by white people for white people.
In September, the Daily Beast said, “Country is just white to the bone.” “A sea of white faces is just looking back at me,” Kenan Thompson joked, “and I thought, well, Lord help me, this must be what it’s like to be Darius Rucker!” This racial association is so deeply established in American culture that it even provided the punchline for a “Saturday Night Live” skit.
In truth, the genre’s distinctive sound has a wide range of origins. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, African American string bands were common, and they played the same sorts of music on the same instruments as their white counterparts. The “Father of Country Music,” Jimmie Rodgers, collaborated with African-American musicians, including Louis Armstrong, on a number of albums. Mexican musicians in the Southwest United States combined their musical genres, such as ranchera and norteo, with country in the 1940s and 1950s; mariachi-style trumpets can be heard on Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.” Starting in the 1970s, Johnny Rodriguez, whose songs with Spanish lyrics topped the country charts, emphasised similar influences.
No. 2 Myth
The majority of country music listeners come from the working class.
Working-class storylines are a hallmark of country lyrics, from Kacey Musgraves’ “Blowin’ Smoke” to Travis Tritt’s “Lord Have Mercy on the Working Man.” From Nash Country Daily to the Oklahoma Historical Society, the assertion that the working class is the genre’s “primary audience” has been repeated.
Although country music has its roots in the working class, as America’s economy grew in the 1950s, the audience shifted to suburban and metropolitan areas. The newly formed Country Music Association sent representatives to explain to radio station owners and advertisers that country fans were part of the middle-class consumer demographic, with plenty of disposable income, beginning in the 1960s, as historian Diane Pecknold documents in “The Selling Sound.” “The singer who formerly tended stock on his daddy’s farm is now consulting his broker over another kind of stock,” an industry source stated.
No. 3 Myth
Country music is popular in the United States’ red states.
When the Dixie Chicks caused a stir by criticising President George W. Bush in 2003, one radio host remarked that the genre is “more on the right than on the left, and it’s always been that way.” To comprehend “what lurks in the heart of a Red State voter,” the New York Times famously advised liberals to listen to country music. “Why Republicans Listen to Country Music and Democrats Don’t,” Psychology Today attempted to explain in 2018.