You obviously love the hootin’ and a hollerin’ good times that come out of listening to country music, but how much do you know about where it all started? The square dancing and concerts you attend are pretty far removed from the first musicians who picked up an instrument and started singing away. So pull on your boots and let’s stroll down memory lane to learn about the history of country music!
There isn’t one exact time and place when country music was suddenly created, but it really seemed to pluck its way into life during the 1920s. It started popping up in the Appalachian Mountains, especially in the southern regions, and it slowly started to spread around.
In the early 1900s, the Appalachian Mountains were remote. Not only did very few people live there, but most Americans didn’t even have the opportunity to visit. Many of the settlers were European immigrants who were quite poor, and they were already used to living quite a tough life.
One thing they had, though, was their musical traditions. They kept their music alive, and it started to evolve with the times.
This time-period saw a lot of changes and quite a few challenges, so Americans were looking for something that would help simplify their feelings in life and bring them back to their roots. Country music became just that. Slowly people started recording and broadcasting this “cowboy” music, and it became quite the hit.
There had been a few cases of people publishing the music from these remote regions, but 1922 saw a fiddler from Texas named Eck Robertson be one of the first to actually record some of his tunes. Even though he was beat out by another fiddler from Georgia named John Carson, Robertson is often given the title as the first country singer. He recorded two southern rural songs in 1923, and this event is the most widely recognized birth of country music.
John Carson was one of many who had moved to Atlanta looking for work in the cotton mills. It became the unofficial capital of country music because it gave a lot of opportunities to record the music and broadcast it on the radio. However, it only stayed this way through the 1930s, and then Atlanta grew too fancy and the music moved on to Nashville.
The Atlanta crowd became known as the first generation of country singers, and the best way to track country music from that point on is by following each generation.
This second era took place in the 1930s and 1940s, and it started during the Great Depression. The rough economy meant less records were selling, but the radio surged in popularity. This spurred the beginning of some long lasting shows, including the Grand Ole Opry, the famous performance in Nashville that’s still going strong. Also, western films started getting made in Hollywood, and they featured a lot of “cowboy songs” which helped the sounds travel around the country.
In these early stages, drums were heavily resisted and even hidden off the stage for many years. A lot of new styles started popping up and gaining in popularity, some of these were honky tonk, bluegrass, and hillbilly boogie.
It was during this period in the 1950s and 1960s that a new bit of tension came up because country and folk had to start distancing themselves. Even though the musical styles were pretty similar, the followers had different backgrounds and didn’t want to associate with each other.
This was also the generation that saw the beginning of rockabilly, and the mix of rock-and-roll and hillbilly music became popular with some of the big stars like Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash. At the same time, cowboy songs were losing their popularity. This is the reason you hear record companies advertise country and western music.
By the 1970s and 1980s, the musical genre had evolved enough to create a few different major styles. The sounds were going to much wider audiences with the start of country pop, but the more rebellious groups started kicking away with what was known as outlaw country. This was even the point where people started to embrace country rock, and the likes of Bob Dylan managed to take off.
The fifth generation took place in the 1990s, and this was the era when FM radio was expanded, and country music took the opportunity to sing to more ears. It helped that rock music was becoming more “alternative,” so many turned to the more melodic tunes of the country singers. Also, Garth Brooks blazed a trail for a bunch of performers to expand globally, and the rest of the world became exposed to the musical style.
This is the generation where we are now, so there’s no need to go into the details. Get out there and live it!