Five myths about country music

November 27, 2019 at 12:04 p.m. MST

 

 

Love it or leave it, country music — with its whiskey-soaked nostalgia and crying steel guitars, its trains, trucks and lost love — is a defining feature of the American soundscape. This fall, Ken Burns’s documentary series, along with an outpouring of Dolly Parton tributes on NPR, Netflix and the stage at the Grand Ole Opry, has trained a spotlight on the genre. Still, myths infuse many people’s understanding of country music — and some of them are integral to its appeal.

Myth No. 1

Country is white music for white people.

Country is just white to the bone,” the Daily Beast wrote in September. This racial association is so strongly embedded in American culture that it recently supplied the punchline for a “Saturday Night Live” skit, in which Kenan Thompson quipped, “A sea of white faces is just looking back at me, and I thought, oh, Lord help me, this must be what it’s like to be Darius Rucker!”

In fact, the genre’s signature sound has diverse roots. African American string bands were common in the late 19th and early 20th centuries — and played the same types of music, on the same types of instruments, as their white counterparts. Jimmie Rodgers, the “father of country music,” made a number of recordings with African American musicians, including Louis Armstrong. In the 1940s and ’50s, Mexican performers in the Southwest United States mixed their musical styles, including ranchera and norteño, with country; mariachi-style trumpets are heard on Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.” Johnny Rodriguez, whose songs featuring Spanish lyrics topped the country charts starting in the 1970s, amplified similar influences.

Today, the sounds of Sam Hunt, Chris Stapleton and Sturgill Simpson unapologetically blend soul and country. Within the past year, rapper Lil Nas X had a viral hit, “Old Town Road,” that challenged listeners’ — and the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart’s — definition of the genre, and Jimmie Allen, another African American artist, debuted with a No. 1 single on country radio, a ballad called “Best Shot.” According to a survey by the Country Music Association, the genre’s fastest-growing audience is non-white and Hispanic listeners.

Myth No. 2

Country music listeners are mostly working-class.

From Kacey Musgraves’s “Blowin’ Smoke” to Travis Tritt’s “Lord Have Mercy on the Working Man,” working-class narratives are a staple of country lyrics. The claim that the working class constitutes the genre’s “core audience” has been repeated by sources from Nash Country Daily to the Oklahoma Historical Society.

Country music is certainly rooted in the working class, but as America’s midcentury prosperity spurred migration to suburban and urban settings, the audience changed.

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One thought on “Five myths about country music

  1. Yes, but I have a bumper sticker on my refrigerator that says, “Discourage inbreeding, ban country music”.

    But check out these little Swedish gals singing to Emmylou.

    On Sun, Dec 1, 2019 at 10:24 AM The Rōbert [Cholo] Report (pron: Rō’bear Re’por) wrote:

    > Jerry Roberts posted: ” No, country radio didn’t feature more women in the > ’60s and ’70s. By Jocelyn Neal Jocelyn Neal, a music professor at the > University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is the author of “Country > Music: A Cultural and Stylistic History.” ” >

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