Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Vernon Dalhart was the first country singer to have a nationwide hit (May 1924, with "The Wreck of Old '97") (see External Links below). Other important early recording artists were Riley Puckett, Don Richardson, Fiddling John Carson, Ernest Stoneman , Charlie Poole and the North Carolina Ramblers, and The Skillet Lickers.
Some trace the origins of modern country music to two seminal influences and a remarkable coincidence. Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family are widely considered to be the founders of country music, and their songs were first captured at an historic recording session in Bristol, Tennessee on August 1, 1927, where Ralph Peer was the talent scout and sound recordist.
It is possible to categorise many country singers as being either from the Jimmie Rodgers strand or the Carter Family strand of country music.
Jimmie Rodgers' influence
Jimmie Rodgers' gift to country music was country blues. Building on the traditional ballads and musical influences of the South, Jimmie wrote and sang songs that ordinary people could relate to. He took the experiences of his own life and those of the people he met on the railroad, in bars and on the streets to create his lyrics. He used the musical influences of the traditional ballads and the blues to create his tunes.
Pathos, humour, women, whiskey, murder, death, disease and destitution are all present in his lyrics and these themes have been carried forward and developed by his followers. People like Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, George Jones, Townes van Zandt, Kris Kristofferson and Johnny Cash have also suffered, and shared their suffering, bringing added dimensions to those themes. It would be fair to say that Jimmie Rodgers sang about life and death from a male perspective and this viewpoint has dominated some areas of country music. It would also be fair to credit his influence for the development of honky tonk, rockabilly and the Bakersfield sound.
Jimmie Rodgers was a major foundation stone in the structure of country music but the most influential artist from the Jimmie Rodgers strand is undoubtedly Hank Williams Sr. In his short career (he was only 29 when he died) he dominated the country scene and his songs have been covered by practically every other country artist, male and female. Some have even included him in their compositions (for example, Waylon Jennings and Alan Jackson). Hank had two personas: as Hank Williams he was a singer/songwriter and entertainer; as "Luke the Drifter", he was a songwriting crusader. The complexity of his character was reflected in the introspective songs he wrote about heartbreak, happiness and love (e.g "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry "), and the more upbeat numbers about Cajun food ("Jambalaya") or barbershop Indians ("Kaw-Liga "). He took the music to a different level and a wider audience.
The Carter Family's influence
The other Ralph Peer discovery, the Carter family, consisted of A.P. Carter, his wife Sara and their sister-in-law Maybelle. They built a long recording career based on the sonorous bass of A.P., the beautiful singing of Sara and the unique guitar playing of Maybelle. A.P.'s main contribution was the collection of songs and ballads that he picked up in his expeditions into the hill country around their home in Maces Springs, Virginia. In addition, being a man, he made it possible for Sara and Maybelle to perform without stigma at that time. These two women were the musical talent. They arranged the songs that A.P. collected and wrote their own songs. They were the precursors of a line of talented women country singers like Kitty Wells, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Skeeter Davis, Tammy Wynette,Dolly Parton and June Carter Cash, the daughter of Maybelle and the wife of Johnny Cash.
The Carter Family probably influenced the development of bluegrass by Ralph Stanley and Bill Monroe. Monroe, in turn, influenced people like Ricky Skaggs who carry on the folk and ballad tradition in the bluegrass style.
While country music has had only one African-American star (Charley Pride), the innovators and originators were strongly influenced by the sounds and songs of Black musicians. Country music has also influenced the work of Black musicians such as Ray Charles and Keb' Mo'.
At the time of its early popularity, country music shared America's affection with swing music, a type of jazz, and enterprising musicians such as Bob Wills fused the two to form western swing. The early development of rock and roll was a fusion of country music and blues.
The Nashville sound
During the 1960s, country music became a multi-million dollar industry centered on Nashville, Tennessee. Under the direction of Chet Atkins, the Nashville sound brought country music to a diverse audience. Although country music has great stylistic diversity, this diversity was strangled somewhat by the formulaic approach of the record producers like Chet Atkins. They played safe to protect sales. Even today the variety of country music is not usually well-reflected in radio airplay and the popular perception of country music is still influenced by the maudlin ballads and whining steel guitars that many people still associate with the genre.
Reaction to the Nashville sound
The vanilla-flavored sounds that emanated from Nashville under the influence of Chet Atkins, and his fellow producers, led to a reaction among musicians outside Nashville who saw that there was more to the genre than, "the same old tunes, fiddle and guitar..." (Waylon Jennings).
California produced the Bakersfield sound, promoted by Buck Owens and Merle Haggard and based on the work of the legendary Maddox Brothers and Rose whose wild eclectic mix of old time country, hillbilly swing and gospel in the 40s and 50s was a feature of honky tonks and dance halls in the state.
Within Nashville in the 1980s, Randy Travis, Ricky Skaggs, and others brought a return to the traditional values. Their musicianship, songwriting, and producing skills helped to revive the genre momentarily. However even they, and such long-time greats as Jones, Cash, and Haggard, fell from popularity as the record companies again imposed their formulas and refused to promote established artists. Capitol Records made an almost wholesale clearance of their country artists in the 1960s
Country music developments
The two strands of country music have continued to develop. The Jimmie Rodgers influence can be seen in a pronounced "working man" image promoted by singers like Brooks & Dunn and Garth Brooks. On the Carter Family side, singers like Iris Dement and Nanci Griffith have written on more traditional "folk" themes, albeit with a contemporary point of view.
In the 1990s a new form of country music emerged, called by some alternative country, or "insurgent country". Performed by generally younger musicians and inspired by traditional country performers and the country reactionaries, it shunned the Nashville-dominated sound of mainstream country and borrowed more from punk and rock groups than the watered-down, pop-oriented sound of Nashville.
- Vernon Dalhart recorded hundreds of songs until 1931.
- Jimmie Rodgers, first country superstar, the "Father of Country Music", also bluesman
- The Carter Family, rural country-blues, known for hits like "Wildwood Flower"
- Roy Acuff Grand Ole Opry star for 50 years, "King of Country Music"
- Ernest Tubb Beloved Texas Troubadour who helped scores become stars
- Hank Snow Canadian-born Grand Ole Opry star famous for his traveling songs.
- Hank Williams Sr, honky tonk pioneer, singer, and songwriter, known for hits like "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" and "Your Cheatin' Heart"
- Bill Monroe, father of bluegrass
- Grand Ole Opry, one of the oldest radio programs
- Louvin Brothers, inspired the Everly Brothers
- Little Jimmy Dickens 4-foot 11 inch star of the Grand Ole Opry.
- Wilf Carter, the "Yodeling" cowboy, aka Montana Slim.
- Webb Pierce classic honky-tonker who dominated 50's country music
- Kitty Wells country's first female superstar, "Queen of Country Music"
The Golden Age
- Bill Anderson singer who is still a major songwriter of new hits
- Liz Anderson As famous for her songwriting as her singing
- Lynn Anderson California blonde who became a top country star
- Eddy Arnold, the all-time hit leader
- The Browns brother/sister trio who hit number one
- Johnny Cash, a major influence on country music who died in 2003
- Jeremy Castle, traditional country music singer and songwriter
- Patsy Cline, immensely popular balladeer who died in 1963
- Skeeter Davis, major female vocalist for decades
- Roy Drusky smooth-singing Opry star for 40 years
- Donna Fargo one of Nashville's most thought-provoking songwriter-singers
- Lefty Frizzell, perhaps the greatest of the honky-tonkers
- Don Gibson wrote and recorded many standards
- Merle Haggard, popularized the Bakersfield sound
- Johnny Horton, made the story-song very popular about 1960
- Jan Howard pop-flavored female vocalist who sang pure country
- Stonewall Jackson (musician) honky-tonk icon
- Sonny James had a record 16 consecutive number one hits
- Wanda Jackson honky-tonk female vocalist equally at home in rock'n'roll
- Waylon Jennings, one of the leaders of the outlaw country sound
- George Jones, widely considered "the greatest living country singer", second to Arnold in hits
- Kris Kristofferson, songwriter and one of the leaders of the outlaw country sound
- Loretta Lynn arguably country music's biggest star in the 1970's
- Roger Miller a Grammy record breaker
- Ronnie Milsap country's first blind superstar
- Willie Nelson, songwriter and one of the leaders of the outlaw country sound
- Norma Jean (singer) gifted "hard country" vocalist
- Buck Owens, pioneer innovator of the Bakersfield sound
- Dolly Parton, began her career singing duets with Porter Wagoner
- Ray Price went from hard country to Las Vegas slick
- Charley Pride, the first (and only) Afro-American country music star
- Susan Raye Buck Owens' protege who became a major solo star
- Jim Reeves, crossover artist, invented Nashville Sound with Chet Atkins
- Charlie Rich 50's rock star who enjoyed greatest success in 70s country
- Marty Robbins, another performer of story-songs who did well in the pop field
- Jeannie C. Riley sexy girl in a miniskirt who socked to the pop charts
- Kenny Rogers unique voiced story teller, who also recorded love ballads and rockier material. He defined what was known as country crossover and became one of the biggest artists in country and any music genre.
- Jeannie Seely known as "Miss Country Soul"
- Connie Smith, known for her "big" voice
- Billie Jo Spears a hard country vocalist with international popularity
- Conway Twitty, honky-tonk traditionalist
- Porter Wagoner pioneer on country television
- Dottie West country glamour girl who had her biggest success 20 years into her career
- Wilburn Brothers popular male duet for decades
- Tammy Wynette three time CMA top female vocalist
- Faron Young a country chart topper for three decades
- Allman Brothers Band, bluegrass influenced jam band
- The Byrds, pioneers in the field
- Flying Burrito Brothers
- The Eagles, possibly the most popular country rock band
- Kinky Friedman
- Grateful Dead, extremely long-lived bluegrass and psychedelic band
- Gram Parsons, critical favorite of the country rock movement
- John Rich
- Lynyrd Skynyrd, for many, the archetypal country rock band
Contemporary Country Stars 1980-2005
Television and radio shows of note
- Austin City Limits, PBS goes country
- The Beverly Hillbillies legendary situation comedy series that featured a country theme song, and frequent appearances, by Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs
- Grand Ole Opry broadcasting on WSM from Nashville since 1925
- Hee Haw. featuring Buck Owens and Roy Clark and a pack of droll, cornball comedians, notably Junior Samples
- Lost Highway a significant BBC documentary on the History of Country Music
- The Louisiana Hayride featured Hank Williams in his early years
- Ozark Jubilee
- The Porter Wagoner Show aired from 1960-1979 and was featured a young Dolly Parton
- List of country music performers
- Academy of Country Music
- Country Music Association
- Alternative country for a list of performers in that sub-genre
- WSM Radio
- Country Music Hall of Fame
- Grand Ole Opry
- GoneCountry.us - Rising Country Music Talent
- History of Country Music
- Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
- Country Weekly magazine
- Grand Ole Opry website
- LP Discography-Covers & Lyrics
- Traditional Country Hall of Fame
- [htty://www.purecountrymusic.com/ Pure Country Music]
Tribute sites to early artists
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