Beer & Boots: History of Country Music

There is an old joke about country music, and it goes like: What happens when you play a country song backwards? you get your wife back, your house back and your dog back. It’s funny because it’s not very far from the truth.

Country music, also known as western music, is a genre or style of American pop music which is known to have originated from rural places in Western and Southern America. Back then, it was called ‘country and western music’ and later on shortened to only ‘country music.’

It is still a popular music genre in America where many musicians and singers emerge in this type of music. It is also one of the most treasured music genre in the United States that is being celebrated every year by various award giving bodies to promote and maintain the reign of country music.

Humble Beginnings

According to music historians, the origin of country music can be traced from the influence of Irish settlers of Appalachian or Appalachian settlers. With the roots and mixture of folk songs, ballads, and pop music, these settlers first made the genre popular in the late 1910s.

And years after, in the 1920s to be specific, the country music reached the commercial scene and the first country music album was launched. Eck Robertson first recorded a music from this genre and was released under Victor Records in 1922.

Many singers and musicians followed and tried the genre. The first victorious country singer in the history was Vernon Dalhart with the release of his 1924 hit Wreck of the Old ’97. However, the genuine peak of the country music was in 1927 with the emergence of the father of country music Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family.

Country Music at Number 1

Rodgers received his moniker after reaching a record-breaking sale of his country music albums. He was the first country singer to reach a million sales for his single Blue Yodel #1. His popularity peaked during 1927 to 1933, making him the face and voice of country in this era. In 1961, Rodgers was awarded as a Hall of Fame personality for Country Music.

Alongside Rodgers, country music began its successful run with the help of The Carter Family. They were hailed as the first vocal group to become popular. The family is comprised of AP Carter, Sara Dougherty-Carter, and Maybelle Addington. The group became popular in the late 1920s and continued to perform for decades.

Country Music on Air

Aside from the musicians themselves, country music peaked because of the support of radio stations. In the 1920s, many small and Midwestern radio stations started to play country music which happened to be one of the reasons why many listeners learned to appreciate the genre.

Aside from the regular airing of country music on the radio, two programs were launched dedicated for country music namely National Barn Dance and Grand Ole Opry. Because of these programs, many musicians were encouraged to release and record country songs. In fact, Rodgers and The Carter Family were some of them.

Spreading Like A Wildfire

Because of the World War II and the Great Depression, many Southern residents moved to other cities. And this migration also led to country music to be exposed in other parts of America. This also paved the way to inject other influences to the genre, such as blues and gospel songs.

Also, country music was associated with cowboys and cowboy films. With the popularity of cowboy films in Hollywood during the 1930s and 1940s, slowly, the country music has reached Hollywood.

Several personalities, such as Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Dale Evans, and Spade Cooley were the first ones who made country music popular in Hollywood. But one of the most popular name during that time was Ernest Tubb due to his recording of the song Walking the Floor Over You.

‘Contemporary’ Country Music

The Americans got more gaga over country when John Travolta starred in the 1979 movie Urban Cowboy. This movie made a movement in country music phenomenal. The movement was focused on easy-listening crossover success. Following this, many other singers emerged as popular country music faces, such as Dolly Parton, Johnny Lee, Mickey Gilley, George Strait, Steve Wariner, and Reba McEntire.

American Country Music Awards

To promote and recognize the contribution of country music, the Country Music Association spearheaded the Country Music Award (CMA) in 1967. The first set of awards were handed at the Nashville Municipal Auditorium where Eddy Arnold garnered the Entertainer of the Year award.

Only The Beginning

Country music is homegrown, deep-rooted and personal. We’ve only scratched the surface of this wonderful form of music. It’s to say that country music isn’t going away very soon. As long as there is a person who likes to drink a cold beer under the hot sun while listening to good music, country will always be here.

I leave you now with a quote from the great Willie Nelson…

“three chords and the truth – that’s what country music is.”