COLUMN: Generations of country music explored in historical context | Culture

It’s been an age-old debate between my mother and I as to which of our respective generations of country music is superior. We go back and forth between the classic artists of his generation, like Garth Brooks and Tim McGraw, and the fun, upbeat artists of my generation, like Brett Young and Thomas Rhett.

But, if I’m being completely honest, I don’t mind the aged sound of my mother’s beloved 80s country; I truly appreciate it. That’s why I’m gearing up now for a family weekend at the George Strait concert on Saturday, April 23 at Pinnacle Bank Arena. However, I’m not blind to the fact that there’s a long and storied history of country music even before my mother’s generation I grew up listening to it, and I’ve recently learned more about it .

I have always recognized that country music is the culmination of different sounds that create a genre. However, I had no idea how much it has changed and developed over time. The style has its roots in folksongs, blues, soul and ballads, and its history dates back to the 17th century, according to the Library of Congress. But it wasn’t until the early 1900s that country music began to be recognized as a genre in its own right.

In the 1920s, pioneering artists like Jimmie Rodgers and The Carter Family developed the first branch of country music, renowned for hillbilly music. They used instruments like banjos and fiddles to create their historic sound. The genre found its home in Nashville, Tennessee with the opening of the Grand Ole Opry in 1925 and its first show called “The WSM Barn Dance”. Who knew it was so old?

In the Appalachian region, the bluegrass branch of country music began to develop in the 1930s. I didn’t even know that bluegrass had country roots. With heavy influences from blues, jazz and religious themes, artist Bill Monroe, the so-called “Father of Bluegrass”, developed the subgenre with songs like “Blue Moon of Kentucky”.

In the 1930s and 1940s, the all-too-familiar singing cowboys of the cowboy and western genres began to make their way into the mainstream. That’s what you think of when you imagine old country music and, for me, the backing tracks to my grandfather’s favorite westerns. Artists like Gene Autry and Roy Rogers split their time between the Hollywood movie scene and their country music careers. Their songs like “Deep in the Heart of Texas” and “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” produced a softer country sound.

Then it gets exciting because later in the 1940s country music got loud and rowdy with the introduction of the honky tonk branch. I admit it sounds silly, but the term comes from rowdy country bars where people would gather to listen to new music that incorporated electric guitars and drums. Loretta Lynn emerged to start her six-decade career, and Ernest Tubb became the first artist to bring a steel guitar to the Grand Ole Opry.

In the 1950s, the country genre became dominated by a multitude of styles and sounds. Artist Elvis Presley blended R&B with a country and western sound to create the rockabilly subgenre which later introduced the legendary Johnny Cash. I can almost hear my grandfather singing out of tune just at the thought of Presley.

In response to the growing popularity of rock music, country artists like Jim Reeves and Brenda Lee abandoned the twang for a more refined country sound called the Nashville sound. On the West Coast, Buck Owens and the Buckaroos kept the honky-tonk sound alive with the sound of Bakersfield, California.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Charley Pride became the first black country star, and with the help of other artists like George Jones, Pride created an even more refined sound known as countrypolitan. They incorporate string instruments and backing vocals in the background vocals to smooth out the music in songs like “Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone”.

Beginning in the 1970s, artists like Dolly Parton and Alabama began to attract a wider audience with the country-pop subgenre, and my mother’s love of country music was born. With the establishment of Country Music Television in 1983, the genre had round-the-clock access to television and became more popular.

The neo-traditional country sound is what most of us are familiar with today. It started in the 1980s when artists like Garth Brooks, Shania Twain, Brooks & Dunn (my mum was adamant that I included them) and so many other artists started to crossover seamlessly between all sub- genera listed above. It’s also the sound that country artists produce today. With a more contemporary style, modern country singers topping the charts carry on the legacy of those who came before them.

The story is deep, but the country genre is still going strong. I can’t wait to see how this develops in the future. With a better understanding of its history, I can now appreciate all styles of country music and can’t wait to get my boots on for this weekend’s concert even more.

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