Country music is a type of American popular music associated with rural cu lture and the Southern region of the United States. It developed in the 1800's, combining elements of folk music from Britain, the blues of South­ern rural b lacks , popular songs of the late 1800's , and re­l igious music. Country music , sometimes called country and western music , has been popular throughout the world since the 1940 's.

During the 1920's , most country singers and instru­mentalists came from such states as Georgia, Kentucky , North and South Carolina , Tennessee , and West Vir­ginia. In the "1930's and 1940 's , many artists from Ala­bama , Mississippi , Oklahoma , and Texas came to prominence. These performers created a wide variety of country music styles that today include bluegrass, Cajun, cowboy music , honky tonk, rockabi lly / and west­ern swing.

Characteristics. The musical instruments vary with each type of country music , but some are common to nearly all country groups. Instruments from many areas of the world combined in the New World to form the core of country music's instrumental sound. These in­struments include the fiddle from Britain , the banjo from West Africa , the guitar from Spain , and the mandolin from Italy. As country music came under the influence of other kinds of music , other instruments were added and altered the basic sound. The piano , Hawaiian steel guitar, double bass, horns , and reed instruments have a ll been used in country music. Instruments that were electronically amplified first appeared in country music in the 1930's.

The story told in songs is an important part of country music. Many country songs today use direct language and realistic situations to describe the real concerns of adults. Most country songs are about love and romantic feelings. Many are happy songs, but some explain the feelings of loneliness, loss, and separation that result when love or romance ends, or when married couples are unfaithful. Some country songs are about work. Oth­ers express sacred themes, reflecting the importance of religion in Southern life. Some country songs are about events in the news, and some are humorous. Many old folk tunes are still sung in country music.

Styles vary from one style of country music to another. For example, bluegrass and other "mountain music" styles feature a high-pitched, nasal singing tone. Other singers sound like pop music vocalists.

Early years. Country music developed from the folk and religious music of the rural South. Beginning in the 1600 's, immigrants from the British Isles brought their folk music to North America. This music included fid­dling and singing. Solo fiddlers played dance music at social events, such as country dances, weddings, and wakes. Ballads and other folk tunes were often sung by one person, alone or accompanied by a fiddle. The reli­gious music of the South included hymns and, begin­ning in the late 1800 's, gospel songs and spirituals.

Folk music in the South changed through contact with other cultures. Between the mid-1800's and about 1920, the banjo, guitar, mandolin, and Hawaiian steel guitar were borrowed from many folk music traditions. Various combinations of these instruments were used both with and without vocalists. By about 1920, the string band, consisting of a fiddle, banjo, and guitar, was the standard instrumental group. String bands played dance music and folk tunes in homes, at parties, and at country fairs.

Commercial success. During the early 1920 's, coun­try music became available on records and on the radio. Record companies set up temporary recording studios in such Southern cities as Atlanta, Ga ; Charlotte, N.C; Dallas; and Memphis. The music they recorded was often called hillbilly music, partly because of a popular band called the "Hill Billies." Sometimes, country enter­tainers were brought to New York City to record.

Early country radio shows were broadcast from cities as far north as Des Moines , Iowa, and Chicago, but the music was still concentrated in the South. There, it was broadcast from such cities as Atlanta; Dallas; Fort Worth, Tex ; Shreveport , La ; and Wheeling, W. Va. The most important radio show to feature country music — the "Grand Ole Opry” — was first broadcast from Nash­ville in 1925 as the "Barn Dance." It is still broadcast from Opryland, an entertainment park near the city.

Country music continued to change in the 1930 's. Many groups added drums, pianos, and electric instru­ments to their sound. The singing style became smoother, and the accompaniments began to contain chords that sounded more like those found in other popular music of the day. In the late 1920 's and early 1930's, the famous country singer Jimmie Rodgers per­formed in a style that combined country yodeling with black blues.

During the 1930 's, radio stations broadcast country music to many regions of the United States. At the same time . Southerners moved to other parts of the country, taking their music with them. As a result, country music began to gain national popularity. During World War II ( 1939- 1945), country music gained an international audi­ence when members of the United States armed forces brought records to other countries. The most popular performers of the 1930's and 1940's included Roy Acuff, Gene Autry, the Carter family, Jimmie Davis, Red Foley, Tex Ritter, Jimmie Rodgers, Ernest Tubb, and Bob Wills.

After World War II. During the 1950's, mainstream pop singers recorded hits written by country composer and singer Hank Williams. These songs include "Cold, Cold Heart" and "Your Cheatin Heart." Kitty Wel ls was the most popular solo female country singer from the mid- 1950's to the mid-1960's.

During the late 1950 's and the 1960 's, the country music industry produced many records that blended characteristics of country and pop music. Voca l and string background ensembles became common, and much of the music was electronically amplified. This new style of country music was called the Nashville Sound. Its leading performers included Eddy Arnold, Patsy Cline, and Jim Reeves.

Country music today. In the 1970's, many country singers became national celebrities, and several became film and television performers. Such singers as Crystal Gayle, Loretta Lynn, Ronnie Milsap, Dolly Parton, and Kenny Rogers had hit records in both the country and popular markets.

Emmylou Harris, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and other singers have supported a return to a more basic, authentic country style. Many country entertainers who began careers in the 198 ffs drew inspiration from the roots of country music. Randy Travis, the Judds, Reba McEntire, and George Strait performed in styles associ­ated with the 1950 's and 1960 's. Other stars, such as Ala­bama, Hank Williams, Jr., and Restless Heart, combined country music and rock. Garth Brooks, Lee Greenwood, Barbara Mandrell, and K. T. Oslin have explored the boundary between country music and pop.




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