Country music is a blend of popular musical forms originally found in the Southern United States and the Appalachian Mountains. It has roots in traditional folk music, Celtic music, gospel music and old- time music and evolved rapidly in the 1920s.
The term Country Music began to be used in the 1940s when the earlier term hillbilly music was deemed to be degrading. The term Country Music was widely embraced in the 1970s, while Country and Western has declined in use since that time, except in the United Kingdom and Ireland, where it is still commonly used.
Country music has produced two of the top selling solo artists of all time. Elvis Presley, who was known early on as “the Hillbilly Cat”, went on to become a defining figure in the emergence of rock and roll. Contemporary musician Garth Brooks, with 220 million albums sold, is the top-selling solo artist in U.S. history.
Immigrants to the Southern Appalachian Mountains of North America brought the music and instruments of the Old World along with them for nearly 300 years. The Irish fiddle, the German derived dulcimer, the Italian mandolin, the Spanish guitar, and the African banjo were the most common musical instruments. The interactions among musicians from different ethnic groups produced music unique to this region of North America. Appalachian string bands of the early twentieth century primarily consisted of the fiddle, guitar, and banjo. This early country music along with early recorded country music is often referred to as old-time music.
Throughout the 19th century, several immigrant groups from Europe, most notably from Ireland, Germany, Spain, and Italy moved to Texas. These groups interacted with the Spanish, Mexican, Native American, and U.S. communities that were already established in Texas. As a result of this cohabitation and extended contact, Texas has developed unique cultural traits that are rooted in the culture of all of its founding communities.
The first commercial recording of what can be considered country music was "Sallie Gooden" by fiddlist A.C. (Eck) Robertson in 1922 for Victor Records. Columbia Records began issuing records with "hillbilly" music (series 15000D "Old Familiar Tunes") as early as 1924. A year earlier on June 14, 1923, Fiddlin' John Carson recorded "Little Log Cabin in the Lane" for Okeh Records. Vernon Dalhart was the first country singer to have a nationwide hit in May 1924 with "Wreck of the Old '97.“ The flip side of the record was "Lonesome Road Blues," which also became very popular. In April 1924, "Aunt" Samantha Bumgarner and Eva Davis became the first female musicians to record and release country songs.
Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family are widely considered to be important early country musicians.
Jimmy Rodgers is considered to be the Father of Country Music. Rodgers fused hillbilly country, gospel, jazz, blues, pop, cowboy, and folk music Beginning in 1927, and for the next 17 years the Carters recorded some 300 old-time ballads, traditional tunes, country songs and Gospel hymns, all representative of America's southeastern folklore and heritage
One effect of the Great Depression was to reduce the number of records that could be sold. Radio, and broadcasting, became a popular source of entertainment. “Barn dance" shows featuring country music were started all over the South, as far north as Chicago, and as far west as California.
The most important was the Grand Ole Opry, aired starting in 1925 by WSM-AM in Nashville to the present day. Some of the early stars on the Opry were Uncle Dave Macon, Roy Acuff and African American harmonica player DeFord Bailey. By 1934 it could be heard across the country
Singing Cowboys During the 1930s and 1940s, cowboy songs, or Western music, which had been recorded since the 1920s, were popularized by films made in Hollywood. Some of the popular singing cowboys from the era were Gene Autry, the Sons of the Pioneers and Roy Rogers
Bluegrass, Folk, and Gospel By the end of World War II, "mountaineer" string band music known as bluegrass had emerged when Bill Monroe joined with Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, led by Roy Acuff at the Grand Ole Opry. Gospel music, too, remained a popular component of country music. Red Foley, the biggest country star following World War II, had the first million-selling gospel hit and also sang boogie, blues and rockabilly. In the post-war period, country music was called "folk" in the trades, and "hillbilly" within the industry. In 1944, Billboard replaced the term "hillbilly" with "folk songs and blues," and switched to "country" or "country and western" in 1949.
Honky Tonk Another type of stripped down and raw music with a variety of moods and a basic ensemble of guitar, bass, dobro or steel guitar drums became popular, especially among poor white southerners. It became known as honky tonk and had its roots in Texas. Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys personified this music which has been described as "a little bit of this, and a little bit of that…” East Texan Al Dexter had a hit with "Honky Tonk Blues," and seven years later "Pistol Packin' Mama.“ These "honky tonk" songs associated barrooms, were performed by the likes of Ernest Tubb, Ted Daffin, Floyd Tillman, and the Maddox Brothers and Rose, Lefty Frizzell and Hank Williams, would later be called "traditional" country. Williams' influence in particular would prove to be enormous, inspiring many of the pioneers of rock and roll, such as Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis, while providing a framework for emerging honky tonk talents like George Jones.