The history of country music dates back over 300 years ago. Settlers from many countries came to southern America with minimum belongings, but these belongings usually included a musical instrument. Music served as inspiration, comfort and hope. These instruments included the Irish fiddle, German dulcimer, Italian mandolin, Spanish guitar and West African banjo. Because of its ability to produce a sad and happy sound, the fiddle became a preferred instrument.
Often, people viewed country music as a creation of European-Americans, but much of its style came from African-Americans. The reason for this is because in the south, blacks and whites in rural communities often worked and played together. The interaction of these groups gave rise to a unique sound. The world called it as a southern phenomenon . . . a combination of culture, tradition and ethnicity.
Roots of Country Music
The history of country music heart and soul are embedded in the hearts, minds and emotions of immigrants and slaves. It is a mixture of blended songs and cultures.
Four distinct groups make-up early country music: cajun music, folk music, hillbilly and western swing. Cajun music consists of French ballads from Acadians of Canada. Its instrumentation is the accordian, fiddle and triangle. Traditional folksongs are ballads with simple instrumentation, primarily the fiddle. Hillbilly music applies to “old-time” country and bluegrass, whereas, western swing usually refers to cowboy songs.
Shielded from outside influences during the 18th and early 19th centuries, the music of the locals remained constant until the Civil War. Afterwards, it “took on” musical elements from vaudeville, minstrel shows, and songs chanted by African railroad workers. Native fiddlers joined African banjos. World War I caused more exposure to the settlers, and the guitar, dulcimer and autoharp were added to the mix. This created a unique southern sound that served as the basis for country music.
The Photograph Changes Things
The mixture of folksongs, railroad songs, vaudeville and minstrel songs produced a distinct local sound—a sound that got the attention of recording producers. This mixture provides a rich history of country music.
Edison’s invention of the photograph caused music lovers to purchase records and listen to music. This opened up a market for music production. Many producers “ran for the money,” and a new recording industry sprang up. That industry was heart and soul country music.
Local performers heard their music played on radio stations as early as 1922. This led to barn-dance programs which caused an increase in popularity. The first commercial recordings were “Arkansas Traveler” and “Turkey in the Straw” by Henry Gilliland and Eck Robertson. Later, Columbia Records jumped into the mix by producing records of “hillbilly” music in 1924.
The history of country music heart and soul is exciting and unique. It is a popular music style that began in the southern states in the 1920s . . . gaining popularity in the 1940s. It is buried in the hearts and souls of many cultures, ethnicities, and strong human emotions. The term describes many styles and subgenres of modern-day country music, and continues to blaze trails unknown and unseen.