Race in Country Music Scholarship
Abstract and Keywords
This chapter reviews how country music scholarship deals with race. It then suggests how scholarship might move forward toward a more critical stance. While evidence points toward African American innovation at the origins of country, survey histories of country music trace the music’s origins to British culture in Appalachia. Revisionist scholarship attempts to uncover black contributions in most periods of country’s history. Its most common topics are the construction of whiteness by the country music industry and the segregation of southern music in the 1920s into “race” and “hillbilly” marketing categories. This chapter ends by suggesting that country scholarship focus on race as a chief concern of the field, complicate its view of segregation, and give more attention to musical sound.
Many of country’s characteristic musical traits were once understood to be African American in association, if not origin: yodeling, banjo-playing, blues chord progressions, blues guitar riffs, slide guitar technique, jazz-inspired solo breaks, backbeat rhythm, and minstrel singing styles thought to be imitations of southern blacks. Country also shares lyrical tropes with African American styles, tropes that include rambling, “the blues,” train travel, relationship loss, murder ballads, dancing, religion, rural-to-urban migration, references to other musicians, and abjection. Yet in the discourse of American popular music, country represents white culture.
Since its commercial beginnings in the 1920s, the country music industry has presented the genre as primarily white by marketing to whites, promoting white artists, and linking traditional instruments to white rustic stereotypes. Record companies defined country as a white product when they created separate catalogs for “race” and “hillbilly.” This segregation masked hillbilly music’s reliance on black traditions and institutionalized the idea that southerners of different races produced different kinds of music. The careers of the Allen Brothers, Taylor’s Kentucky Boys, and DeFord Bailey attest that a few early artists crossed the color line.1 Exceptions abounded in the postwar period as well: Charley Pride, Stoney Edwards, Darius Rucker, Alice Randall, and others played the Opry, recorded number one hits, wrote hits, or won Country Music Academy Awards. These well-known exceptions do not threaten the underlying primacy of white experiences in country, just as white fans and white artists do not undermine hip hop’s privileging of black experience. Country remains the music of American whiteness.2
Country music scholarship has always confirmed that African Americans played a part in country’s beginnings. The earliest work in the field—the 1965 “Hillbilly Issue” of the Journal of American Folklore and Bill C. Malone’s (1968) Country Music, U.S.A.—noted the blues as among the styles hillbilly artists recorded in the 1920s. Tony Russell’s Blacks, Whites, and Blues (1970) showed that Southern blues musicians, black and white, played from a “common stock” repertoire made of minstrel tunes, ragtime, fiddle tunes, (p. 328) and Tin Pan Alley. From this first generation of scholarship have emerged two main narratives about race in country’s history. The first is represented by historical surveys that put whites at the center of country’s history while touting black “influence” on country. These surveys betray a tension between country’s usefulness as a white, working-class symbol and the music’s original dependence on blacks. They diminish black contributions because they rely on a taxonomy set by the music industry, a taxonomy based in folklorist ideology. The second narrative to derive from early scholarship is a revisionist one; it aims to integrate black music into country’s story and to critique how country music constructs whiteness. This work specializes in the topic of race and is not represented in surveys.3
My purpose in this chapter is to consider how country scholarship has conceived of race and how the field’s conceptions inform and are informed by the grand narratives of the field. This study does not delve into demographic data, identify musical retentions from African or British sources, or survey the history of minorities in country music. It analyzes how scholarship frames these kinds of topics because evidence of the field’s ideology emerges through them. In an attempt to review as much of the field as possible, I sometimes reduce complex scholarship to a single statement or thesis, which I then categorize along ideological lines. This method cannot do justice to the ways that scholars have grappled with a sensitive topic, but it allows us to trace a genealogy of racial thought in the field.
This chapter is divided into three sections. The first discusses survey histories to show how they place whites at the center of country’s story. The second reviews authors who revise the survey narratives. This work critiques implicitly (by chronicling black contributions) and explicitly (by analyzing how country music constructs whiteness). The final section suggests three ways we might continue to uncover country’s whiteness and restore black musicians as crucial to the story of country. To recognize country’s whiteness coding process is not to indict every musician, fan, industry executive, or employee. As we uncover discrimination, we will also uncover resilience, cooperation, and innovation.
I address race in black–white relations because these are the terms set by the northern industry and inherited by country scholarship. The industry’s construction of whiteness reflected the high level of anxiety over black–white interactions compared to any other racialized interactions. Reinforced by legal segregation, the industry established this binary as the dominant conception of race in country music. To be sure, other groups contributed to country and the dearth of research on them speaks to binarism’s affect. Scholarship has little to say about Native Americans other than noting the ancestry of Marty Robbins or Spade Cooley. Whites interacted extensively with Native Americans in the South throughout the nineteenth century, yet virtually no country musical traits are credited to them, perhaps a result of the industry’s narrow conception of southern music. Latin music fares a little better, due to the habañera rhythm’s popularity, western swing’s unmistakable Tejano elements, and the success of Tejano country artists. Given country’s privileging of whiteness, much of what is argued here applies to non-black minorities. Further study of race in country scholarship could investigate how (p. 329) whiteness has affected the field’s coverage of Native Americans, Latin Americans, Asian Americans, and Hawaiians.4
Country surveys work much like surveys of other styles of music, by telling a story that begins with the style’s origins and follows its developments through the present day or through its decline. The chronological structure of the narrative requires the author to note some sense of cause and effect, but it also encourages the author to highlight a trajectory, or theme, that characterizes the style and provides meaning across decades of change. In country scholarship, this trajectory often traces how the folk music of southern whites became commercialized but maintained its connection to the white working class, whether in the South or dispersed across America. The story is one of authenticity, sincerity, and identity politics.
Surveys therefore sideline black contributions not because authors believe that African Americans did not contribute but because of an ideology that places high value on an authentic connection between working-class whites and country music. Country scholarship inherited this ideology from folklore studies, a field that contributed much of the seminal scholarship on country beginning in the 1960s. Folklore scholarship attempted to show that communities can preserve their distinctive musical traits (“retentions”) from one generation to the next, that isolation of homologous communities aids in this transfer between generations, and that outside influences compromise the integrity of musical traditions. The field’s most well-known project, developed at the end of the nineteenth century, was its attempt to prove that white Appalachians had preserved British folk culture. The thesis has since been critiqued, but its continued usefulness for country scholarship shows the lasting impact of folklore scholarship.5 Outside folklore, southern intellectuals such as J. W. Cash, Frank L. Owsley, and George Pullen Jackson turned folklore’s ideas onto their own region to defend the distinctive character of white southerners. This defense of white southerners supported some of the first country scholarship. In his article, “The Sound of the Plain White Folk? Creating Country Music’s ‘Social Origins,’ ” Jeffrey T. Manuel outlines how these southern authors impacted Malone’s early work. Southern intellectuals invented “a new social category, the southern plain folk, who could be identified by their distinctive mannerisms, their non-Marxist class consciousness, and their location in the southern United States.”6 Just as the northern academy justified the ideal of pure, Anglo-Saxon southerners, southern arguments for the coherence of southern plain folk culture created a homegrown logic for the study of country music. The existence of a unified hillbilly culture “offered a social explanation for what music listeners were hearing as early as the 1920s and 1930s.”7
These two ideas, music’s direct connection to ethnic identity and the existence of the southern plain folk as a coherent people group, provided early country scholarship with a reasoning for country identity politics. When Malone first published Country Music, (p. 330) U.S.A. in 1968, he needed to defend country as a legitimate subject of study. He extolled country’s significance as an expression of one of America’s many ethnic groups, an effective approach considering the academy’s sympathy toward vernacular music as folklore. As commercialized folk music, he argued, country spoke to the concerns of a southern working class. His claim, later articulated in Don’t Get Above Your Raisin’, is that the music realizes the values, circumstances, and ethnicity of southerners: “[a]s one of the greatest commercial manifestations of the South’s musical culture, country music has long served as a barometer of the change that has taken place in the lives of the region’s working people.”8 Malone’s claims were all the more powerful because of the political climate of the sixties. The essentialist logic of folklore, a logic that ascribed meaning to popular music based on social association and matched minority groups with distinct musical styles, re-inscribed itself in identity politics. As the Civil Rights and Black Power movements increasingly identified soul as the representative style of black resistance, so too would country become the music of a white subgroup. Malone championed whites in the poorest region of the United States during a time when their regional affiliation diminished their place in American society.9
The identity politics of musical styles relied on marketing categories established by the recording industry in the 1920s. In his book Segregating Sound: Inventing Folk and Pop Music in the Age of Jim Crow, Karl Hagstrom Miller outlines the decades-long process that led to industry segregation. The division had little to do with the sounds musicians produced. Instead, new segregation laws, technological advances in the recording industry, and a pervasive folklorism drove the industry to conclude that separate marketing categories were necessary. Music that was shared between blacks and whites in the nineteenth century was formally divided by the 1920s in accordance with the logic that “black people performed black music and white people performed white music.”10 Miller’s powerful work tracks how a belief in the essential cultural differences between races developed in the field of folklore studies during the nineteenth century to set the terms for the industry in the 1920s. What the industry promoted as natural, that ethnicity determined musical style, was a relatively new idea that did not fit with the reality of southern vernacular music. During a time when “the differences within African American or white music cultures were more extreme than the differences between black and white musical cultures,” the industry forced a stark separation.11 The industry’s categories inadvertently suggested fields of study for nascent pop music scholarship in the 1960s, thus steering scholarly attention toward country’s whiteness and soul’s blackness. Country historians marginalize African Americans because marginalization is the reality the industry made. Awareness of scholarship’s dependence on industry narratives has been sublimated because scholarship frames country as primarily a preexisting white folk form, “discovered,” commercialized, and then marketed to the people whose culture produced it.12
Folklorism undergirds survey scholarship’s conceptions of race in two ways. First, country history surveys celebrate British folk culture in America as the core tradition at the origins of country music. Second, they relegate black contributions to country’s periphery by corralling them into topics that pertain to the relative past: country’s folk roots, the blues, mentorship, and minstrelsy. Black country stars appear in scholarship’s (p. 331) larger story as exceptions that make little sense in a romantic narrative of white identity politics. Marginalization happens because minorities are cordoned off into these topics and within discussions of these topics. Miller describes the “stock narratives” that emerge about country and blues when the folkloric paradigm holds sway:
This approach yields narratives that lead from social isolation to contact, from pure musical styles to compounds, from music made outside the commercial market to music that is deeply integrated into it. They imply that what is most important about [blues and country] are their respective roots in African American and rural white folk cultures. They suggest that continuities within these traditions are more significant than transformations, the origins of a style more revelatory than the changing ways in which a variety of people may have used it.13
Country scholars cite Miller, but usually as background on the formation of hillbilly and race categories. Few have taken seriously the way his book threatens to overturn country’s origins narrative.
The White Core Narrative
Most all surveys define country as a commercialized folk music whose primary characteristics have been inherited from the British Isles. Even in sources that acknowledge the intertwining of African and European music since the seventeenth century, white tradition is the starting point. Writers consistently introduce Appalachian music first in their origins accounts and link this music to the British Isles (sometimes to its individual nations), whereas black folk music is rarely linked to Africa and never to specific nations. Like early folksong collectors, survey authors assume racial homogeneity in Appalachia by locating cross-racial influence in southern cities, work camps, train yards, coal-mining towns, and farming communities, but rarely in the mountains. Vocabulary also bifurcates the races into a center/periphery model; Anglo-Saxon and Celtic music “survived,” was “central,” or was “preserved,” while African music (music of “blacks” or “African Americans,” but rarely “African music”) “influenced,” “infused,” or was “absorbed.” I discuss here the origins narratives from recent surveys and reference articles by Malone, Jocelyn Neal, and Ivan Tribe. Cecilia Tichi’s often-cited High Lonesome is not a survey, but as a seminal study of country lyrics, it merits mention here for its demarcation of racial boundaries. Malone’s excerpts come from the latest edition of his Country Music, U.S.A., revised with Jocelyn Neal. Because the quoted passages come from unrevised chapters, I refer to Malone as the author. All these sources deal with race in complex ways that cannot be reduced to their opening chapters; a source may commit to country’s white core in its opening while crediting blacks extensively in later chapters. The purpose of analyzing their conceptions of origins is to show how the field establishes country’s history in racial terms.14
(p. 332) Malone’s first reference to origins in the 2010 edition of Country Music, U.S.A. comes in the preface, as he’s lamenting how historians of the South have ignored the region’s music:
Passing references in southern history surveys to Elizabethan balladry, Appalachian dulcimers, or the Grand Ole Opry hardly do justice to the institution that country music has become. … Accounts of the Great Depression, the era of the “common man’s” rediscovery, say virtually nothing about the music of the plain folk, except for a few brief references to Woody Guthrie or the Library of Congress’ Archive of American Folk Song. But almost every radio station in the nation during those perilous years harbored a cowboy balladeer, a gospel quartet, or a hillbilly string band.15
For Malone, knowledge of the South’s music is necessary for understanding the region itself. He lists the styles of music that he believes speak most powerfully about the region’s people, and these are commonly understood as white. Chapter 1 (of Malone and Neal’s edition), “The Folk Background,” places immigrants from the British Isles at the beginning of country’s story, while stating that interaction with blacks was necessary to country’s development:
Hillbilly music … evolved primarily out of the reservoir of folksongs, ballads, dances, and instrumental pieces brought to North America by Anglo-Celtic immigrants. Gradually absorbing influences from other musical sources, particularly from the culture of Afro-Americans, it eventually emerged as a force strong enough to survive, and even thrive, in an urban-industrial society. British folk culture of course came to all regions of English-speaking North America. … It was only in the southern United States, though, that dynamic folk cultural expressions, black and white, evolved into a viable commercial forms in our own time.16
Malone emphasizes the diversity of southern music, but treats white traditions as typical:
Therefore, when country music began its commercial development in the 1920s, a large and diverse repertory of songs, religious and secular, southern and nonsouthern, folk and popular, was available to musicians. At the core of the country repertory, however, was the store of traditional songs, both British and American. … Many of the traditional items were ballads; that is, narrative, impersonal songs that told a story. A large store of British ballads survived the trek across the Atlantic, some in long, extended versions, but many in only fragmentary form.17
The “hypothetical folk musician” he describes at the end of the chapter
was also white—but probably not the “Anglo-Saxon” that romanticists theorize about. He may have been “Celtic,” or German, but most likely was a composite of forgotten European groups, with a bit of Indian thrown in (at least he liked to romanticize himself as part Indian). His music was just as eclectic, being a composite of instrumental and vocal styles and songs, heavily indebted to the various ethnic (p. 333) groups of the South, and particularly to the blacks from whom his ancestors had borrowed since the beginning of American life.18
In Malone’s account, we see the tension that country’s origins narratives are built on; southern vernacular styles that became country were fundamentally British in origin, but southern white music would not be what it is without black music. African Americans and Native Americans are necessary components in a story about whites.
Jocelyn R. Neal’s textbook, Country Music: A Cultural and Stylistic History, also suggests white folk tradition as the origin of country, while including black influence. She asserts from the beginning that country is “inextricably dependent on black musical styles” and lists blues, jazz, vaudeville, and minstrelsy as among those that supplied early country.19 Yet the first discussion of country’s sources highlights balladry’s heritage:
The oldest of these musical sources were the traditional ballads, or songs that told a story, that had been passed down orally from generation to generation. These ballads have long been romanticized as pristine folk songs from the British Isles, preserved in the isolated mountains of the Appalachian region.
She notes that balladry made up little of country’s early repertory, but establishes it as foundational by naming song collectors Cecil Sharp, Maud Karpeles, and Olive Dame Campbell, significant because they “raised public awareness of the rich culture of the Southern Appalachians.”20 Fiddling, gospel hymns, cowboy songs (a handful “could be traced to earlier British Isles sources”), and banjo playing (located “[i]n the mountains of the Southeast”) are also addressed as white traditions.21
Neal’s New Grove article on “Country Music” presents white southern styles as prevailing, though as in her textbook and in Malone’s 2010 account, African Americans are included from the very beginning:
The origins of country music are the folk music of mostly white, working-class Americans, who blended popular songs, Irish and Celtic fiddle tunes, traditional ballads, and cowboy songs, along with African American blues and various musical traditions from European immigrant communities.
In the subsection “Origins and Development in the 1920s,” she first lists “[f]olk ballads and fiddle tunes from the British Isles, which by the late nineteenth century had developed into their own forms in the mountains of Appalachia”; followed by minstrelsy, medicine shows, Vaudeville, blues, gospel, topical ballads, cowboy songs, and jazz. Only the blues is specifically identified as African American.22
Ivan Tribe’s Country: A Regional Exploration is one of five reference books in a series on American roots music. His version of country’s origins places a specific repertory at the center to be enriched by others:
This music derived from Anglo-Celtic fiddle tunes and ballads and other sounds originating in Europe. Over the years, these influences received supplemental (p. 334) infusions from nineteenth-century show tunes, the minstrel stage, the emerging popular music industry on “Tin Pan Alley,” shape-note hymnals together with singing schools, and cross-cultural contacts with African Americans.23
This account obscures black influence on country by specifying white styles but relegating black music to “contacts.”
Cecilia Tichi’s High Lonesome: The American Culture of Country Music argues that country’s significance lies in its ability to address important topics in American thought. She compares country songs about loss, travel, and nature to literature and painting about the same themes. As a literary scholar, her focus is lyrics and songwriting:
African American traditions have enriched country music instrumentally. …
But the emphasis on story separates white country music from black blues. The two divide over a basic difference in form, according to the scholar William Ferris, who contrasts the liquid form of the blues with the narrative ballad form essential to white country music. Blues, says Ferris, descends primarily from the African folk lyric. Each blues stanza can be a stand-alone entity that might or might not relate to the others in the song. In white country music, by contrast, the story is central, coming as it does through the tradition of the British ballad. And though such country music legends as Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams, and Bill Monroe learned much from black musicians, their musical center, like that of all country artists, lies in the storytelling ballad.24
For Tichi, formal differences between ballads and blues, whose alleged origins in other continents trump hundreds of years of racial interchange in America, determine a song’s ability to tell a story. Country is therefore distinctive because of its preservation of balladry, a form that lies at the core of country’s creativity.
Ambivalence about the strength of British retentions surfaces in some of the same scholarship that asserts balladry’s centrality. In Country Music, U.S.A., Malone asks, “Have historians properly acknowledged and explored the very old musical interrelationship between black and white Americans?”25 He later admits, “[o]ur speculations about ‘Celtic’ or ‘Anglo’ origins, or about ‘black’ influences, are frankly guesses based upon the most limited data.”26 In Southern Music/American Music, Malone argues explicitly against an ethnocentric narrative to establish the extensive intertwining of black and white folk music from the seventeenth century onward. He credits blacks with precountry contributions, but retreats when he gets to commercialization (he does not connect the blues to Jimmie Rodgers or bluegrass). These kinds of doubts about the accuracy of an Appalachian origins thesis have not overturned scholarship’s fundamental premise of country’s white folk origins.27
Peripheral Black Influence
If, as surveys maintain, African Americans influenced country’s white styles, how does scholarship address this influence? Just as in origins accounts, accounts of black input (p. 335) illustrate the tension between country’s whiteness and inevitable exceptions. The field has limited most discussion to four topics: (1) the blues; (2) mentoring relationships between an older, black man and a younger, white one; (3) minstrelsy as inspiration for country comedy; and (4) black stars of country music. In many cases, blacks are given full credit for innovations. At other times, however, their contributions are limited by writing that generalizes black music impact, relegates black contribution to the past, or asserts blacks’ importance without supporting it. In this way, attention to blues, mentoring, minstrelsy, and exceptions can draw attention away from the ways that country’s characteristics depend on African American innovations. Examples of passages that fall into one of these four topics are too numerous to review here. Instead I summarize the common tropes about African Americans in the literature.28
Blues: Scholarship clusters black stylistic impact on country around the blues, specifically song repertoire, guitar technique, and twelve-bar song form (or its variants). Historians point out these traits in country styles from the twenties through the mid-fifties, but as they move from one decade to the next, the blackness of the blues wanes; the style becomes increasingly unmoored from black people and black culture. Coverage of hillbilly boogie and honky tonk enumerates the blues variants they rely on (boogie woogie piano and rhythm and blues [R&B], respectively) but never comments on the racial implications of theses styles, as if their characteristic musical elements are either white or unimportant. An exception is Malone’s identification of specific black musicians important for western swing, yet the racial implications of swing and swing dancing in particular have gone undeveloped. The clear association between country’s blues-based styles and African Americans culture demands more thorough consideration than country scholars have given it. General assertions of significance without the description of borrowed elements or their racially charged meanings mask the possibility that the country styles were white versions of black styles.29
Mentors: A common narrative throughout country scholarship is that southern black musicians mentored several of country’s early stars. Accounts of A. P. Carter, Jimmie Rodgers, Bill Monroe, Merle Travis, Bob Wills, and Hank Williams cite their relationships with black musicians. Coverage of Carter, Monroe, and Williams often credits their mentors by name (Lesley Riddle, Arnold Shultz, and Rufus “Tee Tot” Payne, respectively). In all cases, these mentoring relationships were brought to light by the white musicians and substantiated by scholarship. Musicians’ claims to one-on-one transmission of folk music, especially the blues, bolstered the artists’ authenticity, proving they possessed firsthand knowledge of their sources. Yet even in crediting specific African American musicians, accounts conceal the dependence of country “fathers” on black music because it’s unclear exactly what whites learned from blacks. Historians have allowed artist testimony to drive the narrative, leaving claims uninvestigated. These mentors did not record, except for the rediscovered Riddle, so it is difficult to compare their styles with those of their heirs.
Black musicians surely taught the stars in question, but their weight is exaggerated at the expense of more mundane yet impacting experiences. Though Hank Williams credits Payne with “all the music training I ever had,” and though Monroe apprenticed (p. 336) with Shultz during a formative season, the mentors died before either of their protégés passed the age of twenty.30 It is more likely that black influence came through the daily interactions typical in the South and from music both communities already shared. Through adulthood, these country artists had intense exposure to professional black musicians through live performance and recordings, yet few narratives confirm white artists learning from black artists after the whites established their careers. Rodgers and Wills learned black styles in worksites, whether train yards or cotton fields, a narrative that both reveals constant interaction and mystifies through generalization and childhood memory. Encapsulating black influence into obscure personas of the relative past assigns authenticity to white artists but conceals the likelihood that black music influenced all of country’s early stars, with or without a mentor.31
The ideology behind mentorship narratives is part folklorism (blacks as the qualified source of knowledge about “black music” such as the blues or guitar technique) and part mystification. American popular culture mystifies African Americans, fictional or real, by foregrounding ambiguous origins and stories of the supernatural. In film, this mystification often occurs through what film scholars call a “magical negro,” a black character whose purpose is to help a central white character solve a problem, redeem himself, or find his way. He or she may be spiritualized as an angel, a ghost, or person whose origins are unknown and possesses supernatural power in the form of wisdom or prophetic advice. Films relying on the magical negro “create scenes of trouble-free and uncomplicated black/white reconciliation” that “displace the realities of history into more viewer-friendly narratives.”32 While none of the accounts of country’s black mentors present them as magical, these mentors have mysterious origins (or deaths), evince racial collaboration, and are crucial for the development of their protégés.33 Erika Brady’s work on Arnold Shultz traces how mystification played a part in the debate over the origins of thumb picking. She notes how John Hartford’s account of Shultz parallels myths about another shadowy southern musician, Robert Johnson: “elements of mysterious absence, then reappearance, of a hero magically transformed; an epic quest to capture a rare gift, and a triumphant return to share it with those who stayed at home.”34
Minstrelsy: General works summarize minstrelsy’s importance for country in two ways. First, as one of the earliest commercialized forms of popular music in the South, blackface minstrelsy spread its repertoire, both folksongs and professionally penned songs, throughout the region. It also popularized the banjo and fiddle–banjo duets among whites. Early country musicians from different regions of the South drew on a common repertoire and set of instrumental techniques that minstrel shows had popularized. Second, minstrelsy’s model for live performance was appropriated by radio barn dances, which inherited minstrelsy’s stock characters and variety-show format. Some country comedians developed white versions of minstrel stereotypes (i.e., the “bumpkin” stereotype so foundational to country visual imagery), while others, such as the Opry’s Lassus and Honey, maintained traditional black characters. Minstrelsy’s conventions transferred seamlessly to country because of the audience’s familiarity with them and because many of country’s early professionals had apprenticed as blackface performers.35
Recent work on barn dances investigates whiteness encoded through minstrelsy. Michael T. Bertrand argues the National Barn Dance used minstrelsy to build a sense (p. 337) of white community for rural-to-urban migrants in Chicago. The all-white program rejected Jazz Age trappings in favor of home, rural life, and nostalgia for white community.36 Published a year later in 2009, Pamela Fox’s Natural Acts: Gender, Race, and Rusticity in Country Music shows how country maintained its image of authenticity as conceptions of class and gender changed during the mid-twentieth century. Her chapter on barn dance illustrates the ubiquity of blackface in country and country comedy’s reliance on stock minstrel humor. For Fox, race is contingent on class anxieties; as “rusticity came to be associated not only with a feminized class abjection and obsolescence but also with a degraded form of whiteness,” whites legitimated themselves through blackface.37 As the status of rural-to-urban whites changed after World War II, so did the ways that country constructed authenticity. Honky tonk embodied new frustrations over changing gender roles and “[r]acial mimicry no longer served as the bedrock for this modern, seemingly more transparent, persona.”38
Exceptions: The pull between the centrality of white folk music and the reality of black contribution is perhaps most clear in the cases of black country stars. Every major history of country includes at least one minority artist in its pantheon but has difficulty explaining the artist’s success. Most commentary centers around Charley Pride, the only commercially successful black country singer until Darius Rucker’s move from roots rock to country in the mid-2000s. Scholars note that as a “white sounding” African American singer, he broke racial barriers in country’s star system but not stylistic barriers. Ray Charles also receives attention in academia and the popular press for his Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music (1962), though Nashville at the time did not consider him to be a country singer. Neal’s textbook is one of the few surveys to address the tension around black stars, namely Rucker:
Anomalous cases such as his, however, do not change the fact that musical genre and racial identity are deeply intertwined, and for decades country music has used whiteness as one of its border-defining features.39
However, much of the book’s coverage of black country is located away from the main text in separate sections on “Race in Early Country Music” and “Race and Contemporary Country.” Scholarship has had a difficult time explaining the significance of black stars because their success is not compatible with folklorism. Black artists are branded as anomalies because they contradict with a genre whose significance lies in its expression of white working-class life.40
Surveys and specialized studies can hardly be separated from one another because they depend on each other and, in many cases, share authors. Yet specialized work in country has counteracted the center/periphery racial divide of the field’s grand narratives. Russell’s 1970 book founded an integrationist line of inquiry that developed in (p. 338) opposition to white origins narratives. This alternate scholarship gained momentum in the 1990s and produced a flurry of critical studies beginning in 2010 that challenge the field’s ethnocentricity in two ways. The first chronicles black country’s history, especially that of the 1920s and 1930s. The second applies critical race theory, most notably whiteness studies, to show how country’s whiteness was constructed over time.
Blacks in Early Country
Chronicling specific black participation works against the narratives of general influence that have obscured the impact of black musicians. Here I review work in early country because it implicitly critiques the origins thesis. Much of Charles K. Wolfe’s work highlights black country, beginning with his 1982 book Kentucky Country: Folk and Country Music of Kentucky.41 He details black musicians rarely mentioned elsewhere and then interlaces them into his narrative. His accounts place black musicians like Arnold Shultz in local music scenes instead of the mythological past. For example, he traces the history of bluegrass staple “Molly and Tenbrooks” from its nineteenth-century origins to its many early recordings by black musicians and describes the integrated music scene in Louisville, where Victor recorded black blues and string bands in 1931. In the early 1990s, Wolfe called for more research on string band music, a topic still understudied in any field of popular music scholarship.42
Scholarly interest in the black banjo peaked in the mid-1990s with books by Cecelia Conway (African Banjo Echoes in Appalachia: A Study of Folk Traditions) and Karen Linn (That Half-Barbaric Twang: The Banjo in American Popular Culture). This work undercut the white racial symbolism of the instrument by revealing how African Americans pioneered popular folk banjo styles.43 In 2003, Black Music Research Journal published a special issue on black Appalachia claiming black innovation in a region long held to be the font of white folk retentions. Inspired by black Appalachia scholarship and the “Affrilachian” poetry movement led by Frank X. Walker, the issue illustrates Appalachian musical diversity through articles on the blues, jazz, soul, fiddling, and the banjo.44 The early 2000s saw a renewed popular interest in black banjo with multiple recordings and the first Black Banjo Gathering in 2005, resulting in the formation of modern black string band the Carolina Chocolate Drops.45
The most substantial work on black country is the 2013 collection Hidden in the Mix: The African American Presence in Country Music, edited by Diane Pecknold. Containing chapters on integrated hillbilly records, country soul, hick-hop, songwriting, old-time, King Records, and country in the Caribbean, Hidden in the Mix moves beyond the static categories of black “influence.” The anthology depicts decades of interracial collaboration in its aim “to undermine the critical distinctions that have supported racialized genre boundaries and cast black engagements with country as both (p. 339) historically marginal and aesthetically suspect.”46 Each chapter uncovers black contribution, participation, and innovation, implicitly questioning country’s presumed whiteness.
Since 2000, the critical work on race in country focuses on whiteness. These investigations take their cue from the broader interdisciplinary movement of whiteness studies, a line of inquiry that views the status of whiteness as a construction, just as conceptions of racial minorities are constructed. Whiteness studies coalesced in the early nineties around texts such as David Roediger’s (1991) The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class, and Toni Morrison’s (1992) Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. The first substantial scrutiny of country was Richard Peterson’s (1997) Creating Country Music: Fabricating Authenticity. Though it didn’t rely on whiteness studies per se, it explained how the industry manipulated imagery to match the genre’s supposed white, mountain provenance. Peterson’s work and that of whiteness studies in general prompted work on country’s whiteness in the early 2000s.47
The first book-length projects about whiteness and country were dissertations. Rebecca A. Thomas’s (2000) dissertation is perhaps the earliest scholarship that critically examines race in country as a genre. She reviews the shared culture of blacks and whites in the South and shows how “segregationist culture” at the time of country’s commercialization redefined the music as white. Historian Peter LaChapelle’s (2002) dissertation, now published as Proud to Be an Okie: Cultural Politics, Country Music, and Migration to Southern California, showed how country was at the center of debates over the racial status of Depression-era migrants to southern California. J. Lester Feder (2006) and Angela Hammond (2011) focus on how country produced whiteness throughout its history in the Bristol Sessions, minstrelsy in advertising, Klan records, George Wallace’s use of country, promotion of Charley Pride, and industry rhetoric about why blacks don’t listen to country. Feder and Hammond demonstrate that the industry discriminated against African Americans throughout its history, not just in the 1920s.48
Work on class and sexuality has also wielded the tools of whiteness theory. Aaron A. Fox’s (2004) Real Country: Music and Language in Working-Class Culture is an ethnography of the local country scene in the town of Lockhart, Texas. He argues that working-class fans perform class identity through language, whether spoken or sung. Given the majority-white demographics of the scene he studied, his book is useful for its close reading of the ways that whites express working-class identity.49 Nadine Hubbs contends in her (2014) Rednecks, Queers, and Country Music that listeners don’t link queer sexuality to country music because middle-class narratives have labeled working-class whites as “the bigot class.” Class is central to her arguments about sexuality and country music, but race theory is crucial to her understanding of whiteness as a liability to the working class in the discourse of American values: “Whereas unmarked whiteness (p. 340) still wields tremendous power as privilege, marked whiteness is a growing burden, carrying racist and imperialist stigma. Disparagement of the working class is not new, but its coding as hyperwhite is a relatively recent development, and so is the central role of imputed whiteness in the group’s ‘continued disparagement.’ ”50
Much of the latest work on race has been spurred by pointed critiques of country’s racial relations by nonspecialists conversant with cultural studies. The most cited by country scholars is Geoff Mann’s (2008) article, “Why Does Country Music Sound White?: Race and the Voice of Nostalgia.”51 Mann contends that country music perpetuates whiteness through nostalgia, a trope that speaks powerfully to white Americans who feel besieged by social changes since World War II. Country forges its association with whiteness through what French theorist Louis Althusser called “interpellation”: country simultaneously draws listeners who identify with it and imposes a framework of whiteness back onto them. Interpellation produces a listener more likely to “hear” whiteness in the music and associate with it:
In the construction of an idealized past-ness, country music not only “talks white”, but it is “whites” who hear it, and whose whiteness is produced and reproduced by what they hear. The songs of a racialized and mythic “used to” sound a present in which whiteness makes sense retroactively, calling white people to their whiteness.52
Characteristics of country (its lyrical tropes and “twang” produced by traditional instruments) make country “sound” white, not simple historical associations.
Mann’s article simplifies country’s lyrics, instrumentation, fan base, and repertoire; he also dehistoricizes the music by treating over eighty years of it as unchanging. However, few country scholars have engaged with his vital corrective that country music produces whiteness.53 Three authors of Hidden in the Mix respond to Mann, including Pecknold in her introductory essay: “One aim of this volume is thus to examine how the genre’s whiteness was produced and is maintained, to imagine country music not merely as a cultural reflection of a preexisting racial identity but as one of the processes by which race is constituted.”54 Jerry Wever’s account of country music in St. Lucia directly contradicts Mann’s application of interpellation in country music. Country cannot automatically hail only white listeners, Wever says, because of the agency of black listeners. Wever’s study directly challenges the whiteness narrative because it reveals a contemporary black listenership in a majority black region with other, more Afrocentric musical styles that might align more easily with a folklorist ideology of Caribbean music.55 Barbara Ching challenges Mann’s nostalgia thesis with an account of how black songwriter Alice Randall complicates white-centered tropes in country lyrics. In a play on Mann’s name, Ching notes that Randall’s songwriting “disrupts the white nostalgia and interpellation described by Mann, but it also draws continual critical attention to class, race, and gender relations in history and daily life. Her writing, in short, talks back to ‘the Man.’ ”56
(p. 341) Toward Integration
As we have seen, the folklorism that helps country scholarship represent one marginalized group, the white working class, can marginalize African Americans and limit our understanding of country music. In this section, I propose ways that we might shift from a center-periphery paradigm to a conception of country that takes interracial cultural exchange as a given. Much of the work discussed above already models an integrated stance. Multiple modes of scholarship can move such a project forward, but here I highlight three lines of inquiry, each targeting a different aspect of scholarly discourse on country.
For most of its existence, country scholarship’s purpose has been to chronicle the history of the music and to argue for its significance in American society, not to critique it. The cultural theory that challenged history, literature, and musicology beginning in the 1980s has only recently gained a foothold in country music studies. Pecknold is one of the few inside the field to explicitly call for work that demonstrates how country produces concepts of race, but neither Hidden in the Mix nor scholarship by country specialists approaches this with theoretical grounding.57 The critical work on country comes mainly from non-country specialists who incorporate race theory (citing Paul Gilroy, Michael Omi and Howard Winant, David Roediger, and George Lipsitz), as well as theories of hybridity, postcolonialism, and subjectivity (e.g., the work of Gayatri Spivak, Homi Bhabha, Louis Althusser). In contrast, jazz studies and pop music studies place race at the center of their concerns, a focus that requires scholars to incorporate critical theory. The high standard of scholarly self-consciousness in these fields produces work that touches the entire field of American popular music.58 A critical stance on race would not only illuminate country music’s history, but also push country music toward the center of scholarly discourse on popular music. What if country music studies moved from referencing race as a subfield, an exception, a political issue, or a question of roots to investigating it as a fundamental concept? What if country music studies, like jazz studies, became a primary community for dialogue about race in the academy?
The changing meanings of country’s racialized musical elements manifest some of the most complex racial dynamics in all of American popular culture. Country presents an opportunity to do the kind of progressive work that not only illuminates racial formation, but the richness of the music as well. What do we make of country that reclaims black experience as central, like black banjo revival or the songs of Stoney Edwards? What is the relationship between the musical success of sometimes-marginal whites—Tejanos, Jews, Cajuns—and their whiteness status? With an infinite number of potential “whitenesses,” “blacknesses,” or any other racial conceptions, country music, as (p. 342) constituted by its cultural context, does not uphold a single, ahistorical racial construction. For example, whiteness is connected to rusticity in some traditionalist strains but attached to middle class aspirations in others. (These may tussle within the repertoire of a single artist such as Dolly Parton.) Likewise, racial conceptions may be built on inclusion of a racial “Other”: the kind of whiteness portrayed by Jimmie Rodgers flaunts its familiarity with black culture and even relies on it to construct masculinity.59
The earliest scholarship in country noted these kinds of racial intricacies. To centralize race now is not a wholesale rejection of the field’s roots, but a return to concerns that have not yet been fully addressed. For example, much of Malone’s work carries a subtext of a southern whiteness that necessarily includes blackness For him, white southern vernacular musics are distinctive from those of other regions because of interracial contact unique to the South: “In the South [folk culture] assumed a rich and varied texture, in part because here more than anywhere else in the United States a long and vital interrelationship linked the country’s two greatest folk music traditions, the British and the African.”60 D. K. Wilgus believed the same, as remembered by Norm Cohen:
After a few drinks, D. K. would identify the essence of hillbilly music as “the Ethiopian in the fuel supply” (to borrow from W. C. Fields); that is, what makes “hill-billy,” “blues,” “jazz,” and most contemporary “pop” music (post-1950) distinctive from “northern,” “New England,” “western,” and earlier pop music is the influence of the African American music. No discussion of hillbilly music should overlook that contribution.61
Wilgus’s admission, while under the influence, frames the interracial “essence” of country as something of a secret. Country is a distinctive southern product because of its hidden blackness, not in spite of it. Malone discerns this when he asks, “Have historians properly acknowledged and explored the very old musical interrelationship between black and white Americans?”62 Centralizing race will press the exploration he calls for and perhaps provide the “data” that will correct our speculations.63
One of the strengths of country scholarship is its ability to show the music as imbedded in a cultural context. Compared to other fields that at times have divorced artworks from circumstances, country scholars conceive of the music as a product of its time that speaks most profoundly to historically situated listeners. Segregation is one historical reality that most all surveys fold into their descriptions of country’s environment. Yet our understanding of it makes it difficult to make sense of country’s indebtedness to black culture. Authors use “segregation” and “racism” as a shorthand for a complex and widespread system. When racism is presented as uniform across times or place, its intricacies and contradictions hide in plain sight.64
(p. 343) Legal segregation’s primary goal was not to prevent all interracial interactions. It was to enforce a racial hierarchy that justified the logic of power and resource distribution favoring whites over blacks. Laws served this power hierarchy first and foremost, not separation itself. In certain sectors, interaction was necessary to maintain racial order. Legal discrimination is central to country’s history, but how that discrimination played out depended on local law, local customs, existing relationships, and enforcement. Black and white musicians might ignore each other in some locales, yet be inseparable in others. Seeing racialized hegemony as local allows us to assume cross-racial music making instead of exceptionalizing it. Recent work on recording studios has pushed in this direction by outlining the specific racial dynamics of studios and labels. David Sanjek’s posthumously published article on Cincinnati-based King Records shows how the label allowed for black agency in country through producer Henry Glover, and Charles Hughes’ book on integrated southern soul studios digs into the working relationships of black and white musicians.65 More work on scenes would enable a deeper look into how race affected music in places like Louisville, Kentucky, where Wolfe says black string and jug bands proliferated; or Kentucky counties Muhlenberg and Ohio, which produced innovators in bluegrass and acoustic guitar techniques.66 What if a similar approach were used for style histories of bluegrass, western swing, and country gospel? Instead of asking how black music stimulated white innovation or how whites borrowed from blacks, we could imagine these styles as products of integrated scenes. Country is where we would expect to see complex racial encounters.67
An understanding of segregation and racism as national problems helps us account for the larger forces outside the region that built country. Racial discrimination was not limited to the South, even if it was worse there. Southern segregation did not evolve on its own or according to internal logic free of outside forces. Likewise, country’s whiteness was a product of both national and regional values. Since Russell’s first book in 1970, the field has recognized that executives imposed their categories on an interracial repertoire. And as Miller describes, northern folklorists pushed racial taxonomy on southern music, an ideology then reinforced by the already-segregationist recording industry. Yet accounts of country’s origins gloss over the long-term effects of Ralph Peer’s decisions. An understanding of segregation as a trend imposed on southern musicians in this instance encourages the field to rewrite origin narratives to reconfigure the role the industry played in the music’s identity. It helps us see country in the context of a national discourse of genres that form in opposition to one another, often according to their racialization by the record industry.68
Facing the Music Together
Multiple fields contribute to country scholarship and with them come sometimes contradictory methods (i.e., literary criticism, archival research, sociology, music theory). These methods rarely intersect in any meaningful way, even in edited collections, and (p. 344) the most common citations are still general works by historians, literary critics, and music critics. Our interdisciplinarity privileges fields whose methods translate broadly, therefore limiting interdisciplinarity. Studies relying on discipline-specific methods not widely understood in the humanities have a much softer voice in the field because they rely on “technical” knowledge such as music analysis, cultural theory, or social science methods. Country scholarship is dominated by lyrics, imagery, historical facts, archival research, record cataloging, studies of scenes, and biography instead of by musical sound.69 More attention to country’s sounds may help to answer questions about racialized meaning.
Two examples show how the music of “country music” betrays reliance on black style. In a bluegrass blues song, such as Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys’s (1946) recording of “Blue Yodel #4,” the initial connection to southern African American culture is obvious in the use of the blues form. Monroe’s song shares a title and blues style with a 1928 recording by Jimmie Rodgers, but little else. As he did with several of his early blues recordings, Monroe updated the jazz style of the original by increasing the tempo, adding a swing fell with a prominent backbeat, and tightening the ensemble’s execution. Sung verses alternate with Monroe’s yodeling and instrumental solos that sound more like jazz than any other style (the second solo, for mandolin, sounds like an imitation of ragtime banjo). The final solo features a walking bassline played by the string bass. Monroe’s non-blues recordings also betray a dependence on black music through yodeling, backbeat, jazz solos, and instrumental techniques likely learned from black musicians. These musical characteristics, in addition to lyrical borrowings from black Kentuckian balladry (“Molly and Tenbrooks”) or inspiration from minstrelsy (“I’m Going Back to Old Kentucky”), mean we can no longer call Monroe’s work “folk music with overdrive.” If we were to look for pre-American retentions, we would be better off looking to Africa than the British Isles.
An example from modern country depicts how a single song can reinforce a tenuous link between country as a white genre and its input from African American forms. Brooks & Dunn’s (2005) hit “Play Something Country” tells the story of a female country fan demanding stylistic purity from the band at her local bar. The first verse establishes her as a working-class, traditional fan: she dates cowboys, drinks whiskey, and prefers Patsy Cline. In case there’s any doubt, the second verse outlines what she does not want to hear: “thumping” music from the “city,” specifically P. Diddy. Remaining lyrics reinforce the song’s definition of country by referencing Hank Williams, George Strait, steel guitar, the woman’s truck, and another bar “out in the country” that presumably won’t annoy its patrons by playing hip hop. The sounds of “Play Something Country” were characteristic of mainstream country in 2005, but depend on blues stylistic tropes. An insistent electric guitar riff undergirds the song as it alternates between I and IV; Ronnie Dunn sings with a swagger and yodels over a modified stop time. The song forges black sounds to a white genre.
Building on the idea of common blues repertoire, music theorist Nicolas Stoia demonstrates how black and white musicians shared “preexisting harmonic grounds and melodic structures” through analysis of chord progressions, melody, number of (p. 345) measures per progression, and text overlay. Analytical comparisons between country substyles and their black musical inspirations would yield a better understanding of how race has functioned in country appropriation. Stoia’s article lays the groundwork for understanding early country’s use of the blues, but what about honky tonk and R&B, countrypolitan and R&B, or hard country guitar styles and Chicago blues? Other than generalized descriptions of accent, very little work has been done on country vocals. In what ways do country singers imitate southern black singers? Specifically, is there any relationship between the delivery of electric blues singers such as Muddy Waters and the rhythmic recitations of Johnny Cash (“One Piece at a Time”) or Jerry Reed (“When You’re Hot You’re Hot”)? Country rapper Cowboy Troy credits Charlie Daniels and Reed as innovators of a vocal tradition in country that emphasizes quick, rhythmic patter and legitimates country hip hop.70 Where does this tradition of vocal virtuosity come from, and is it racialized?
Within the grand narratives of country, that it is the musical analog to the white working class experience and that balladry is its aesthetic essence, lie contradictions that the field has struggled to reconcile. The historical surveys treat country’s origins as mixed, but as primarily grounded in Southern white agency. African American contributions are presented as necessary, but not central, even when the evidence would point us toward black innovation. A growing movement of scholars have been opposing the white origins thesis by showing how the industry segregates the music and by writing the history of black country. Our task is to write country’s history in a way that reflects its ability to speak for multilayered concerns of Americans across a wide variety of identities. As a genre that developed out of a complicated regional society, yet was positioned and policed by larger forces, country is a perfect site for exploring race in American culture. It has always been a multiracial enterprise in a racialized society. Its sounds capture the range of interracial encounters and embody influences that have been inextricable from the start.
(1.) The white Allen Brothers were mistakenly listed in Columbia’s race catalog in 1927. Patrick Huber estimates that around 1% of hillbilly records before 1933 were made by black artists or integrated bands. See Patrick Huber, “Black Hillbillies: African American Musicians on Old-Time Records, 1924–1932,” in Hidden in the Mix: The African American Presence in Country Music, ed. Diane Pecknold (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013), 19–81.
(2.) A 2009 survey found that 89% of country listeners identified as white, and 5% has Hispanic or Latino. Tom Webster, “The CRB/Edison Research 2009 National Country P1 Study,” SlideShare, accessed January 31, 2016, http://www.slideshare.net/webby2001/edison-crb-research-2009.
(3.) Bill C. Malone, Country Music, U.S.A. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1968); D. K. Wilgus, “An Introduction to the Study of Hillbilly Music,” Journal of American Folklore 78, no. 309 (July–September 1965): 195–203; Tony Russell, Blacks, Whites, and Blues (New York: Stein and Day, 1970). Russell’s book is one of the few sources cited by almost all scholarship on race in country, although it is out of print. A reprinting of Russell’s book as well as digital access to issues of The Old-Time Herald and Old Time Music would encourage more scholarship on early black country.
(4.) On Latin American or Mexican music and country, see Ann Malone and Bill C. Malone, “Johnny Rodriguez,” in Stars of Country Music: Uncle Dave Macon to Johnny Rodriguez, ed. Judith McCulloh and Bill C. Malone (Urbana–Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1991), 377–396; Bill C. Malone and David Stricklin, “Expanding Markets: Tejano, Cajun, Hillbilly, Gospel,” in Southern Music/American Music (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2003), 58–70; Jerry Wever, “Dancing the Habanera Beats (in Country Music): The Creole-Country Two-Step in St. Lucia and Its Diaspora,” in Pecknold, Hidden in the Mix; Aaron A. Fox, “The Jukebox of History: Narratives of Loss and Desire in the Discourse of Country Music,” Popular Music 11, no. 1 (1992): 53–72; George H. Lewis, “Mexican Musical Influences on Country Songs and Styles,” in All That Glitters: Country Music in America, ed. George H. Lewis (Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1993), 94–101; Roy Brewer, “The Use of Habanera Rhythm in Rockabilly Music,” American Music 17, no. 3 (1999): 300–317. Intersections between Native Americans and country are noted in reference works such as Elaine Keillor, Tim Archambault, and John M. H. Kelly, Encyclopedia of Native American Music of North America (2013), https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=HkuaQRR23K4C&oi=fnd&pg=PP1&dq=encyclopedia+of+native+american+music+of+north+america&ots=K5JewpiqpS&sig=LVuueTAoTOK1KYYx45TnNwUUFjE#v=onepage&q=encyclopedia%20of%20native%20american%20music%20of%20north%20america&f=false. Jocelyn R. Neal notes the complications of race in New Mexico where categories run against traditional conceptions of black, white, and “other.” See Jocelyn R. Neal, “Dancing Around the Subject: Race in Country Fan Culture,” The Musical Quarterly 89, no. 4 (2007): 555–579. Erich Nunn shows how Jimmie Rodgers’s alleged Irishness masked his performance of blackness. See Erich Nunn, “Country Music and the Souls of White Folk,” Criticism 51, no. 4 (2010): 623–649.
(5.) This project came under fire in the late twentieth century for how it romanticized the region and expected cultural purity. See David E. Whisnant, All That Is Native & Fine: The Politics of Culture in An American Region (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1983); Henry D. Shapiro, Appalachia on Our Mind: The Southern Mountains and Mountaineers in the American Consciousness, 1870-1920 (Chapel Hill: University Of North Carolina Press, 1986).
(6.) Jeffrey T. Manuel, “The Sound of the Plain White Folk? Creating Country Music’s ‘Social Origins,’” Popular Music and Society 31, no. 4 (2008): 421.
(8.) Bill C. Malone, Don’t Get Above Your Raisin’: Country Music and the Southern Working Class (Urbana–Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2002), 12.
(9.) This work defends Americans that the “narrating class” denigrates. “Narrating class” is Nadine Hubbs’s term for the media arm of the professional-managerial class, “the analysts and experts, the language, representation, and knowledge specialists for the whole society.” The narrating class speaks for the working class from a supposedly neutral position, but judges by middle-class standards. Nadine Hubbs, Rednecks, Queers, and Country Music (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014), 36–37. As Karl Hagstrom Miller notes, historical context made the implications of folklorism attractive to scholarship: “[t]he politics of segregation and civil rights, white supremacy and black freedom, often encouraged scholars to produce stories of racial difference, separation, or autonomy.” Karl Hagstrom Miller, Segregating Sound: Inventing Folk and Pop Music in the Age of Jim Crow (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010), 11. Cecelia Tichi makes the link between identity politics and academic prestige clear in her “Introduction,” in Reading Country Music: Steel Guitars, Opry Stars, and Honky-tonk Bars, ed. Cecelia Tichi (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1998), 1–3. She quotes Chet Atkins’s (“country music is our heritage”) to argue for scholarly attention to country in a milieu where “[b]lack blues, jazz, rhythm & blues have all proved exotically attractive to white intellectuals as expressions of a distinctly ‘other’ culture” (Tichi, “Introduction,” 1; emphasis added).
(10.) Miller, Segregating Sound, 4. Miller further argues that these categories did not produce “separate but equal” sites for racialized music: “As the story of the Allen Brothers illustrates, white southern artists had far more freedom to record blues that black artists had to record ostensibly white styles” (Segregating Sound, 233). I use “folklorism” in a similar way others might use “essentialism,” “homology,” or Paul Gilroy’s “ethnic absolutism:” to refer to the idea that racial identity and cultural products are fundamentally correlated. The most cited of Gilroy’s discussions of “ethnic absolutism” is Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993). For a sociological approach to early segregation in the music industry, see William G. Roy, “‘Race Records’ and ‘Hillbilly Music’: Institutional Origins of Racial Categories in the American Commercial Recording Industry,” Poetics 32, nos. 3–4 (2004): 265–279.
(11.) Miller, Segregating Sound, 15. The logic of segregated marketing provided protocols for consumer industries of all kinds, but especially those that sold culture: “well-established mass marketing practices—as well as respect for the privileged place of white consumers in the South—dictated that they mark their products for whites as clearly distinct from those sold to African Americans.” J. Lester Feder, “The Whole United States Is Southern: Country Music and the Selling of Southern Conservatism in the Nixon Era,” in Stories of Nation: Fictions, Politics, and the American Experience, ed. Martin Griffin and Christopher Hebert (Knoxville: University of Tennessee, 2017), 286. For more on the industry, see J. Lester Feder, “ ‘Song of the South’: Country Music, Race, Region, and the Politics of Culture 1920–1974” (PhD dissertation, University of California, Los Angeles, 2006).
(12.) Malone’s early work adopted the industry’s parameters of what qualified as country: “The purpose of this study is to give a general, chronological account of the development of American country music from its commercial founding in the 1920’s [sic] to its present big-business status.” See Malone, Country Music, U.S.A., viii.
(13.) Miller, Segregating Sound, 7.
(14.) The contrast between “African” elements credited to African Americans of undifferentiated nationality and Appalachian retentions traced to specific locations in the British Isles prevails in work meant for the general reader; for example, Fiona Ritchie and Douglas M. Orr, Wayfaring Strangers: The Musical Voyage From Scotland and Ulster to Appalachia (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2014).
(15.) Bill C. Malone and Jocelyn R. Neal, Country Music, U.S.A, 3rd rev. ed. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010), xi.
(19.) Jocelyn R. Neal, Country Music: A Cultural and Stylistic History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), xix.
(22.) Jocelyn R. Neal, “Country Music,” in The Grove Dictionary of American Music (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013).
(23.) Ivan M. Tribe, Country: A Regional Exploration (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2006), 1.
(24.) Cecelia Tichi, High Lonesome: The American Culture of Country Music (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994), 7–8. It is difficult to support her contention that the innovations of Rodgers, Williams, and Monroe were at heart based in balladry. All three specialized in mixing blues features with non-blues hillbilly music, even in lyrics.
(27.) Malone and Stricklin, Southern Music/American Music. For his critique of the Appalachian thesis, see especially chapter 2, “National Discovery” (20–38). In his Singing Cowboys and Musical Mountaineers, Malone again asserts the problems with an ethnocentric focus but upholds this focus in the book’s content. Bill C. Malone, Singing Cowboys and Musical Mountaineers: Southern Culture and the Roots of Country Music (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1993). Norm Cohen’s reference article on country’s sources is one of the more interesting accounts because it devotes most of its five pages to “the less well-known wellsprings of country”—many of which are black-based styles—yet asserts at the beginning that “[t]he most well-known component of early country music, of course, was the folk music of the largely rural southern United States, much of which can be traced to the folk music of the British Isles.” His is also a rare mention of Sylvester Weaver, a black Kentuckian much less known than Arnold Shultz. Norm Cohen, “The Folk and Popular Roots of Country Music,” in The Encyclopedia of Country Music: The Ultimate Guide to the Music, ed. John Woodruff Rumble, Michael McCall, and Paul Kingsbury (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 176.
(28.) Surveys acknowledge country’s use of post-1950s styles such as soul, disco, and hip hop but rarely identify any concrete musical interchange. Neal considers country borrowings from rhythm and blues (R&B) in her consideration of country circa 1980; Neal, Country Music, 320–323. When Neal covers hip hop, she rightly asserts that “[t]he relationship between race, ethnicity, and musical genre deserves thorough and reflective investigation” (Country Music, 268). Specialized work on race continues to favor early country, but fresh studies of collaborations between soul and country, discussed later, offer a much-needed history of a period overlooked by both country scholarship and black music studies.
(29.) Malone credits African Americans with blues guitar technique: “the most crucial innovations in rural guitar playing came from black musicians who contributed a retinue of finger-picking styles that have forever intrigued white musicians.” Malone and Neal, Country Music, U.S.A., 24. See also “The Cowboy Image and the Growth of Western Music,” in Malone and Neal, Country Music, U.S.A., 137–176. Jean A. Boyd’s work argues for the jazz basis of western swing and against its categorization as country, citing its repertoire, its use for dancing, and self-identification of musicians as swing musicians. Her work often includes transcriptions, more in line with jazz scholarship than country. She has published multiple books on the style, but for an overview of her argument, see Jean A. Boyd, “Western Swing: Description and Development,” in The Jazz of the Southwest: An Oral History of Western Swing (Austin: University of Texas, 1998), 6–32.
(30.) Williams’s words were first published by the Montgomery Advertiser and cited in Colin Escott, Hank Williams: The Biography (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1994). With little evidence of Tee Tot’s specific impact, Escott credits Tee Tot with the “lazy swing and sock rhythm” and “the blues feel that permeates all but the goofiest of Hank’s songs” (Escott, Hank Williams, 14).
(31.) Neal is one of the few who comments on the racial implications of mentorship: “The ubiquity of these stories suggests an extremely complicated racial legacy in the genre, namely music that was socially coded as white but was conceived via the tutelage of black blues or street performers”; Neal, Country Music, 60.
(32.) Matthew W. Hughey, “Cinethetic Racism: White Redemption and Black Stereotypes in ‘Magical Negro’ Films,” Social Problems 56, no. 3 (2009): 550. Hughey’s approach is sociological. For a humanities-based critique, see Krin Gabbard, Black Magic: White Hollywood and African American Culture (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2004), https://books.google.com/books?id=OnM-6EUxJOwC&printsec=frontcover&dq=krin+gabbard+magical&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjY2ZLZxM3KAhVN6WMKHZKdDv8Q6AEIKzAA#v=onepage&q&f=false.
(33.) Aaron A. Fox points out that the Smithsonian Anthology of American Folk Music, the O Brother, Where Art Thou? film and soundtrack, and the PBS “American Roots Music” obscured uneven racial interchange (and exoticized working-class whites): “[t]o paraphrase Eric Lott, these projects mostly give us the Love, but they leave out the Theft. … Or rather, they attempt to redress an undeniable history of theft and conflict through a nostalgic politics of authenticity”; Aaron A. Fox, “‘Alternative’ to What? O Brother, September 11, and the Politics of Country Music,” in Country Music Goes to War, ed. Charles K. Wolfe and James E. Akenson (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2005), 18; American roots Music, directed by Jim Brown (Ginger Group, 2001). Various artists, Anthology of American Folk Music (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, 1997); O brother, where art thou?, directed by Joel Coen (Touchstone, 2001); Various artists, O brother, where art thou? (Mercury/Lost Highway, 2000).
(34.) Erika Brady, “Contested Origins: Arnold Shultz and the Music of Western Kentucky,” in Pecknold, Hidden in the Mix, 101. At one time, bluegrass fans and Travis-style thumb pickers looked to Shultz as the originator of both styles, bestowing on him a kind of power bordering on the supernatural. The most accessible example of mystification is the body of blues narratives, such as myths surrounding Robert Johnson that highlight sketchy biographical details and troubled spirituality. For a discussion of authenticity claims in blues narratives, see Elijah Wald, Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues (New York: Amistad, 2004); Susan McClary, “Thinking Blues,” in Conventional Wisdom: The Content of Musical Form (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000), 32–62. Rock critics cite intimate knowledge of the blues as evidence of authenticity in southern rock. See Travis D. Stimeling, “‘To Be Polished More Than Extended’: Musicianship, Masculinity, and the Critical Reception of Southern Rock,” Journal of Popular Music Studies 26, no. 1 (2014): 121–136. The Johnson crossroads myth was parodied in O Brother, Where Art Thou?, a film whose famous soundtrack implies a racialized narrative of early country music.
(35.) Neal, Country Music, 9–10, 59–60; Malone, Singing Cowboys; Dale Cockrell, “Minstrelsy,” in The Encyclopedia of Country Music: The Ultimate Guide to the Music, ed. Paul Kingsbury, Michael McCall, and John Woodruff Rumble (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012). Nick Tosches was perhaps the first writer on country to highlight minstrelsy, coon songs, and blackface comedy. His is one of the few accounts in the country literature that names minstrelsy as a northern convention. See Nick Tosches, “Cowboys and Niggers,” in Country: The Biggest Music in America (New York: Stein and Day, 1977), 167–228. The book has been revised and republished as Nick Tosches, Country: The Twisted Roots of Rock ‘n’ Roll, rev. ed. (1985; repr., New York: Da Capo Press, 1996). On minstrelsy’s legacy in bluegrass, see Robert Cantwell, Bluegrass Breakdown: The Making of the Old Southern Sound (Urbana–Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1984).
(36.) Michael T. Bertrand, “Race and Rural Identity,” in The Hayloft Gang: The Story of the National Barn Dance, ed. Chad Berry (Urbana–Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2008), 130–152.
(37.) Pamela Fox, Natural Acts: Gender, Race, and Rusticity in Country Music (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2009), 26.
(38.) Fox, Natural Acts, 13. Fox’s book is one of the few intersectional studies of country. Wolfe covers blackface in his chapter on comedy at the Opry, but he does not treat it critically. See Charles K. Wolfe, A Good-Natured Riot: The Birth of the Grand Ole Opry (Nashville, TN: Country Music Foundation Press and Vanderbilt University Press, 1999), 225–230. Kristine M. McCusker’s book on barn dance targets gender, but her comments on race align with Bertrand’s contention that barn dance radio policed race to protect its product. See Kristine M. McCusker, Lonesome Cowgirls and Honky-tonk Angels: The Women of Barn Dance Radio (Urbana–Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2008), 60, 64–65. Widely cited in recent barn dance literature is Derek Vaillant, “Sounds of Whiteness: Local Radio, Racial Formation, and Public Culture in Chicago, 1921–1935,” American Quarterly 54, no. 1 (2002): 24–66.
(39.) Neal, Country Music, 468.
(40.) A comparison of Charles and Pride shows how both were limited in their critique of country’s whiteness. Charles sang country songs not in country style, while Pride did not introduce any new elements from African American styles. See Feder, “ ‘Song of the South.’ ” Adam Gussow’s treatment of “Cowboy Troy” Coleman is one of the few studies that shows how race is constituted through a black country star. See Adam Gussow, “Playing Chicken with the Train: Cowboy Troy’s Hick-Hop and the Transracial Country West,” in Pecknold, Hidden in the Mix, 234–262.
(41.) Charles K. Wolfe, Kentucky Country: Folk and Country Music of Kentucky (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1982). Wolfe’s cowritten biography of DeFord Bailey chronicles the musician’s Opry career and struggle with industry racism. See David C. Morton, with Charles K. Wolfe, DeFord Bailey: A Black Star in Early Country Music (Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1991).
(42.) Charles Wolfe, “Rural Black String Band Music,” Black Music Research Journal 10, no. 1 (1990): 32–35. The few studies of black string band music include Charles K. Wolfe, “Black String Bands: A Few Notes on a Lost Cause,” Old Time Herald 1, no. 1 (1987): 15–18; R. S. Jamieson, “Gribble, Lusk, and York: Recording a Black Tennessee String Band,” Old Time Herald 2, no. 4 (1990): 27–31; Huber, “Black Hillbillies”; Stephan Pennington, “Recapturing the Banjo: The Black Banjo Revival and the Specter of Romantic Nationalism” (unpublished paper, 2010).
(43.) Cecelia Conway, African Banjo Echoes in Appalachia: A Study of Folk Traditions (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1995); Karen Linn, That Half-Barbaric Twang: The Banjo in American Popular Culture (Urbana–Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1994).
(44.) The articles are too numerous to cite all of them here. See Fred J. Hay, “Black Musicians in Appalachia: An Introduction to Affrilachian Music,” Black Music Research Journal 23, no. 1/2 (2003): 1–19.
(45.) Key recordings were released in the late 1990s: Various artists, Black Banjo Songsters of North Carolina and Virginia (Smithsonian Folkways, 1998); Various artists, From Where I Stand: The Black Experience in Country Music (Warner/Reprise, 1998).
(46.) Diane Pecknold, “Introduction: Country Music and Racial Formation,” in Pecknold, Hidden in the Mix, 11. The book’s direct forebear in detailing musical integration is Christopher A. Waterman’s chapter, “Race Music: Bo Chatmon, ‘Corrine Corrina,’ and the Excluded Middle,” in Music and the Racial Imagination, ed. Ronald M. Radano and Philip V. Bohlman (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 167–205. Waterman shows that the recording industry overlooked many black musicians in the 1920s and 1930s because their styles fell outside the neat categories that demanded compliance to racial ideals. He details the playing style of Bo Chatmon and traces several versions of one song to track how racial boundaries were maintained. He foreshadows later critiques about ethnic absolutism and neglect of black string styles; Waterman, “Race Music.” For more on black country, see Pamela E. Foster, My Country: The African Diaspora’s Country Music Heritage (Nashville, TN: My Country, 1998); and Pamela E. Foster, My Country, Too: The Other Black Music (Nashville, TN: Publishers Graphics, 2000). Two other books on country and race were published too recently to be incorporated into my discussion: Erich Nunn, Sounding the Color Line: Music and Race in the Southern Imagination (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2015); and Stephanie Shonekan, Soul, Country, and the USA: Race and Identity in American Music Culture (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015).
(47.) Roediger’s book was first published in 1991. David R. Roediger, The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class, rev. ed. (1999; repr., New York: Verso, 2007); Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (New York: Vintage Books, 1993); Richard A. Peterson, Creating Country Music: Fabricating Authenticity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997). For an overview of whiteness studies, see Peter Kolchin, “Whiteness Studies: The New History of Race in America,” The Journal of American History 89, no. 1 (2002): 154–173. On whiteness studies in country scholarship, see Geoff Mann, “Why Does Country Music Sound White?: Race and the Voice of Nostalgia,” Ethnic and Racial Studies 31, no. 1 (2008): 73–100.
(48.) Rebecca Ann Thomas, “The Color of Music: Race and the Making of America’s Country Music” (PhD dissertation, University of Missouri, Columbia, 2000). See also Rebecca Thomas, “There’s a Whole Lot O’Color in the ‘White Man’s’ Blues: Country Music’s Selective Memory and the Challenge of Identity,” The Midwest Quarterly 38, no. 1 (1996): 73–89; Peter La Chapelle, Proud to Be An Okie: Cultural Politics, Country Music, and Migration to Southern California (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007); Feder, “ ‘Song of the South’ ”; Angela Denise Hammond, “Color Me Country: Commercial Country Music and Whiteness” (PhD dissertation, University of Kentucky, 2011). Victor’s 1927 sessions in Bristol included one African American musician, El Watson. When Columbia came to Johnson City in 1928 and 1929, one African American was recorded, Ellis Williams. On the Klan and pro-Confederacy records, see Andrew K. Smith and James E. Akenson, “The Civil War in Country Music Tradition,” in Wolfe and Akenson, Country Music Goes to War; Beth A. Messner et al., “The Hardest Hate: A Sociological Analysis of Country Hate Music,” Popular Music and Society 30, no. 4 (2007): 513–531; and Angela Denise Hammond, “Stand Up for America! Country Music and White Racial Extremism From George C. Wallace to the Ku Klux Klan,” in Hammond, “Color Me Country,” 164–224.
(49.) Aaron A. Fox, Real Country: Music and Language in Working-Class Culture (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004).
(50.) Hubbs, Rednecks, Queers, and Country Music, 44. On whiteness and country music, see also Aaron A. Fox, “White Trash Alchemies of the Abject Sublime,” in Bad Music: The Music We Love to Hate, ed. Maiken Derno and Christopher J. Washburne (New York: Routledge, 2004), 39–61; Neal, “Dancing Around the Subject”; and Nunn, “Country Music and the Souls of White Folk.” Pamela Fox’s book has been discussed but should be cited here as part of whiteness studies in country; Fox, Natural Acts.
(51.) Mann, “Why Does Country Music Sound White?.” See also Allen Farmelo, “Another History of Bluegrass: The Segregation of Popular Music in the United States, 1820–1900,” Popular Music and Society 25, nos. 1–2 (2001): 179–203; David Morris, “Hick-Hop Hooray? ‘Honky Tonk Badonkadonk,’ Musical Genre, and the Misrecognitions of Hybridity,” Critical Studies in Media Communication 28, no. 5 (2011): 466–488. Mann’s argument echoes Aaron A. Fox’s intertwining narratives of desire and loss in country music; see Fox, “The Jukebox of History.”
(52.) Mann, “Why Does Country Music Sound White?,” 74.
(53.) Part of Mann’s critique is that country operates in the context of global capitalism, a wide perspective that few country projects adopt. Scholarship that comes closest to locating country’s whiteness production in national trends are Charles Hughes, Country Soul: Making Music and Making Race in the American South (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2015), and Fox, Real Country; Hubbs, Rednecks, Queers, and Country Music.
(54.) Pecknold, “Introduction,” 2.
(55.) “Despite the overdue effort to have a full discussion of whiteness and C&W, his is a circular argument that does not acknowledge people’s true agency, the varied roots of country and western music, or people’s active role in the creation and maintenance of whiteness. The St. Lucian intervention is important to move forward notions of U.S. whiteness and blackness in relation to country and western”; Wever, “Dancing the Habanera Beats,” 224.
(56.) Barbara Ching, “If Only They Could Read Between the Lines: Alice Randall and the Integration of Country Music,” in Pecknold, Hidden in the Mix, 264.
(57.) Farmelo, “Another History of Bluegrass”; Mann, “Why Does Country Music Sound White?”; Morris, “Hick-Hop Hooray?” Many of the works I review cite Gilroy, Lipsitz, Roediger, and musicological discourse on race, but few integrate racial theory into their argumentation. Commonly cited works on race in pop music are Ronald Radano, Lying Up a Nation: Race and Black Music (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003); Guthrie P. Ramsey Jr., Race Music: Black Cultures From Bebop to Hip-hop (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003).
(58.) A survey of book awards in scholarly music societies shows the absence of input from country scholarship at the high levels of the fields of musicology, American music studies, and pop music studies. The AMS (American Musicological Society) has only awarded pop books on blues or jazz; “Otto Kinkeldey Award Winners,” American Musicological Society website, accessed November 15, 2015, http://www.ams-net.org/awards/kinkeldeywinners.php. None of the AMS “Music in American Culture” winners are books about country; “The Music in American Culture Award Winners,” AMS website, accessed November 18, 2015, http://www.ams-net.org/awards/MACA_winners.php. Neither the Society for American Music nor the International Association for the Study of Popular music have awarded work on country or white American folk music; “Irving Lowens Book Award,” Society for American Music website, accessed November 18, 2015, http://www.american-music.org/awards/LowensBook.php. Miller’s Segregating Sound is the monograph closest to country scholarship to win the IASPM-US Woody Guthrie Award, and this book is primarily about race; IASPM-US (International Association for the Study of Popular Music-US Branch) website, “The Woody Guthrie Award for Outstanding Book on Popular Music,” http://iaspm-us.net/about-iaspm-us/392-2/.
(59.) As I have implied, black country is doubly forgotten because it clashes with the assumptions of country scholarship and studies in African American music. It is beyond the scope of this chapter to critique African American music scholarship, but the field ignores almost all forms of black country.On Jimmie Rodgers, see Nunn, “Country Music and the Souls of White Folk”; Malone and Stricklin, Southern Music/American Music, 3.
(60.) Malone reiterates this argument in Bill C. Malone, “‘The Southern Thesis’: Revisited and Reaffirmed,” Journal of American Folklore 127, no. 504 (2014): 226–229.
(61.) Norm Cohen, “A Few Thoughts on Provocative Points,” Journal of American Folklore 127, no. 504 (2014): 235.
(64.) Outside critiques of country that just assume it to be racist do this, too.
(65.) David Sanjek, “What’s Syd Got to Do with It? King Records, Henry Glover, and the Complex Achievement of Crossover,” in Pecknold, Hidden in the Mix, 306–338. See also Hughes, Country Soul. Chronicling the connections between personnel in regional recording studios, Hughes argues that the scene lacked the equal opportunities for black musicians celebrated by other histories of southern soul. At the same time, from the late 1960s onward, “every country star used sounds and musicians that came from soul music” (171). On soul artists’ love of country, see Diane Pecknold, “Travel with Me: Country Music, Race, and Remembrance,” in Pop: When the World Falls Apart: Music in the Shadow of Doubt, ed. Eric Weisbard (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012), 185–200; Michael Awkward, “‘The South’s Gonna Do It Again’: Changing Conceptions of the Use of ‘Country’ Music in the Albums of Al Green,” in Pecknold, Hidden in the Mix, 191–203. For arguments on soul’s impact on country, see Diane Pecknold, “Making Country Modern: The Legacy of Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music,” in Pecknold, Hidden in the Mix, 82–99; Charles L. Hughes, “You’re My Soul Song: How Southern Soul Changed Country Music,” in Pecknold, Hidden in the Mix, 283–305.
(66.) The adjacent Ohio and Muhlenberg counties are located in the western part of the state, on the border of the western coal field and the Pennyroyal region. This area produced an unusually large number of country instrumentalists: Arnold Shultz, Bill Monroe, Merle Travis, Ike Everly, and others. For more on the network of musicians in the area, see Brady, “Contested Origins.”
(67.) Farmelo’s undercited article on bluegrass historiography makes a similar claim: “That people who often lived, worked, gambled, traded, stole, prayed, danced, and sang together ‘shared and molded a common culture’ is not ironic. That, today, many people think that Southeastern blacks and whites did not share and mold together, but merely hated each other, seems more ironic”; Farmelo, “Another History of Bluegrass,” 186. He cites Christopher Small’s contention that music of the South is perhaps the best place to look for interactions (187). Native American ancestry, as Malone points out (his typical southerner “liked to romanticize himself as part Indian”), made southern white men more southern, not less, without threatening their legal status under Jim Crow. (Malone and Neal, Country Music, U.S.A., 29.)
(68.) Karl Hagstrom Miller, “Race Records and Old-time Music: The Creation of Two Marketing Categories in the 1920s,” in Segregating Sound, 187–214. Malone’s original edition of Country Music, U.S.A. covers Ralph Peer but sees the music that came to be marketed as “hillbilly” as a folk music “discovered” by Peer; Malone, Country Music, U.S.A. (1968). The recording industry segregated because it viewed the South as a static repository of folk cultures instead of a dynamic, industrializing region, and country studies’ focus on traditionalism reinforces this idea. Patrick Huber considers country’s relationship to the South in chapter 2 of this book. For debate on Malone’s “southern thesis,” see the special “country music” issue of the Journal of American Folklore. See Thomas A. DuBois and James P. Leary, “From the Editors,” Journal of American Folklore 127, no. 504 (2014): 123–125.
(69.) Neal’s work in music theory is a valuable exception. Her articles on country music analysis are too numerous to cite here. Her textbook foregrounds musical details in terms nonmusicians can follow while still challenging students to listen for particular sounds and notice song structure.
(70.) Nicholas Stoia, “The Common Stock of Schemes in Early Blues and Country Music,” Music Theory Spectrum 35, no. 2 (2013): 194–234. Gussow, “Playing Chicken with the Train,” 240.