Well hey there, friends! Y’all ready to mosey on down memory lane and learn ’bout the history of good ol’ country music? Settle in, ’cause we’re fixin’ to take a trip from the Appalachian hills to the honky tonks of Nashville.
Country Music Got its Start in the Hills of Appalachia
Now country music didn’t just come from nowhere – it’s got deep roots in the mountains of Appalachia. See, back before radios and TVs, folks in rural areas like Appalachia made their own entertainment. Their songs and ballads came from the heart, telling stories about real people and real lives.
The early Appalachian settlers brought their music traditions and instruments along from places like Ireland, Scotland and England. Ballads, fiddle tunes, traditional songs – they all got blended together with African-American blues to create what we’d recognize as “country” music. The banjo, fiddle, and guitar were staple instruments, and the songs often had a lonesome, mournful sound.
Some of the first real country music stars came from Appalachia too. The Carter Family from Virginia recorded over 300 old-time ballads in the 1920s-30s. Their song “Can the Circle be Unbroken” is a real treasure. And then there’s Jimmie Rodgers, the “Father of Country Music.” He took old mountain lyrical styles and blended it with the blues to create his own new style. Yessir, those Appalachian hills were just ringin’ with the sounds of country!
Then Came the Grand Ole Opry…Loading Up the Wagons for Nashville!
Now pretty soon, country music started getting mighty popular around the nation. And where better for it to put down its roots than in Nashville, Tennessee? Course, it didn’t happen overnight.
In 1925, a radio show called the WSM Barn Dance started up in Nashville, playing old-fashioned country, gospel and blues. Well that there show got so dadgum popular that in 1927 they changed the name to the Grand Ole Opry. It moved to the famous Ryman Auditorium and became a Nashvilleinstitution, playing host to the biggest country stars around. Legends like Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash – they all played the Opry. Still does to this day!
Throughout the 30s-50s, more and more country performers headed to Nashville, hoping to make it big with the Opry and recording studios. The Nashville sound started emerging – a more polished, slick sound different from the old Appalachian styles. By the 1960s, Nashville was the center of the country music world.
The Different Eras of Country Music
Now like any music, country has gone through its different phases and styles over the years. Let’s take a looksee at some of the key eras in country music history.
Honky Tonk Country (1940s-50s): With stars like Hank Williams, Kitty Wells and Lefty Frizzell, honky tonk country had a rough, electrified sound and spoke about real working class lives and heartbreak. You could say it was country’s answer to rock n’ roll! Real popular in bars and saloons back then.
The Nashville Sound (1950s-60s): This was the slick, pop-style country that came out of Nashville, with stars like Jim Reeves and Patsy Cline. While some missed the old days, this new sound helped country cross over into the pop charts.
Countrypolitan (1960s-70s): Drawing influence from pop and rock music, countrypolitan had lush string arrangements and choruses. Glen Campbell and Tammy Wynette were big names. While popular, it was a mite too fancy for some country fans.
Outlaw Country (1960s-70s): This here was a reaction against the overproduced Nashville sound. With gritty stars like Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson, outlaw country had an edgy, rock-inspired sound and attitude. Sho ’nuff rattled a few cages upon its arrival!
Country Pop Crossover (1970s-80s): Artists like Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton and Shania Twain brought an even slicker pop sound to country that drew in huge mainstream audiences. Purists scoffed but listeners sure loved it.
Neo-traditionalist Country (1980s-90s): This was a return to more traditional country storytelling and instrumentation after the pop crossover era. Stars like Randy Travis, Alan Jackson and Patty Loveless helped lead the neo-traditionalist charge.
Contemporary Country (1990s-today): Blending pop, rock and traditional influences, contemporary stars like Garth Brooks, Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood have taken country music into the current decades. While polished, it’s still got that country heart.
Whew doggy, what a ride! As we can see, country music has twisted and turned over the years, embracing new sounds and ideas while still holding onto its roots. From the mountains to the honky tonks, it’s a genre that keeps on kickin’.
The Grand Ole Opry Keeps on Keepin’ On
Now through all these changing eras and styles, one thing has remained constant – the Grand Ole Opry. As country music grew and evolved, the Opry provided a home where the old classics could still be heard.
It has hosted just about every country legend you could imagine, from Hank Williams to Dolly Parton. Some key moments:
- 1943 – Bill Monroe and Lester Flatt introduce bluegrass music at the Opry
- 1956 – Johnny Cash makes his Opry debut and soon becomes an Opry regular
- 1961 – Loretta Lynn makes her Opry debut and soon becomes one of its biggest stars
- 1974 – Dolly Parton hosts her new syndicated TV variety show live from the Opry stage
And the Opry continues hosting the stars of today, mixing the veterans with fresh new acts. Though it’s changed homes over the years, currently settling at the Grand Ole Opry House in 1974, it keeps the spirit of old-time country alive. Almost a century since it first aired, the Opry remains a beloved Nashville gem and country music institution.
Let’s Raise a Glass to Country!
Well, I reckon that’s a mighty fine overview of country music history! We went from the early Appalachian roots to Nashville’s rise and all them different country eras in between. Most importantly, we seen how country music gives a voice to common folks everywhere.
Through the years as styles done changed, it’s stayed genuine – telling everyday stories about family, faith, heartache and having a good ol’ time. Heck, some folks say country ain’t just a genre – it’s a way of life! So next time you’re feeling blue, throw on some classic country tunes. They got a way of helping you see the sunshine.
And if you want to learn more country history or hear some real deal honky tonk songs, be sure to mosey on over to our website, Digital Rodeo! We round up all sorts of country news, reviews and interviews. We’d sure be happy to have y’all! But for now, let’s sit back and enjoy the gift that is country music. It’s something truly special.