“Song of the South”: Country music, race, region, and the politics of culture, 1920–1974
This dissertation explores how country music in the United States came to be considered a "white" genre and associated with political conservatism by examining two pivotal periods, 1920-1933 and 1959-1974. Part I focuses on the years during which the recording industry created a marketing category---"hillbilly"---to sell records to southern whites. It argues that this industry's decision to pursue a segregated marketing strategy did not simply replicate southern Jim Crow, but rather created a new kind of cultural sphere for southern whites, separated from their black neighbors in a way unknown before mass mediation. Illuminated by the accounts of early industry executives Frank Walker and Ralph Peer, this section largely focuses on two of the new genre's most defining acts---Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family-to explain how country music synthesized the South's heterogeneous musical traditions to create an imagined community of white southerners.
Part II explores how country music became affiliated with the conservative movement of the late twentieth century. Chapter 4 asks why two important African American interventions in country music during the 1960s---those of country's only black superstar, Charley Pride, and the genre-bending Ray Charles---failed to change the music's racial connotations. Pride insisted that he found his natural expression in country music, strictly adhering to the genre's conventions in a way that did not open the music up to African Americans who felt excluded from the genre. Charles, in contrast, remained an outsider to country musical while invoking to critique segregation. Chapter 5 analyzes at Merle Haggard's "Okie from Muskogee," framed by its inclusion on a recording custom-made by the Country Music Association for President Richard Nixon pairing country songs with excerpts of Nixon's speeches. It argues that country music helped draw a new "geography of values" in the late 1960s that used southernness to claim moral authority for a conservative political agenda.
Minority & ethnic groups;
0337: American history
0631: Minority & ethnic groups