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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Roots of Country Music

          If one were to trace the roots of the earliest western traditions of music one might break it down into two basic categories--church music and secular music.  It's really not quite that simple, and there was a great deal of cross influence between the two.  The early settlers of the United States who came from the British Isles brought with them the popular music traditions of their respective homelands.

            The early music of Britain, Ireland, Scotland, and surrounding areas descended from the music of the medieval minstrels and troubadours.  As some of the more musically inclined citizenry began developing the various regional styles, they would pass on ballads and chanteys and the like for singing; and jigs, reels, and other instrumental styles for dancing and other festive occasions. This was the music they carried to their new homes in the Appalachians and other regions of North America.

            Eventually this traditional music began to be influenced by the music of the black slaves who added influences like the African banjo.  Also, the French musical influence of the Acadians from Canada eventually found its way into the newly developing American fusion music.  The music of the Americas, like music so often does, continued to draw upon other styles and branch out to create new unique sounds.

         As the country opened up and transportation networks were vastly improved, musical innovations were spread more quickly to all parts of the country.  Like the roving troubadours of medieval times, new bands of minstrels toured the country popularizing new songs that were combinations of the many styles of white and black America.  Publishing sheet music became a big business as those who were trained in music wanted to be able to play the popular songs in their own homes.

           With this emerging music trend came the first American music superstar--Stephen Foster.  He started out writing traditional parlor pieces that were romantic and sentimental.  Strongly influenced by the black music and the music of  the traveling minstrel shows, he began writing songs in a similar vein and they were received with an overwhelming enthusiasm.   His "Oh, Susannah!" became the biggest selling piece of sheet music of the era and the popular song could be heard being sung from coast to coast by blacks and whites and people of all classes.  Unfortunately, the new music publishing industry afforded little protection for songwriters and Foster eventually died penniless, leaving a legacy of some of the most beloved songs of America.

           The latter half of the nineteenth and the early twentieth century brought the influences of cowboy music and early jazz and blues styles.   With the advent of the phonograph record, the new recording industry was hungry for different styles of music to market to the public.  The style of music that we now call country was released as "hillbilly" or "old-time" music and maintained a niche in the output of the recording industry.

            Country music has continued to merge with other styles and has branched out into several subcategories.   The genre of modern country is hugely popular and is a multi-million dollar industry.  The older styles like bluegrass, cowboy music, and other forms that fall under folk categories also have loyal fanbases.  Country covers a wide range of sounds and now one person's country music may sound totally different than another's.

               Remember that next Monday June 7th will be the HEAVEN ELEVEN FAVORITE RELIGIOUS ALBUMS which you can read about here.   If you'd like to participate, add your name to the Linky list at the top of the page.   On Monday June 14th I will be posting classical favorites.   Then on Monday June 21st Alex J Cavanaugh is hosting the Twelve Favorite Movies list-- a Linky list for that one is at the top portion of this page.


  1. Lee I knew many of these from school especially The Jolly Miller and Barbara Allen and the Irish tunes from living in Ireland , Wonderful traditional music that went back to my schooldays. Thanks for the memories,


  2. I like Texas music - George Strait, Pat Green, et al. Go figure :)

  3. Lee I noticed you left 2 comments but somehow they got swallowed up in the blog system so didn't get to read them,

  4. Very interesting Arlee, I had no idea! You are a great teacher!
    Love Di ♥

  5. You know a lot about music!

    And don't think I could name eleven religious albums. I'm careful about my music (I always check lyrics and the band's website before I purchase a new album) but I don't really listen to any bands that are 100% Christian. Just a couple who are crossovers, like KillSwitchEngage or maybe Switchfoot.

  6. One of my favorite *independent study* classes in high school was based on folk music. I'm not much of a country music fan (though we frequently stop on country stations when traveling) but I love folk and bluegrass!

  7. Yvonne-- Glad you were familiar with some of the music and were able to enjoy it. Maybe my comments will show up again eventually-- who knows where some of those comments go.

    Carol-- Nothing wrong with the Texas music.

    Diana -- I was hoping to enlighten someone who didn't know this information.

    Alex -- I've been studying about music for a long time. Christian (or religious) is a genre that a lot of people may not know about since airplay is rather limited.

    Beth -- folk, bluegrass, and country are all close related having come from essentially the same roots.

  8. Wow, I didn't know any of these. You are a wealth of information. I appreciate the info you have shared, particularly on the music I love.


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