Congo Square in New Orleans is generally believed where Blues originated with recently arrived black slaves performed their music from the heart of Africa. Others say Mississippi is where it all started and there are also people who say that it was here in Macon, Georgia, where it all came to real life. So let’s take a closer look at the origins of Blues and Country.
Let’s hear what Grammy-winning Chris Thomas King, King of New Orleans Blues, tells us about where the blues was born. He is convinced it was in Louisiana, not in Mississippi or in Texarkana. Check out this TEDxLSU video as King as he talks about the history of blues. Chirs, the son of Tabby Thomas, the legendary musician, established his name in the blues world and he is a true champion of the great Louisiana blues tradition.
But now back to the origins. After arriving on southern plantations they continued their musical traditions that included the “banjar” which became the banjo. They told about their lives and tribulations from not only working in fields but also in mines, on railroads and logging camps. Their voices became an instrument, especially with the “blue note” compositions. Many learned to play the pianos, guitars, and harmonicas that became the principal instruments for the Blues. In the rest of this post, we’ll take a look at the origins and developments of Country Music.
Country’s origins are mainly from British heritage. However, other African and European influences are also present in Country that started out in the Deep South with banjoists, fiddlers, balladeers, string bands, and Gospel singers that joined together in song and music at fiddle contests, house parties, corn shuckings, fish fries, barn raisings,and medicine/vaudeville shows.
Country has been, similar to Blues, mainly a working-class music genre that reflects the work and conditions of railroad men, textile workers, mine workers, carpenters, cowboys, wagoners, and even country preachers, doctors, and lawyers.
Before World War I, string bands with names such as the Fruit Jar Drinkers, the East Texas Serenaders, and the Skillet Lickers were playing popular British dance tunes, ragtime, hoedown tunes, and marching band numbers. By the mid-1920s, Country Music had caught the attention of booking agents, recording and radio executives, and advertisers at radio stations like WSM, WSB, WBAP, and WBT.
It wasn’t long before stars like Uncle Dave Macon, Vernon Dalhart, Jimmie Rodgers, and the Carter Family and were filling the American airways and stages all across the nation. Charlotte, North Carolina was becoming the home of RCA’s studios in the period 1927-1945 and at RCA, more than 1500 recordings took place.
During the Great Depression, two important stations became the key ones for Country Music: Grand Ole Opry (WSM) and National Barn Dance (WLS). Here, legends like Eddy Arnold, Roy Acuff, Kitty Wells, George Jones, Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, Conway Twitty, Bill Monroe, Grandpa Jones, Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Minnie Pearl, etc had their big breaks.
In the Southwest, there was also a form of Country and Gene Autry, a Texas radio hillbilly singer, was the first cowboy who captured the hearts of so many Americans. Then we saw the birth of “western swing” performed by bands like Bob Willis and His Texas Playboys, Milton Brown and His Musical Brownies, and The Light Crust Doughboys.
During the 1970s, we saw an impressive Country revival with artists like Emmylou Harris who got discovered by Gram Parsons, also named “The Father of Country Rock”. Kenny Rogers, Willie Nelson, Glen Campbell, Charlie Pride, Waylon Jenning, and Barbara Mandrell became great Country legends. The 80s then launched Country greats such as Ricky Scaggs, Reba McEntire, Alabama, Dwight Yoakam, Vince Gill, Randy Travis, and George Strait. See also: The origins of Rhythm & Blues and Rock.
During the 1990s, Country Music continued to play a key role with performers like Garth Brooks, Brooks & Dunn, Faith Hill, Martina McBride, Tim McGraw, Wynonna Judd, Trisha Yearwood, Alan Jackson, Pam Tillis, etc. In the 21st century, the Country tradition continued with Lady Antebellum, Jason Aldean, The Band Perry, Carrie Underwood, Blake Shelton, Miranda Lambert, Taylor Swift, Sugarland, etc.