country western

Encyclopedia Article


A style of American music that originated in the rural parts of the South and the West, and was developed by white farmers and laborers, primarily English, Scottish, and Irish settlers who sang and played ballads and folk songs with persistent Celtic roots that were influenced in great part by African call-and-response harmonics and rhythms. A combination of "country," or Appalachian, musical tonalities with the lyrical thematics of the Western frontier, the term "country and western," later shortened to country western, was first coined in the 1940s, when recording studios aimed to market this style of music as something more attractive than "hillbilly music," the derogatory term for Appalachian hill country music by which it was known before reaching wider markets. Over the years, the new label was shortened to simply "country." Country music is characterized by its heavy reliance on strings, using guitar and fiddle as leading instruments, with melodies played over a rhythmic strumming of banjo or another guitar. During the golden years of country western music, the music and associated lyrics told realistic stories of hardship, poverty, and tragedy, and were often infused with a strong working class moral ethic and even some social critique. As the genre expanded, migrated to big cities, and became a global phenomenon, the music absorbed various influences such as blues, gospel, or swing jazz, and later on rock, pop, Latin, and rap stylings. Lyrics also changed to become more sentimental and focused on the individual rather than the collective.

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"The Bog Trotters Band, photographed in Galax, Virginia in 1937" by The Lomax Collection at the U.S. Library of Congress is licensed under Public Domain.

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