Social and Political History of Country Music

Country music, an American genre of folk music that originated in the US, has an established history of social and political activism.

Country is an evergreen genre. From singers adding some flair to their voice to bands belting out traditional country tunes, country has never gone out of style.

Traditional American Country Music

Traditional American country music has developed through decades of innovation and collaboration, eventually taking form with characteristics that became part of its DNA, such as folk harmonies, string instruments, and its signature vocal twang. Furthermore, other genres and musical traditions such as those found in Appalachian mountains or rural southern regions may have had an influence.

Traditional country music also has a distinct folk-like quality, with lyrics that depict everyday life and represent rural values and traditions. Additionally, its signature vocal twang gives this genre its authenticity as well as associations to America’s frontier past.

As country music began to form its distinctive and recognizable style, it began to expand beyond its rural origins to reach a broader audience. Radio played an instrumental role in this expansion process by making country music accessible to more listeners while talent shows provided avenues for artists to showcase their musical abilities.

In the 1930s, singing cowboy film stars like Gene Autry helped make country music an increasingly popular genre in America, leading to its development into honky-tonk country music – an advanced form which combined western songs with jazz-influenced rhythms in a more sophisticated format reminiscent of honky-tonk bars known as honky-tonks and featured steel guitars and amplified guitars for performances.

Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings created Outlaw Country during the 1970s. This subgenre blends traditional country with bluegrass and rock music while featuring more aggressive vocal stylings than its traditional counterpart. Meanwhile, New Country evolved in response to this phenomenon, featuring elements of both classic and contemporary country sounds from artists such as Asleep at the Wheel and George Strait performing this style of country music.

Waylon Jennings

Waylon Jennings was one of the most influential country artists of the 1970s and is widely recognized as a pioneer of outlaw country. With his powerful baritone voice, stripped-back honky tonk style and anti-establishment attitude, Jennings stood in stark contrast to Nashville’s conventions; refusing studio musicians access for recordings and promising not to emulate string-laden, pop-influenced mainstream sound that dominated Nashville at that time; his anti-establishment persona helped him garner strong following support among his peers and make him an icon of country music’s outlaw movement.

Jennings began his music career while living in Littlefield, Texas, but his first break came when Buddy Holly hired him as his bassist. Shortly thereafter he started recording on his own and by mid ’60s had released albums prolifically; his sexy cowboy image and distinctive twangy voice helped propel him into fame – eventually earning him recognition from Country Music Association’s Male Vocalist of the Year title in 1973.

His alcohol and drug dependency hampered his career. Finally in 1984, he managed to break free and start fresh with wife Jessi Colter and Tompall Glaser as well as joining supergroup Highwaymen that included Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson as members. Their album Wanted! The Outlaws produced the number-one single “Highwayman.”

Although his band disbanded in 1995, Jennings found great success as a solo artist. His sexy, rugged image and twangy voice remain popular with modern country music fans; his influence can also be found among contemporary musicians like Miranda Lambert who wrote Miranda Lambert penned Miranda Lambert who penned Miranda Lambert penned Miranda Lambert who wrote Miranda Lambert who wrote Miranda Lambert who wrote Miranda Lambert wrote the track titled Waylon in ’75 for Chayce Beckham’s debut album Bad for Me that captures Jennings wild and woolly days of singing his wild, wooly days of country music fame.

The Civil Rights Movement

Black Americans during this era encountered various instances and policies which led them to take action, often by way of protest. Though some instances were violent – like Emmett Till’s murder in 1955 – most civil rights protests took place nonviolently through demonstrations such as sit-ins (where groups would remain at restaurants or libraries until being served) and Freedom Rides where activists traveled on former segregated public transport services in order to test the law.

These peaceful movements ultimately brought about major changes. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 banned all state laws which enforced segregation, such as schools, housing and employment. Furthermore, it provided strong enforcement powers to federal authorities while continuing the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and establishing the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Martin Luther King led a series of protests during the early 1960s that saw Black Americans rise up for their rights, such as a bus boycott that followed Claudette Colvin’s arrest after refusing to give up her seat for a white woman on a Montgomery bus.

Protests also targeted voter registration where state governments often made it hard for African Americans to register, often by requiring literacy tests that were almost impossible for them to pass.

Civil Rights movement reached its zenith with the March on Washington in August 1963, where over one-quarter million people rallied together nonviolently for change. President Lyndon Johnson signed into law an expansive civil rights bill after this gathering of thousands.

The Vietnam War

The Vietnam War pitted North Vietnam and its Viet Cong allies against South Vietnam and U.S. forces from 1955 until 1975 when South Vietnam unified with Communist North as one country. It became one of the bloodiest battles of Cold War history as well as one of the most contentious foreign policy issues ever in American history.

Conflict in Vietnam began after Japanese occupation was ended and Ho Chi Minh led his liberation movement, the Viet Minh, emerged. Though they were considered liberation fighters, being communists caused significant friction with the US after World War II ended and Cold War started.

By 1963, political instability had reached critical mass. Critics of President Ngo Dinh Diem’s repressive regime–both communist and noncommunist alike–formed the National Liberation Front, or NLF. NLF attacks against government officials and other targets led to massive protests throughout Saigon including Buddhist monks self-immolating themselves as part of an unprecedented spectacle.

Nguyen Van Thieu, leader of the NLF-installed government, rejected a peace proposal put forth by Henry Kissinger and Nguyen Cao Ky, his Vietnamese counterpart, in December. They believed any concessions to Hanoi would amount to surrender of South Vietnam – something the White House supported as well.

Once it became evident that victory would not come quickly, public support began to wane, prompting Lyndon B. Johnson and other leaders heeding antiwar activists to limit troop deployments and stop bombing; ultimately this decision proved costly for both sides but saved thousands of lives.

Women in Country Music

One of the biggest milestones for country music was when women started sharing their own narratives. Prior to that, most country songs featured men drinking heavily and getting involved with risky acts in pursuit of their dreams while women ran homes and raised families. Artists such as Kitty Wells, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, and Dolly Parton challenged this double standard by telling their own personal tales, discussing topics like domestic violence, sexism, and the difficulties involved with being a working woman in an industry dominated by men.

Female trailblazers were able to break through barriers with their voices, reaching wide audiences. Their unique blend of country music with a feminine edge proved there was a market for female artists within country music, as their tales of overcoming sexism and struggle in male-dominated industries resonated deeply with audiences around the globe – celebrating that strength can come from within women themselves through song.

Women in country music have made tremendous advances, yet their struggle remains far from over. According to a study conducted by USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative researchers, female country artists face unfair disadvantages; less likely than their male counterparts to have their songs played on radio and less often heard during prime listening hours due to gender bias or simply not as popular tracks, women’s music does not receive enough exposure and representation in media.

However, that should not be used as an excuse. Other genres do just as much work to empower women so it would be incorrect to blame country music alone for female artists not reaching their potential in this genre. Luckily for female country artists like Lainey Wilson, Lauren Alaina Ashley McBryde and Carly Pearce are continuing the legacy of pioneering female country artists, proving they don’t need to compromise themselves for popularity.