Bill Monroe

How Did Country Music Begin?

By C. Murph | Monday Monday Staff -    2016-10-19

Jimmie Rodgers
Jimmie Rodgers is considered the first country artist (photo from YouTube )

Country music didn’t originate where most people probably think it did. 

Texas? Not exclusively.

Nashville? No, not quite.

Maybe Oklahoma? Try again.

The beginnings of country music are actually in the Southern Appalachian fiddle players from the 1910s. Not until the early 1920s did country music really catch on as a legitimate genre. The very first commercial country record came from Eck Robertson in 1922. Then in 1924, Vernon Dalhart had the first national country hit with “Wreck of the Old ’97.” 

But most country music experts will tell you about the year Victor Records signed Jimmie Rodgers — 1927. They say this is the true birth of country.

Jimmie Rodgers: the “first” country artist

Jimmie Rodgers is fondly known as the “Father of Country Music.” Back then, he was an instant success across the nation. He has the first single to sell one million copies — “Blue Yodel #1.” His entire library of music earned him a name known as the voice of country music.

And he only made music for about six years, 1927 to 1933 when he died of complications of tuberculosis. However, it was only appropriate that he entered the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1961. 

The Carter Family

The Carter Family
The Carter Family (photo from YouTube)

The Carter Family was the first vocal group in country music to hit it big.

The members included A.P. Carter, his wife, Sara Dougherty Carter, and A.P.’s sister-in-law, Maybelle Addington Carter. In the late 20s, they blew up — in a good way. Remember “Keep on the Sunnyside” and “Wildwood Flower”? Those are standards still today.

Bob Wills and Western Swing

Bob Wills introduced the world to western swing, earning the title of “Kind of Western Swing.” It started in Texas in the late 20s, but it wasn’t until the 40s that this sub-genre caught fire. 

What is western swing? Imagine upbeat horn sounds (like a big band) mixed with New Orleans jazz, some blues, and a dash of Dixieland. As a result, we have western swing.

Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys

photo from The Atlantic
photo from The Atlantic

Another father of country music was Bill Monroe. Specifically, he’s called the “Father of Bluegrass.” After all, people give him credit for making bluegrass cool; it had been an old-timey, mountain hillbilly jam before Monroe. 

Can you guess where the name for this sub-genre came from? Yep, Monroe’s band, the Blue Grass Boys, which was made up of Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs.

Monroe earned a spot in the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1970 as well as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997.

Hollywood + Country = a powerhouse

You know those old cowboy films from the 30s and 40s? Basically, those played a huge part in country music’s development and evolution. 

Country artists like Roy Rogers and Gene Autry stepped into acting and had great success. A lot of the great country music from that time was made just for those films. When cowboy movies became mainstream, so did country music.

Bro-country vs classic country

Fast forward to today. It’s a war zone. Generally speaking, you have Blake Shelton making bro-country music, Taylor Swift not really making country music, and people like Willie Nelson obviously sticking to the classic country sound. In any event, they’re all fighting each other over what country should sound like.

Is this the next step in country music’s evolution? Or have we strayed too far from what country should sound like?

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C. Murph

C. Murph is a freelance writer who lives in Pennsylvania.

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