or country and western
Musical style that originated among whites in rural areas of the southern and western U.S. The term country and western music was adopted by the music industry in 1949 to replace the derogatory hillbilly music. Its roots lie in the music of the European settlers of the Appalachians and other areas. In the early 1920s the genre began to be commercially recorded; Fiddlin' John Carson recorded its first hit. Radio programs such as Nashville's Grand Ole Opry and Chicago's National Barn Dance fueled its growth, and growing numbers of musicians, such as the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers, began performing on radio and in recording studios. With the migration of Southern whites to industrial cities in the 1930s and '40s, country music was exposed to new influences, such as blues and gospel music. Its nostalgic bias, with its lyrics about poverty, heartbreak, and homesickness, held special appeal during a time of great population shifts. In the 1930s “singing cowboy” film stars, such as Gene Autry, altered country lyrics to produce a synthetic “western” music. Other variants include western swing (see Bob Wills) and honky-tonk (see Ernest Tubb and Hank Williams). In the 1940s there was an effort to return to country's root values (see bluegrass), but commercialization proved a stronger influence, and in the 1950s and '60s country music became a huge commercial enterprise. Popular singers often recorded songs in a Nashville style, while many country music recordings employed lush orchestral backgrounds. Country music has become increasingly acceptable to urban audiences, retaining its vitality with diverse performers such as Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Dolly Parton, Randy Travis, Garth Brooks, Emmylou Harris, and Lyle Lovett. Despite the influence of other styles, it has retained an unmistakable character as one of the few truly indigenous American musical styles.
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Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.