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Black People & Country Music! Why Climate & Nature Is Essential To The Genre!

A Genre That Embraces Storytelling, Blues & The Love of Nature was created in the Plantation fields not the enslavers mansion!

Like jazz, country music was created from the evolution of the African-American blues of the South. “In the South, you have the most intense injustice, but you also have people living together,” said Wynton Marsalis. “You had the intensity of slavery; you have the cultures coming together. You have a depth of human tragedy in the South; you have this type of bondage in the context of freedom; you have a lot of opposites that create richness. That’s where a lot of our southern music comes from.”

Spirituals sung by enslaved African-Americans are the oldest American folk songs. Thus country music is a descendant of blues and folk music, and the Black musical tradition in the genre extends to the 17th century, well before the genre’s white proponents established 1920s branches. Country music has always been home to African-American artists because they built it. Just like in rock, jazz and pop, every facet of country — from its instrumentation to repertoire to vocal and instrumental techniques — is due to African and African-American traditions, from the African American Robert Fleming invented Acoustic/Western guitar which “evolved” from earlier instruments created by Africans and spread to Europeans by traders from the middle east., to the African Banjo but commercial decisions by white turn of the century industry executives led to their exclusion from the genre for decades.

Country music is a perfect example to show how white supremacists took something that was created by Black people and influenced by BOTH races, with gospel, "Cowboy" s were actually Black and that the term itself had racist roots. (a term reserved for black cowhands for over a hundred years) storytelling, African rhythms instruments and blues on the black side, and so-called "Rube" or "Hillbilly" folk music on the other, which created the genre called Country Music. However. white people took ownership of country music after formerly ridiculing it by performing it in blackface when the music became more popular similar to Rock and Roll, Jazz, and Hip Hop they attempted to exclude blacks from it to maintain economic power over the artform, even now in 2024 when Beyonce performed at the Country music awards, some white people were upset at her success, but that’s exactly where she belonged because it was black people who helped CREATE THE COUNTRY MUSIC GENRE.

An inherent relationship exists in the essence of country music between the storytellers and role as protectors of the land. The Africans were agrarian they were brought to the Americas to work the land and held it in great regard as that skill set was primary among the enslaved. European planters thought Africans would be more suited to the conditions than their own countrymen, as the climate of the South and Midwest resembled that of the climate of their homeland in West Africa. Rivers and oceans and lakes and dirt roads provided inspiration for many a songwriter who longed for a place of peace and natural beauty, country performers have embraced a love for nature for as long as country music has been made in America. It’s an untold story. But it’s a story defined by artists all across the country spectrum- folk country, traditional country, outlaw country, truck-driving country. Examples are scattered across decades worth of country

If you picture a stereotypical country music band, you might call to mind a crew of musicians playing the banjo, a mandolin, the fiddle, the harmonica, perhaps a pedal steel guitar—and someone singing with a Bluesy twang in his Southern accent. just like most popular music genres, country music in the U.S. began with Black People. More specifically, the story of country begins with the banjo. The modern-day banjo is a descendant of a West African instrument, made from gourds, called the Akonting. When enslaved persons were taken from Africa to America, their instruments came with them. For four hundred years, enslaved people created their own music, hymns, spirituals, and field songs—all with roots in African music. Accordingly, in the 1840s, the banjo was seen as an exclusively Black instrument; it was unheard of for a white person to play the banjo.

In the 1850s, minstrel shows came into raging popularity. These shows were a racist form of satire in which white people dressed in rags and ill fitting clothes and performed in Blackface to mock Black people and the poor oppressed class of enslaved black culture. Performing the music and dances of enslaved people, with instruments such as the aforementioned banjo, the shows portrayed African-Americans as lazy, stupid, and foolish—stereotypes that originated on the plantation and still linger as overarching prejudices towards Black People. Then, somewhat unintentionally people began to take the music seriously, especially when minstrel shows introduced the banjo to white audiences in a palatable way such that the banjo was quickly appropriated by white people. Thus, the minstrel show laid the groundwork for the rise of hillbilly music roughly around the 1920s.

A few decades prior to this Black Americans had set out from the South in search of better jobs and better wages. A faction of this group would settle in the Appalachian mountains amidst a coal mining industry and invest in settling into the area long term by building Black communities. Their attempts and successes in creating Black wealth would come in various forms, such as

schools, newspapers, shops, and, even a coal company; however, history of these initiatives appear as a blip in the Progressive Era of American History if told at all.

This has led to a predominantly white image of Appalachia both during its economic success and impoverished downfall. Yet areas like Montgomery, Keystone, and McDowell County were very very successful in building up Black culture and Black community and central to the migration of the Black labor force to West Virginia, exposing Black experience, culture and Black musical influence to adjacent poor white communities in West Virginia thus the popularity of the Banjo and roots medicine African foods and even the African Yoruban bottle tree and Hoodoo traditions! The image of the hillbilly became synonymous with Appalachia.

Appalachians or hillbillies were identified as people that were backward, ignorant, and othered.

Such presumptions were made in tandem with the assumption that Appalachia is only white and

homogenous. Biased stereotyping of the rural hillbilly, both historically and today has been used to

depict the area in need of saving, specifically to save white traditions. In the case of the late 19th

century, the stereotype of Appalachia’s image caused erasure. In 1910, the Black population in

Southwestern West Virginia was 40,000. In fact ironically many of the songs that early hillbilly artists played were likewise inherited and adapted from black sources — like slave spirituals, field songs, religious hymnals or the works of professional black songwriters.

The Appalachian Mountains are only now beginning to be recognized as one of the primary incubators of African-American music, especially the blues traditions that informed Country music at its inception. Appalachian blues comes in a variety of styles—vaudeville blues, piano blues and boogie, string-band dance blues, guitar and harmonica-based down-home blues, ragtime blues, East Coast rhythm and blues, and so-called white mountain boogie blues. If you are wondering how country music got the boogie it started right here!

The term country music gained popularity in the 1940s in preference to hillbilly music; it came to encompass western music, which evolved parallel to hillbilly music from similar roots, in the mid-20th century. Western music incorporated the acoustic guitar and its main proponent was two black women who played both the banjo and guitar. A major country music guitar and banjo picking style originated in the Piedmont region’s blues, exemplified by virtuoso Black woman musicians Elizabeth Cotten and Etta Baker.

Some of the erasure of this history of origins can be explained by the ways that from the 1920s on in the record industry, recorded music was segregated into “Hillbilly” records (which was eventually called country and western, or just country music, and was marketed specifically to white audiences), while “Race” music (including blues), was marketed as “Black” music. But both performers and fans crossed these racial lines, despite the rules, and despite the idea that this segregation was “natural” and grounded in the body. In this way, country music, like other American musical genres have reflected the informal, but sometimes deadly laws of Jim Crow. The segregation of country music continues today, upheld by many of the ways that country music is sold, marketed, distributed and written about, with very few exceptions.


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