Skip to Content

Country and Western Music

Country and western music is yet another great tradition of American music linked to the southern part of the country. Country music is the descendant of the music that Scots-Irish pioneers brought to the Appalachian region. Country music lyrics speak of the hopes and troubles of millions of ordinary people in the south and the heartland of America. By far the most famous country music singer, Hiram King (Hank) Williams (1923-1953), wrote hundreds of sensitive and inspiring songs. Nashville, Tennessee, nicknamed “Music City”, with its Grand Ol’ Opry performances, is the center of the world of country-western music.

Country and western music has many sub-varieties, which have evolved over the decades. Some of the most important include:

  • Western swing, pioneered in the 1930’s by artists such as Bob Wills, and the Hollywood singing cowboys Roy Rogers and Gene Autry.
  • Bluegrass, made popular by musicians Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs and involving mostly acoustic instruments like guitars, banjos and fiddles.
  • Honky Tonk, associated with musicians Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, Ernest Tubb, and much of Hank Williams’ material, characterized by the use of by steel guitars, bass and drums, and featuring lyrics that refer to alcohol consumption and troublemaking of various sorts.
  • Rockabilly, a crossing of country and rock-and-roll, associated with artists the likes of Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash.
  • Outlaw country, characterized by lyrics of alienation and associated with musicians such as Hank Williams, Jr, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and David Allan Coe.
  • Truck driving country glorifies the culture of the American truck driver and his or her “18-wheeler,” employing musical strains from honky-tonk and other sub-genres. It is associated with artists including Dave Dudley, Red Sovine, Dick Curless, Red Simpson, Colonel Robert Morris, and Waylon Speed.

In addition to these popular genres, country sounds manifest themselves in a wide array of American popular music, from pop to rock. Popular country artists today include Travis Tritt, Ricky Skaggs, Kathy Mattea, George Strait, The Judds, Clint Black, Billy Ray Cyrus, Garth Brooks, Mindy McCready, Jo Dee Messina, Taylor Swift, and the Dixie Chicks.

Next Section:Folk Music

American Culture: Chapter Home

Life in the USA Home Page.