Lesson 5: Folk/Country

This week we’re going to spend some time with American folk music and learn how it is at the same time a truly American art form and an amalgam of musical influences from around the world. In the course of our exploration we’re going to meet mountain mandolin players, crooning cowboys, a nonagenarian upside down banjoist (who is sooooo awesome) and, of course, Elvis. Here’s a basic start:

American Folk Music’s Global Roots: “The first thing we must do before we start this week’s musical investigation is decide what we’re going to call the music we’re investigating….”

Early early American folk: “In the 1920’s American record companies realized there was a national audience eager to hear African-American songs….”

Folk/Blues: “After the American Civil War  some newly freed former slaves went emigrated to northern cities like Chicago and Detroit looking for work … but most stayed in Southern communities and continued to struggle to feed their families (and to sing songs about doing just that)….”

Early American country music: ” At high noon on April 22, 1889, fifty thousand eager settlers flooded into the formerly restricted, formerly Native American-controlled land — land we now know as Oklahoma — and staked their claim on a small part of the up to two million available acres….”

And let’s take a moment to briefly meet some of the many — many! — genres of American folk and country music:

The Bakersfield Sound: A California-born fusion of Honkytonk and Western Swing.

Bluegrass: Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, and unbelievable banjo.

Boogie-Woogie: “‘Boogie woogie’ originated in Texas at the turn of the 20th century as a style of early blues piano playing called “fast Western”-but it really became popular in the 1930s and ’40s when it became the realm of mutli-instrumental performing ensembles and even big bands….”

Honkytonk: A hard-driving and, embodied by Hank Williams, “hard-living” form of country.

Nashville Sound: Y’all come down to the Grand Ole Opry….

Old-time: There’s nothing old-feeling abot “old-time” music.

Rockabilly: “In 1950s a new genre called “Rockabilly” enthusiastically fused hillbilly music with the electric instruments of rock ‘n roll….”

Skiffle: American folk makes its mark in the UK and returns as the roots of British rock ‘n’ roll.


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