'Hillbilly' Music: Billboard Debuted Country Hits For The First Time

For a long time, country music (or "hillbilly" music, as it was originally called) was stereotyped as a low art form, but the "hillbilly" sound was a symbol of a thriving culture. Gave birth to some of the best songwriters and musicians in the world. That's why, on this day in 1939, Billboard debuted its "Hillbilly Hits" chart, highlighting the genre's smash singles. Let's look at the origins of "hillbilly" music and how it moved from the porch of Appalachia to mainstream America after it hit the Billboard charts.

What is a Hillbilly?

The word "hillbilly" dates from at least 1892, originating as a derogatory term for a person from a certain region of the American South who was considered poor and uneducated. The "hill" part of the word was an allusion to the mountainous regions of Appalachia and the Ozarks, while "Billy" was most commonly added because it was a generic name that was easily sung. According to a 1900 reference, a hillbilly was a Southerner who "had no means of speaking, how he could dress, talk how he pleased, drank whiskey whenever he wanted, and whenever fancy. takes her away, then fired her gun." The term became widespread after the well-publicized feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys in the late 1800s, telling the rest of the country about the lifestyle of the rural mountain people.

Birth of Entertainment Isolation

Many areas of rural Appalachia were settled by immigrants from Scotland. In their isolated communities, they entertained each other by performing folk music from their native lands, which was usually played on fiddles as well as improvised instruments such as washboards and banjos. As more melodies were written to capture the realities of life in these early American communities, this style of music grew and developed in relative isolation, without much influence from other musical styles (a notable exception is the blues of the Deep South). ).

Hillbilly and the Radio

The widespread popularity of radio was the single most important factor in introducing the rest of the country to the unique sounds of hillbilly music. In the 1920s, radio stations were eager to fill the airwaves with material, especially material that would attract listeners and advertising dollars. He looked for alternative sources of music for broadcast on his stations and Pahari music from the South caught his attention.

Fiddlin' John Carson

Fiddlin' John Carson (not to be confused with Johnny Carson of The Tonight Show fame) emerged as a leader of the hillbilly genre in the 1920s. He is credited with recording the first hits of the genre, including "The Little Log Cabin in the Lane" on one side and "The Old Hen Cuckold and the Roosters Going to Crow" on the other, in June 1923. The tunes were an instant hit, so he followed them with "You'll Never Miss Your Mother Until She Is Gone" and "Old Joe Clarke". Carson couldn't read music—in fact, he couldn't read at all—but he wrote and recorded more than 150 songs in the 1920s and 1930s.

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