Introduction | Bluegrass | Country

Before the Second World War, it was possible to live in certain areas of the USA in almost complete isolation. In the time of The Carter Family, many rural residents never travelled more than 80 km (50 miles) from their birthplace.

But that began to change. The First World War, the Great Depression and the Second World War took young men out of their small towns and sent them around the world. New roads and railroads made it easier to come and go from farms nestled in the Virginia mountains or Kentucky pastures. Wind-up Victrolas and battery-powered radio receivers found their places on cabin tables and bungalow counters, bringing the sound of New York, Chicago and Nashville into homes at the ends of narrow dirt roads.

These changes produced a contradictory response. On the one hand, the displaced sons and daughters of the southern Appalachian mountains hungered for a music as fast and precision-engineered as their new lives. On the other hand, they wanted a music that preserved their affectionate connection to the lives they were leaving behind. They wanted the familiar instrumentation of fiddle, banjo, guitar, mandolin and upright bass, which reminded the listeners of the old hillbilly string bands of their youth. But they wanted those instruments played with the drive of a locomotive and the skill of a full-time professional. They wanted to hear lyrics that celebrated the old farmstead, the wise parents and the innocent farm girl, but they wanted those lyrics delivered with modern, sophisticated harmonies and with a ‘high, lonesome’ ache that implied that past was slipping away.

Bluegrass answered all these needs. It began as Bill Monroe’s new twist on the old string-band sound, but it was so effective at meeting a great need that it soon became its own genre.

Key Artists

Flatt & Scruggs
Jimmy Martin
Bill Monroe
The Stanley Brothers

Styles & Forms | Bluegrass | Country
Inside the Music | Hillbilly Jazz | Bluegrass | Country

Source: The Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia of Country Music, consultant editor Bob Allen


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