Introduction | Roots of Country
The roots of country music are entwined with the roots of America itself. What we call ‘country music’ today was planted some 300 years ago by the earliest European explorers of the New World.
Adventurers and exiles, religious dissenters and slave traders, farmers, merchants, freemen and women, indentured workers, slaves, criminals and members of native tribes that had lived there for eons, but were to suffer decimation – all sowed songs there like seeds in a fertile field.
Those seeds nestled deep, and their shoots gained a permanent hold on the soil. American music was spread by tenacious people who rooted themselves in the land itself. Music was a bounty of that land, and of American rural life. Country music expresses the values of rural Americans – even those who left it, or only dreamed they were once there. The roots of country music represent those values in raw form, before self-conscious cultivation and commercialism changed the shape of the music.
The dominant seeds of early American music were Anglo-Celtic story-songs that arrived from the British Isles with the Pilgrims and with the colonizing immigrants who followed them. Their music evolved as their settlements and frontiers developed, influenced by contact with other cultures, idiosyncratic choices, regional differences, historical events and socio-economic trends. The first Americans’ descendants bent this or that musical shoot to tap diverse resources or to achieve particular goals. Country music is an adaptive art form, but has always been a conservative one. It still honours and feeds off its original roots.
Despite abundant variety, country music retains indelible DNA. Its eternal themes are faith and its lapses, the high lonesome ache of isolation and the satisfactions of a close-knit clan, the power of self-reliance and the pre-eminence of freedom. Country music has come to fruition over its history in the most remote hamlets of America, independently and simultaneously, as if by spontaneous generations. It also arose in the cities – indeed, country music is often about tradition confronting change. The roots of country music have drawn from – and nourished – virtually all aspects of American culture since the seventeenth century.
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