Country Isn’t So White

While reviewing the compilation Country Funk 1969-1975, Nathan Rabin laments that country music is thought of as “the official music of rednecks, xenophobes, conservatives, and truck-driving suburbanites”:

To me, country is a glorious mutt of a genre that mirrors the eclecticism and disorder of the nation that berthed it. It’s telling that Jimmie Rodgers, the man heralded as “The Father of Country Music,” was a pot-smoking, hard-living bluesman with an inexplicable (and influential) fondness for yodeling, and whose music and persona were deeply linked to black music and culture at a time when the whole nation, not just radio, was segregated.

Rodgers was a primitive American original who paved the way for similarly complicated, contradictory figures like Hank Williams, who famously learned how to play guitar from a black street musician nicknamed Tee Tot and howled the blues with feverish intensity, and Bob Wills, a charismatic bandleader, fiddler, and proto-hype man who perfected a frisky, dance-friendly fusion of country and jazz called western swing. From Willie Nelson (who recorded a reggae album, for God’s sake) to Johnny Cash to Townes Van Zandt, many country icons revered black music and incorporated those influences into their own work.