In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section American Country Music

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Dictionaries and Encyclopedias
  • Discographies
  • Cultural Studies of Country Music
  • Country and Folk Music
  • Biographical Sketches
  • Music-Analytic Approaches
  • The Country Music Industry
  • Country Music and Politics

Music American Country Music
Travis Stimeling
  • LAST REVIEWED: 01 April 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 August 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0148


What is now known as “country music” in the United States, Canada, and much of Europe has gone by a variety of monikers since the first recordings of the genre were made in the early 1920s—including “hillbilly,” “old familiar tunes,” and “country and western,” among others—and has encompassed any of a number of subgenres, including western swing, honky tonk, and bluegrass, among many others. Scholars frequently use the term “country music” to describe this wide array of musical practices and music industry marketing terms. Country music scholarship is fundamentally multidisciplinary, with strong roots in the fields of American history, folklore, literary studies, sociology, anthropology, and, more recently, musicology and ethnomusicology. Moreover, many record collectors, amateur historians, and journalists have also contributed useful—and, in some cases, indispensable—studies and resources to the field of country music studies. This multidisciplinarity of country music studies is evident from the earliest published research on the subject, which dates from the mid-1960s and can be traced to the folk revival movement that spread across college and university campuses across the United States and Canada during the 1950s and 1960s. In addition to documenting the genre’s history, published studies from the first decade of country music studies reveals sociology’s central role in shaping country music studies. As a consequence, country music studies has been quite interested in exploring the social forces that have had an impact on country music production, consumption, and reception, as well as music’s corollary role in shaping society.

General Overviews

The dominant narrative of country music history traces the genre’s emergence from 19th-century vernacular practices to its present commercialized state. Following Malone and Laird 2018, this narrative focuses almost exclusively on country music’s status as a mass-mediated popular music. Bufwack and Oermann 2003 expands the coverage of Malone and Laird 2018 through its engagement with women’s roles in the genre. The essays and illustrations in Kingsbury, et al. 1994 provide an illustrated version of this narrative. Peterson 1997 grapples with one of the central questions in the genre’s reception: its perceived “authenticity.” Cusic 2008 offers a useful overview of the changing country music industry and its place within the broader American popular music industry, while Jarrett 2014 documents changing recording practices in country music from the earliest days to the present. Lewis 1993 also provides a valuable resource documenting a wide range of country music practices while also marking an important moment of transition in the field of country music studies. Stimeling 2017 offers a broad overview of country music studies.

  • Bufwack, Mary A., and Robert K. Oermann. Finding Her Voice: Women in Country Music, 1800–2000. Nashville: Country Music Foundation Press, 2003.

    A wide-ranging study of women’s participation in country music from its roots in southern vernacular musical traditions through the “hot country” era of the late 1990s. Focuses primarily on biographical sketches, although some cultural context and critical analysis is offered. Expanded from 1993 Crown Publishers edition.

  • Cusic, Don. Discovering Country Music. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2008.

    In what is ostensibly a textbook, Cusic—a longtime music industry journalist and expert on the Nashville scene—traces the evolution of the country music industry. Although country music receives minimal coverage as a musical practice in this text, Cusic’s industry insights are valuable.

  • Jarrett, Michael. Producing Country: The Inside Story of the Great Recordings. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2014.

    A collection of oral histories detailing the history of country music record production from the earliest days to the present. This study is noteworthy for its breadth and scope.

  • Kingsbury, Paul, Alan Axelrod, and Susan Costello, eds. Country: The Music and the Musicians from the Beginnings to the ‘90s. New York: Abbeville, 1994.

    Narrative history of country music, lushly illustrated with artifacts from the Country Music Foundation Library.

  • Lewis, George H., ed. All That Glitters: Country Music in America. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1993.

    Collection of essays exploring a variety of themes related to the cultural value of country music. Although several of these essays do appear in other venues, the volume as a whole is recommended for its breadth.

  • Malone, Bill C., and Tracey E. W. Laird. Country Music, U.S.A. 50th anniversary ed. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2018.

    Foundational history of country music. First published in 1968. In its most recent expansion and update, Malone enlisted Laird to bring the coverage up to date. Offers an encyclopedic treatment of country music history. Bibliographic essays are also particularly useful guides for further reading.

  • Peterson, Richard A. Creating Country Music: Fabricating Authenticity. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226111445.001.0001

    Widely cited study of the ways in which the music industry constructs authenticity in country music, focusing especially on biography and costume. Peterson’s study is widely accepted as the standard text on the construction of authenticity in popular music.

  • Stimeling, Travis D., ed. The Oxford Handbook of Country Music. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017.

    A collection of essays exploring the historiography and intellectual history of country music studies. Essays included offer useful overviews and bibliographies for further research.

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