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Community Roots: Selections from the Local Legacies Project
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Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family, 1931
Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family, 1931 Photo courtesy of the BCMA Museum

Birthplace of Country Music - The Bristol Music Story

In 1998 the United States Congress passed a resolution recognizing Bristol, Tennessee, as the "Birthplace of County Music." This project traces the history of how Bristol came to earn the title, beginning with the region's southern Appalachian settlers in the 1700s who brought with them, in old-world ballads and songs, the music of their native Scottish Highlands. Although shielded by geography from outside influences during the 18th and early 19th centuries, the area's music began to evolve rapidly during the Civil War period when the region was opened by the railroads. Touring vaudeville, minstrel and medicine-show troupes, and the railroad workers themselves, with a variety of work songs reflecting their African heritage, brought rapid changes to the settlers' original music. The native fiddle of the English, Scotch, and Irish settlers was joined by the banjo of African origin. After WWI, the guitar, autoharp, and dulcimer were introduced into the mix.

Following Edison's invention of the phonograph in the early years of the century, the new recording industry experienced rapid growth during the 1920s. Ralph Peer began to realize there was an untapped market for rural mountain music, and he set about to discover and develop the area's musical talent. Musicians and singers originally traveled to New York to record their music, but when remote recording became possible, Bristol became Peer's initial hub of operations in 1927 -- chosen because of the proximity of local musicians such as Ernest and Hattie Stoneman, the Johnson Brothers, and Henry Whitter. Soon talent from other southern states, including West Virginia, Virginia (the Carter Family) and North Carolina (Jimmie Rodgers) was recorded by Peer. These early recording sessions, called the "Bristol Sessions," would mark the birth of country music. Their influence can be seen in bluegrass of musicians such as Bill Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs, in the song-writing of Hank Williams and Woody Guthrie, in the guitar-playing of Roy Acuff and Chet Atkins, in the sound of Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan, and in the song-stylings of Hank Snow, Ernest Tubb, Merle Travis, Merle Haggard, Dwight Yoakum and Dolly Parton. The report follows the growth of popularity of country music during the "barn dance" shows of the radio era and bluegrass festivals of the 60s and 70s. In the mid-1990s, the Birthplace of Country Music Alliance (BCMA) was founded in Bristol to call attention to and support the musical traditions of the area.

The project is documented with a 22-page report on the "Bristol Music Story," brief biographies of the Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, the Stonemans, a log of recordings in the "Bristol Sessions," 25 historic photographs with descriptions, and a videotape "Bristol - Birthplace of Country Music."

Originally submitted by: Rick Boucher, Representative (9th District).

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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