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Country Music Goes to War

Country Music Goes to War

Charles K. Wolfe
James E. Akenson
Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: 1
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Country Music Goes to War
    Book Description:

    "Listening to the Beat of the Bomb" UPK author Charles Wolfe discusses his work and his new book Country Music Goes to War in the NEW YORK TIMES. While Toby Keith suggests that Americans should unite in support of the president, the Dixie Chicks assert their right to criticize the current administration and its military pursuits. Country songs about war are nearly as old as the genre itself, and the first gold record in country music went to the 1942 war song "There's a Star Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere" by Elton Britt. The essays in Country Music Goes to War demonstrate that country musicians' engagement with significant political and military issues is not strictly a twenty-first-century phenomenon. The contributors examine the output of country musicians responding to America's large-scale confrontation in recent history: World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, the cold war, September 11, and both conflicts in the Persian Gulf. They address the ways in which country songs and artists have energized public discourse, captured hearts, and inspired millions of minds. Charles K. Wolfe, professor of English and folklore at Middle Tennessee State University, is the author of numerous books and articles on music. James E. Akenson, professor of curriculum and instruction at Tennessee Technological University, is the founder of the International Country Music Conference. Together they have edited the collections The Women of Country Music, Country Music Annual 2000, Country Music Annual 2001, and Country Music Annual 2002.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4965-3
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Charles K. Wolfe and James E. Akenson

    In her definitive anthology of country song lyrics,Sing Your Heart Out, Country Boy, Dorothy Horstman devotes one of her keystone chapters to the heading “War and Patriotism.” She explains, “A country audience likes nothing better than a tragic song, and what better setting for it than a war? It has all the elements of drama—separation, loneliness, betrayal, danger, disfigurement, and death—and hillbilly songs about the experience have managed to cover them all.” Although the popularity of war songs naturally ebbs and flows depending on the political climate and the actual existence of military conflict, a surprising number...

  4. 1 The Civil War in Country Music Tradition
    (pp. 1-25)
    Andrew K. Smith and James E. Akenson

    Despite lasting only four years—from 1861 to 1865—the American Civil War continues to fascinate the public and scholars in the United States and around the world. In recent years, Ken Burns’s Public Broadcasting Service documentary series generated intense interest. Annual reenactments at Civil War battlefields such as Shiloh and Chickamauga continue to attract thousands of spectators, and popular magazines such asCivil War Timesmay be found in Wal-Mart, as well as in supermarkets and gas stations. The July 2003Smithsonianmagazine featured “Making Sense of Robert E. Lee,” an article by Roy Blount Jr. Books such as...

  5. 2 “Bloody War”: War Songs in Early Country Music
    (pp. 26-32)
    Charles K. Wolfe

    During the earliest years of commercial country music, which historians generally date from 1923, singers were seldom able to create their own repertoire and often had to rely on the nineteenth-century folk and vaudeville traditions in which the new music was rooted. Thus many early country singers performed songs about the Civil War that were embedded in these old traditions; pioneer singers like the McCravy Brothers recorded “The Vacant Chair,” and blind Kentucky street singer Charlie Oaks recorded a strong rendition of “Just Before the Battle, Mother.” Kentucky old-time singers seemed especially fond of the 1865 ballad “Faded Coat of...

  6. 3 “There’s a Star Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere”: The Story behind Its Success
    (pp. 33-42)
    Louis Hatchett and W.K. McNeil

    On December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, thereby bringing the United States into World War II. Coinciding with the nation’s entry was the American music industry’s attempt to cash in on the conflict and, at the same time, aid the war effort. The resulting songs, of course, ran the gamut from such memorial pieces as “Remember Pearl Harbor,” with its admonition to remember the Pearl Harbor attack “and go on to victory,” to sentimental items like “Dear Mom,” to silly titles like “Good-bye, Mama, I’m off to Yokohama,” to slapstick comedy, like “Der Fuehrer’s Face,” to jazzed-up pieces...

  7. 4 Gene Autry in World War II
    (pp. 43-57)
    Don Cusic

    In the summer of 1939, while Hitler was planning his Blitzkreig of Poland, Gene Autry was touring the United Kingdom and Ireland. During the next several months Autry performed in a number of cities, including London, Liverpool, Glasgow, and Dublin, in theaters filled with people who had seen his movies. Accompanied on his appearances by his horse, Champion, the singing cowboy star was mobbed just as later rock stars would be.

    When Hitler sent his army across the German border into Poland on September 1, 1939, causing Great Britain and France to declare war on Germany, Gene Autry was in...

  8. 5 Peace in the Valley: The Development of John Lair’s Enterprises during WWII
    (pp. 58-80)
    Michael Ann Williams

    Beginning the concluding chapter ofRenfro Valley Then and Now, John Lair wrote, “Discharged from the service in 1918, I came back to Renfro Valley to find it greatly changed from the way I had known it in earlier days.” While some young men left for the cities of the industrial north and infected others with “restless longings,” Lair dreamed impossible dreams of taking Renfro back to the “old care-free days of the past.”¹ The events that shaped Lair’s creation of Renfro Valley may have been far more complex than attested to in his romanticized account, but John Lair did...

  9. 6 Hayloft Patriotism: The National Barn Dance during World War II
    (pp. 81-101)
    Wayne W. Daniel

    World War II, beginning on September 1, 1939, and ending on September 2, 1945, has been ranked with the Civil War and the Great Depression as one of the three most traumatic epochs in American history.¹ As long as the fighting was limited to belligerent nations across the seas, most Americans thought of the war as being far removed from their daily lives and something over which they had no control. All that changed on December 7, 1941, when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and the United States became directly involved in the hostilities. Overnight, the war became the dominant force...

  10. 7 “Jesus Hits Like an Atom Bomb”: Nuclear Warfare in Country Music, 1944–56
    (pp. 102-125)
    Charles K. Wolfe

    Technology has always been a pervasive, if minor, theme in folk and country music. By the early nineteenth century many segments of rural America had already felt industrialization’s impact, and the folk song archives are full of songs referring to the threat new machines posed to the agrarian lifestyle and value system. A song called “Peg and Awl,” which contains references to “the year of eighteen and one,” is the lament of a shoemaker who has lost his job to technology: the new machine can make “a hundred pairs to my one.” “A Factory Girl,” a widespread folk song detailing...

  11. 8 Purple Hearts, Heartbreak Ridge, and Korean Mud: Pain, Patriotism, and Faith in the 1950–53 “Police Action”
    (pp. 126-142)
    Ivan M. Tribe

    What one might term the “golden years” of pre–rock and roll hillbilly music coincided with the Korean War. Hank Williams, Hank Snow, and Lefty Frizzell were all at the peak of their popularity and influence. Kitty Wells emerged as a major solo female voice, distinct from the support role generally played by women singers as part of a duet or family act. Fiddles and steels dominated the instrumentation, and bluegrass music remained within the mainstream. Elvis Presley was still an obscure teenager in Memphis. American patriotism was also at a peak, and many feared that an all-out conflict with...

  12. 9 “Dear Ivan”: Country Music Perspectives on the Soviet Union and the Cold War
    (pp. 143-151)
    Kevin S. Fontenot

    Between the end of the Second World War and 1989, the United States waged a cold war with the Soviet Union. The results of that conflict reached deeply into every aspect of American life—from taxes to fund an expanding military to science fiction movies likeInvasion of the Body Snatchers, which subtly exposed fears of the “enemy within.” American popular music largely ignored the conflict until the Vietnam War, preferring to wallow in sentimentality and escapism. One form of American music, however, did not ignore the cold war and America’s Soviet opponent. Country music presented the American case with...

  13. 10 “True Patriot”: Brian Letton Goes to War
    (pp. 152-163)
    Rae Wear

    Well known for his repertoire of patriotic songs, Brian Letton is one of the most overtly political of Australian country singers. His populist message evokes nostalgia for a golden age of innocence when life was better, fairer, and grounded upon traditional values. Fitting under this populist umbrella are his war-related songs, which present two main themes: The first suggests that military service is part of a citizen’s duty to the state, in return for which the state is expected to guarantee certain rights. In a number of songs, Letton describes a situation where Australian citizens have fulfilled their obligation to...

  14. 11 “Alternative” to What? O Brother, September 11, and the Politics of Country Music
    (pp. 164-191)
    Aaron A. Fox

    The Web site masthead of the influential music publicationNo Depressioncoyly declares that the magazine is “the alternative country (whatever that is) bimonthly.” The formulation is cleverly ambiguous. It could be taken to mean thatNo Depressioncoverswhatever“alternative country” is, meaning that whatever the magazine covers is “alternative” by virtue of that coverage. The more prosaic interpretation of the parenthetical hedge, of course, is that the magazine represents a constituency that eschews a firm definition of the boundaries of its interests and refuses the constraints of imposed genre boundaries. Yet a third possibility concerns the grammatical function...

  15. 12 Ulster Loyalism and Country Music, 1969–85
    (pp. 192-207)
    David A. Wilson

    When I was living in Belfast during the mid-1980s, I shared an apartment with some supporters of Sinn Féin, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army. They were a lively, energetic group of people, who thrived on political arguments in the local pubs. One of their customs, however, was rather surprising. After a full night of drinking, they would come home, play Ulster loyalist paramilitary music cassettes, and fall around the room laughing. The cassettes contained a wide variety of songs. Some were based on traditional Irish melodies, many were taken from marching tunes, and a few were drawn...

  16. 13 In Whose Name? Country Artists Speak Out on Gulf War II
    (pp. 208-226)
    Randy Rudder

    How could fifteen little words cause such an uproar? In March of 2003, as the United States prepared to invade Iraq, the Dixie Chicks’ lead singer, Natalie Maines, declared from a stage in London: “Just so you know, we’re ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas.” This simple sentence thrust Maines and her fellow Chicks, Martie Maguire and Emily Robison, into a media firestorm that was in some ways a publicist’s dream, but an artist’s nightmare. Within weeks, radio stations were pulling their songs from playlists and fans were staging CD-smashing parties.

    Why was there such a...

  17. 14 Country Music: A Teaching Tool for Dealing with War
    (pp. 227-247)
    James E. Akenson

    War, in all its horrific inhumanity, intrudes all too frequently into the daily lives of hundreds of millions. Thus it comes as no surprise that country music, with its propensity to comment on the trials and triumphs of everyday life, has a considerable number of songs devoted to the topic of war. Military conflicts and the events surrounding them also occupy considerable space within the kindergarten through twelfth-grade curriculum, particularly in the subject of social studies, as well as in literature. All too often, however, textbook descriptions of military conflict fail to convey the emotional, or affective, component of war...

  18. List of Contributors
    (pp. 248-250)