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Categorizing SoundGenre and Twentieth-Century Popular Music$
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David Brackett

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780520248717

Published to California Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520248717.001.0001

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The Corny-ness of the Folk

The Corny-ness of the Folk

(p.192) 6 The Corny-ness of the Folk
Categorizing Sound

David Brackett

University of California Press

Country music in the late 1930s was more disconnected from the mainstream than swing. Appearing initially only in cover versions of songs by crooners, or in the recordings of “singing cowboys,” turmoil in the music industry during the war years created an opening for a few extremely successful country recordings exemplified by Al Dexter’s “Pistol Packin’ Mama.” “Hillbilly Music” (as country was usually called during this time) was associated with the concept of “corn,” which allied the music to rural agricultural production and lowbrow, “corny” comedy routines. The popularity of recordings like “Pistol Packin’ Mama” affected a discursive shift, and the status of the music was worked out via the use of labels such as “Folk Music,” “Hillbilly,” “Country,” and “Western.” By the late 1940s, a major hillbilly hit like “Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)” drew on some of the same minstrelsy tropes as had “Open the Door, Richard.”

Keywords:   country music, Western, mainstream, hillbilly music, corn, Al Dexter, folk music, minstrelsy, novelty, Tex Williams

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