Who Invented Country Music? The Black Origins of a Genre

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


Join us in celebrating the black origins of country music. From the field hollers and work songs of the sharecroppers to the music of the Grand Ole Opry, country music has always been a reflection of the American experience.

The Black Origins of Country Music

Country music is a genre that is often thought of as being white, Southern, and rural. However, the genre has its roots in the music of black Americans. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, black Americans living in the South were creating a new type of music that would eventually become known as country.

The blues

The blues is a style of music that originated in the African-American community in the American South in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The term “blues” refers to the sad or melancholic feeling that is often expressed in the lyrics of songs in this genre.

The blues developed from earlier musical styles, such as spirituals, work songs, and field hollers, that were often sung by African-American slaves. These earlier music styles often incorporated elements of West African folk music, such as call-and-response patterns and syncopated rhythms.

The blues became popular among white audiences in the 1920s, when recordings by artists such as Mamie Smith and W.C. Handy reached a wide audience. The popularity of the blues continued to grow in the 1930s and 1940s, with artists such as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and B.B. King becoming household names.

The influence of the blues can be heard in many other genres of music, including jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, and country music. In fact, some scholars have argued that country music is simply “white man’s blues.”

Work songs

Work songs were brought over by the African slaves during the 17th and 18th centuries. These songs were used as a way to pass the time while doing tedious or difficult work tasks. The music was often set to the rhythm of the work being done, such as chopping wood or rowing a boat. This type of singing is known as “call and response,” where one person sings a line and the others respond with the next line of the song. Work songs were usually sung in groups, and they often had a leader who would start the song and keep everyone on beat. Many of these songs were spirituals or blues songs that had been adapted to fit the work setting.


The first time most Americans heard blues music was probably when they heard a country musician playing it. In the early 1920s, the major recording companies based in the Northeastern states began sending talent scouts into the rural South to record “race records”—discs marketed to African American audiences and featuring black artists singing blues, jazz, and gospel music. At first these companies expected little commercial crossover appeal, but they soon discovered that white southerners were buying Blues records in large numbers. Many of these white fans were rural folk who loved the music’s raw emotional power and its close relationship to their own lives and experiences. They began performing blues songs themselves, and within a few years they had adapted the style into a new genre that came to be known as country music.

The First Country Music Stars

Country music is a genre of American popular music that originated in the southern United States in the 1920s. It takes its roots from the folk music of the Appalachian Mountains and the songs of the American frontier. Country music often consists of ballads and dance tunes with simple forms, folk lyrics, and harmonies mostly accompanied by guitars, fiddles, banjos, and harmonicas.

The Carter Family

The Carter Family was a country music group that performed and recorded between 1927 and 1943. The group consisted of Alvin Pleasant “A.P.” Carter (1891–1960), his wife Sara Dougherty Carter (1898–1979), and their sister-in-law Maybelle Addington Carter (1909–1978). The Carter Family was one of the first commercial country music groups.

A.P. Carter learned to play the guitar from his mother and began making his own instruments at an early age. He met Sara Dougherty in 1916, and they were married in 1918. Maybelle Addington was A.P.’s cousin, and she joined the family group in 1926 after she married A.P.’s brother Ezra Carter.

TheCarter Family’s first recordings were made for Victor Records in 1927, and they quickly became popular performers on radio and in live concert venues. Their songs were mostly traditional folk songs or reworkings of existing songs, but they also wrote some original songs, including “Wildwood Flower” and “Keep on the Sunny Side”.

The group disbanded in 1943, but Maybelle Carter continued to perform as a solo artist, and she helped to launch the careers of her daughters June Carter Cash (1929–2003) and Anita Carter (1933–1999). The Carter Family was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1970 and the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.

Jimmie Rodgers

Although country music is now associated with cowboy hats and twangy guitars, the genre actually has its roots in the music of African Americans. One of the first country music stars was Jimmie Rodgers, who was born in Mississippi in 1897. Rodgers grew up listening to the blues and became a talented musician himself, playing both the guitar and harmonica. In 1927, he made his first recordings for Victor Records, and his popularity quickly soared. Rodgers was known for his innovative style, which incorporated both yodeling and bluegrass elements. He became famous for songs like “Blue Yodel” and “T For Texas.” Rodgers died of tuberculosis in 1933, but his influence can still be heard in country music today.

The Shelton Brothers

The Shelton Brothers were the first country music stars. They were black, from Missouri, and their music was a mix of blues, gospel, and traditional country. The brothers started performing in the 1920s, and their popularity grew in the 1930s. They were the first country music artists to cross over into the pop charts, with their song “Tom Dooley” reaching #1 on the Billboard charts in 1935. The Shelton Brothers’ success paved the way for other black country artists, like Charley Pride and Buck Owens, to find success in the genre.

How Country Music Changed

The sound of country music has changed drastically since it’s conception over a century ago. The genre has been through multiple evolutions, each with their own defining artists and sub-genres. From the early Carter Family to modern-day stars like Keith Urban, country music has come a long way. In this article, we’ll explore how country music has changed since it’s humble beginnings.

The rise of Nashville

In the early 1920s, country music was dominated by two styles: The string band music of the Southeast, which was often played at fiddle conventions and dances, and the individualist songs of the performers known as “songsters.” These singers traveled from town to town, often performing for tips in exchange for a room and a meal. They performed a wide variety of songs, including ballads, work songs, spirituals, and comic tunes.

Around this time, a new style of country music began to emerge in the Southwest. This style was influenced by Mexican music, as well as the cowboy music that was popular in the region. This new style eventually made its way to Nashville, where it became known as “Honky Tonk” music. Honky Tonk was a type of dance music that was often played in bars and honky-tonks (a type of small, informal bar).

The popularity of Honky Tonk music led to the rise of Nashville as a center for country music. In 1925, record companies began to set up studios in Nashville so that they could record this new type of music. Over the next few decades, Nashville became known as “Music City” and became the capital of country music.

The influence of television

In the 1960s, country music became a huge part of American pop culture. Thanks to the popularity of shows like “The Beverly Hillbillies” and “Petticoat Junction,” country music found a wide audience. The show “Hee Haw” was especially influential in bringing country music to a wider audience. This show featured country music artists as well as country-themed comedy skits. Thanks to television, country music became one of the most popular genres in the United States.

The influence of rock ‘n’ roll

In the mid-1950s, a new type of music began to emerge from the mountains of Appalachia and the backwoods of the American South. This music, which would come to be known as country, was a blend of traditional folk music, blues, and other genres.

While country music had always been popular in the rural south, it was not until the 1950s that it began to gain mainstream popularity. This was due in part to the influence of rock ‘n’ roll. Rock ‘n’ roll, which emerged in the late 1940s, was seen as a threat by many in the country music industry. However, some country artists, such as Hank Williams and Patsy Cline, began to experiment with incorporating elements of rock ‘n’ roll into their music.

The influence of rock ‘n’ roll can be heard in many early country songs, such as Cline’s “Walkin’ After Midnight” and Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” These songs helped to bridge the gap between country and rock ‘n’ roll, and paved the way for subsequent cross- pollination between the two genres.

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