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HillbillyA Cultural History of an American Icon$
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Anthony Harkins

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780195189506

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2007

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195189506.001.0001

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Country Music and the Rise of “Ezra K. Hillbilly” in Interwar America

Country Music and the Rise of “Ezra K. Hillbilly” in Interwar America

(p.71) Chapter Three. Country Music and the Rise of “Ezra K. Hillbilly” in Interwar America

Anthony Harkins (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

This chapter examines the role of “hillbilly” in commercially recorded rural white music, by the early 1930s commonly (although often disparagingly) labeled “hillbilly music”. The hillbilly image in country music was both a fabrication of music industry producers and promoters, and an outgrowth of farcical performances by folk musicians. The hillbilly label and image was accepted by most musicians of the 1920s and early 1930s because it partially evoked a nostalgic sense of a mythic mountaineer. By the late 1930s, however, the growing power of a derisive hillbilly stereotype led musicians and the burgeoning country music industry increasingly to embrace the more unambiguously positive cowboy image and the less stigmatized term “country”. Nonetheless, as “hillbilly” and string-band music became interwoven in the popular imagination, its meaning shifted from one denoting only threat and violence to one that primarily signified low humor and carefree frivolity.

Keywords:   country music, hillbilly music, stereotype, cowboy, humor

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