|The beginnings of
what we call "country music" can be traced to the arrival
of colonists primarily from the British Isles in the mid-18th to mid-19th
centuries. Moving west into the mountains, they brought their songs,
dances, and instrumental traditions. After arriving in Appalachia
these traditions were influenced by African-Americans. Especially
after the beginnings of the railroad and coal industries, migrants
from other European countries brought their own cultures with them.
The region's isolation led mountain musicians
to make their own music for entertainment. It was not uncommon to
encounter a remote mountain cabin with a homemade fiddle or banjo
on the wall. Neighbors would gather at home to dance and enjoy local
music. Musicians came to be influenced by the hymns they learned
in church, and, as railroads and better roads opened up the region,
by traveling minstrel and tent shows and urban "Tin Pan Alley"
songs. Local writers, both Black and White, also began to craft
"native" ballads, some based on older British ballads,
incorporating local history and events, the most famous example
being "John Henry."
When outsiders came to record local singers and
bands in the 1920s, they usually found musicians with repertoires
drawing from many sources, not the supposed "isolated"
music of centuries before. The real traditional music of the region
has continued to exist and thrive. Rediscovered time and again by
outside audiences, it is dear to the people who make it and an important
cultural resource. It is played by young and old, passed down by
families and community members. The Mt. Rogers Combined School in
Southwestern Virginia has a curriculum including old-time music,
and East Tennessee State has a degree program in bluegrass.
At the weekly concerts and dances at the Carter
Fold -- a venue run by Janette Carter in Hiltons, Virginia -- people
from nine to ninety hit the dance floor the moment at the first
notes of the band. Carter and her family built the Fold, a wooden
amphitheatre remarkable for its old bus seats and wooden benches,
to fulfill her promise to her father, A.P. Carter, to keep the music
alive after his death. Visitors to the Fold range from neighbors
down the road to tourists from Japan and Europe.
Religious spirituals, old-time music, bluegrass,
work songs, country music, and various newer groups bending rules
and creating something new out of old are all part of the soundscape.
The music has a long heritage that continues today.