Out of the Barn and Into A Home: Country Music's Cultural Journey from Rustic to Suburban, 1943-1974 Open Access
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This dissertation examines the country music industry's presence within the Nashville metropolitan area, in tandem with the music's production of ideas about the country, the city, and the suburb, between roughly 1943 and 1974. Country music achieved an unprecedented level of commercial success during this time period, in part I argue, by distancing the music from the rural Southern associations of the genre's past and positioning itself as a modern phenomenon. The story of country music's emergence as a dominant genre of popular music is, at its heart, a story of space and place, a complicated story in which the country music industry increasingly highlighted and justified its distance from the rural country by foregrounding the urban and suburban migrations undertaken by the music's millions of fans. In the process, the country music industry shaped the city of Nashville, helping to create an economy driven by the tourism of cosmopolitan country music fans from around the nation and the globe. In light of these demographic changes, country music figures re-worked spatial tropes to fashion a new country "character" by the mid-1970s, drastically different from the backwoods hillbilly figure associated with the genre three decades before. Fans and performers alike suggested they could stay in touch with the rural past through loving memory while still fully participating in the modern world. As the sonic boundaries of the genre loosened and expanded to include more country-pop hybrids, "country" simultaneously came to mean something more intangible, rooted in traditional values rather than in traditional instrumentation, singing style, or a specifically rural way of life. The success of this transformation ultimately depended on a new understanding of country music's populist language. The industry still aligned with the traditional notion of country as "the music of the people" but subtly shifted the definition of "the people." When the Grand Ole Opry left the downtown Ryman auditorium for suburban Opryland in 1974, citing the dangers of downtown Nashville's "slums" for the Opry's family-oriented fans, country music proved that it understood the stakes of the spatial transformations in postwar American life and produced a mainstream middle-class identity.