Sounding Southern: Music, Militarism, and the Making of the Sunbelt


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




This project traces the economic and symbolic connections between popular music and the US Cold War military. In the 1950s, the Pentagon began investing in Nashville’s country music industry to produce radio and television programs aimed at recruiting the genre’s predominantly white fanbase. Nashville’s recruitment programs continued into the 1980s and helped to market country music as the sound of white allegiance to US militarism. This musical-military relationship taught country music fans, generally considered to be small government conservatives, to accept an unprecedented level of government growth as the military-industrial complex expanded across the Sunbelt. Through archival research and musical analysis, this project compares country music’s military alliance with the ways R&B, soul, and punk musicians articulated messages about Cold War defense strategies. Examining this intersection of popular culture and militarism reveals defense spending’s disproportionate influence on the formation of sonic and political color lines in the late twentieth century.