Musical Racialism and Racial Nationalism in Commercial Country Music, 1915-1953


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




Most popular histories of country music characterize the genre as the “white man’s blues,” locating its origins in an authentic white Anglo-Saxon and Appalachian folk culture. This project challenges that narrative by examining the racial politics of commercial country music during its formative decades. Focusing on four seminal performers from different racial backgrounds— Gene Autry, DeFord Bailey, Sol Ho’opi’i, and Carson Robison—this project combines musicological, historical, and sociological perspectives to demonstrate country music’s often overlooked multiracial performance history. Country music’s white identity was not inherent, but rather was achieved largely through a white nationalist rhetoric emerging in the 1940s, motivated by white, working-class anxieties over the genre’s cultural prestige. By engaging with whiteness as a social and musical construct, this project critiques the tendency in popular music historiography to segregate genres by race.