Economics and the Invention of Hillbilly Records in the South

William Howland Kenney

in Recorded Music in American Life

Published in print January 2004 | ISBN: 9780195171778
Published online October 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199849789 | DOI:
                   Economics and the Invention of Hillbilly Records in the South

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In the early history of the phonograph and recorded music, if not in the minds and performance practices of all vernacular musicians, blues and hillbilly music should receive separate consideration; the recording industry rigidly distinguished between rural white and rural Black recorded music by creating and maintaining segregated recording and marketing categories. Making and replaying sound reproductions of what record producers first called “old familiar tunes”, “hill country tunes”, “old time music”, and, beginning in 1925, “hillbilly” music, swiftly intertwined supposedly rustic white southeastern American musicians with complex patterns of northern urban industrial commerce. Producing, recording, and consuming records of what passed for white rural southern music primarily served the economic interests of the northern recording companies that discovered remarkably little difficulty in harnessing southern entrepreneurial ambitions to their own corporate ends. Hillbilly records were born when northern and southern entrepreneurs began to envision how professionalized southern vernacular musicians would appeal when recorded and packaged as untutored rural southern mountaineers. Pioneer record producers like Ralph Peer liked to call their work in the South “recording expeditions”.

Keywords: phonograph; recorded music; recording companies; hillbilly music; marketing; hillbilly records; recording industry; Ralph Peer; South

Chapter.  10807 words. 

Subjects: American Music

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