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Country music reception is the critical and popular reception of country music. Country is an often controversial, much loved and much hated, music genre. Race issues play a large part in country music reception and the music has been praised for diversity and universality.



Negative and positive criticism of country music has often focused on its supposed audience.

Though "its primary audience is the children and grandchildren of the poor rural Southerners that gave commercial country music its birth (Ellison 1995; Peterson and Kern 1995)", "country music is widely enjoyed by people in all walks of North American society and around the world" [1].

President George H. W. Bush celebrated country music by declaring October, 1990 "Country Music Month". The proclamation read:

"Encompassing a wide range of musical genres, from folk songs and religious hymns to rhythm and blues, country music reflects our Nation's cultural diversity as well as the aspirations and ideals that unite us. It springs from the heart of America and speaks eloquently of our history, our faith in God, our devotion to family, and our appreciation for the value of freedom and hard work. With its simple melodies and timeless, universal themes, country music appeals to listeners of all ages and from all walks of life." (quoted in [2])

Values and origins

As above, country may be praised or cursed for the values associated with its audience or origins.

For example, the Lyndon LaRouche founded Schiller Institute (described by the London Metropolitan Police and others as a "cult", quoted in [2]) represents an extreme though familiar view when it criticises country music for those same populist values that H. W. Bush celebrates. They write that country music represents:

"the 'musical culture' of the pessimistic American populist, wallowing in nostalgia for the Good Old Days and the glorious Lost Cause of Confederacy..."

However, the institute describes country's origins dubiously and contradictorily as elitist:

"Where did Country and Western come from? You guessed it, again: not from the hills and hollers of rural America, but from testtubes [sic] of such cultural warfare centers as Theodore Adorno's [sic] Princeton Radio Research Project."

While country music is not a benevolent conspiracy as described by the Schiller Institute neither is it the ideal representation of positive values and inclusion described by President Bush. For both the Institute and the President "whiteness, racism, poverty, and alienated labor are, it seems...irrelevant," [2] including fighting racism, eliminating poverty, and improving labor conditions.

Race and supposed racism

In addition to being praised for universality and diversity country music may be criticized for its supposed racism.

While mainstream country may contain no examples of overt or even covert racism:

"those who suspect country music is racist, for example, might find their opinion strengthened by the underground race-baiting, hate-filled music of country singer/songwriter 'Johnny Rebel' (Clifford 'Pee Wee' Trahan) whose records have circulated widely, since his commercial heyday in the 1960s. Among his most popular songs: 'Nigger Hatin' Me.'" [2]

It must be noted that Rebel is an extreme and not at all representative example:

"Of all the misapprehensions at loose in the world about country music, perhaps the most persistent is that it's the music of racist, redneck Republicans." [3]

In fact, "country music is widely disparaged in racialized terms, and assertions of its essential 'badness' are frequently framed in specifically racial terms" such as "white trash" [2]

Discomfort with country music and accusations of racism may stem from listeners discomfort with their own racism, including a projection of that racism onto country musicians and fans:

"...For many cosmopolitan Americans, especially, country is 'bad' music precisely because it is widely understood to signify an explicit claim to whiteness, not as an unmarked, neutral condition of lacking (or trying to shed) race, but as a marked, foregrounded claim of cultural identity - a bad whiteness...unredeemed by ethnicity, folkloric authenticity, progressive politics, or the noblesse oblige of elite musical culture." [2]


These contrasting and contradicting views highlight that country may be celebrated or criticized by different listeners for the exact same and directly opposite reasons. This is a complicated phenomena as evidenced by Richard Peterson's question:

"How is it that country music has retained in its lyrics and in the images of its leading exponents the dualistic, populist, individualist, fatalistic, antiurbane zeitgeist of poor and working-class Southern whites, although most of its fans do not have these characteristics? In a word, how has it maintained its dinstinctive sense of authenticity?" [1]


  1. ^ a b Peterson, Richard A. (1999). Creating Country Music: Fabricating Authenticity, p.9. ISBN 0-226-66285-3.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Fox, Aaron A. (2004). "White Trash Alchemies of the Abject Sublime: Country as 'Bad' Music" in Washburne, Christopher J. and Derno, Maiken (eds.). Bad Music: The Music We Love to Hate, p.46. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0415943663.
  3. ^ Feiler, Bruce (1998). Dreaming Out Loud: Garth Brooks, Wynonna Judd, Wade Hayes and the changing face of Nashville, p.242. Avon Books. ISBN 0-380-97578-5.


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