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Country Music History

Country Music History

 Table of Contents

Country Music History Timeline

How It All Went Down

Jun 14, 1923

The First Country Records

Ralph Peer of Okeh records the music of Fiddlin' John Carson in an empty loft in Atlanta. Carson's record becomes a regional hit and convinces Peer that there is an untapped market for "hillbilly" music.

Sep 17, 1923

Hank Williams Born

Hiram King "Hank" Williams is born in Olive, Alabama. Hank Williams will become country music's greatest icon and most imitated performer.

1924

Vocalion Starts "Hillbilly" Series

The Vocalion company starts a series called "Special Records for Southern States" that will issue "hillbilly" records.

1925

"Hillbilly" Becomes Genre Tag

The term "hillbilly" is first used in commercial country music.

Nov 28, 1925

The Barn Dance Format Launches

The show that will become the Grand Ole Opry radio "barn dance" program begins its run on WSM radio out of Nashville, Tennessee. It will grow to be the most popular and important program of its kind and launch the careers of many of country music's biggest stars.

Aug 1927

First Country Stars Recorded at Bristol

During the first week of August, Ralph Peer makes the recordings of the now famous "Bristol Sessions" in Bristol, Tennessee, introducing fans to the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers, the two most influential acts in the early history of country music.

Dec 1927

The Opry Begins Its Official Run

WSM's Saturday night "barn dance" program officially becomes the Grand Ole Opry.

Sep 8, 1932

The Queen of Country Music is Born

Virginia Hensley, who will later be called Patsy Cline, is born in Winchester, VA. She will become the most influential female country artist of all time.

May 6, 1933

Rodgers, Country's First Superstar, Dies

Jimmie Rodgers dies of tuberculosis in New York City.

1933

Fred Rose Begins His Career

Fred Rose, who will later revolutionize the country music business, briefly works for WSM as a songwriter.

1934

Bob Wills Forms the Greatest Western Swing Band

Bob Wills and his Playboys become Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, the most famous of the era's western swing bands.

1940

The Opry Tours the South

The first Grand Ole Opry tent show (still featuring a black-face comedy team) tours the South.

1941

The Opry Tours Abroad During Wartime

The Grand Ole Opry sends a tour abroad to take country music to World War II servicemen.

1942

Rose-Acuff Publishing Company Forms in Nashville

Fred Rose and the singer Roy Acuff form the Nashville-based country music publishing company Acuff-Rose, helping to permanently re-center of the country music business in Nashville, Tennessee.

1944

Billboard Recognizes "Folk" Music

The year's first issue of Billboard magazine introduces a "folk" chart that mixes country, jazz, and blues.

1945

Bluegrass Comes into its Own

Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs join Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys, beginning the band's most famous incarnation and marking the coming of age of the bluegrass style Monroe pioneered.

1949

Hank Williams Makes His Mark

MGM releases Hank Williams's "Lovesick Blues."

1952

Hank Williams in Decline

Hank Williams is fired from the Grand Ole Opry for drunkenness and persistent no-shows.

Jan 1, 1953

Country's Most Iconic Performer Dies at 29

Hank Williams dies in the backseat of his Cadillac on New Years Day.

1953

The Queen of Country Joins a Barn Dance

Patsy Cline begins performing on the Louisiana Hayride program.

1954

Elvis Debuts

Elvis Presley makes his recording debut on Sun Records with an electrifying mix of gospel, R&B, and country tunes.

1954

Cash Records for Sun

Late in 1954, Johnny Cash does his first recording sessions at Sun, singing "Wide Open Road" and "You're My Baby," both self-written. Cash will make a tremendous career in country music by largely following his own muse.

Oct 1954

Elvis Launches Tour

Elvis headlines his own country music tour.

1958

Jerry Lee Lewis Records Crossover Smash "Great Balls of Fire"

Country music's greatest wildman, Jerry Lee Lewis aka "The Killer", records his biggest hit, "Great Balls of Fire" one of the year's many crossover smashes.

1958

Cash Performs at San Quentin

Johnny Cash performs his first free concert for the inmates at San Quentin Prison.

1959

The Opry Rules the Airwaves

A reader poll by Radio Mirror announces that Grand Ole Opry is America's favorite radio program.

Jan 9, 1960

Cline Joins the Opry

Patsy Cline joins the Grand Ole Opry.

1961

Cline Records Her Greatest Songs

Patsy Cline cements her status as a superstar with the release of two of her greatest songs, "Crazy" and "I Fall to Pieces."

1961

Country Music Hall of Fame is Established

The Country Music Hall of Fame is established. It's first three inductees are Jimmie Rodgers, Fred Rose, and Hank Williams.

Mar 5, 1963

Queen of Country Dies in Plane Crash

Patsy Cline dies in a plane crash.

Mar 25, 1966

Bakersfield Sound Immortalized

Buck Owens, the guitar hero of "Bakersfield sound"-style country music, records what is still believed by many to be country music's greatest live album at Carnegie Hall in New York.

1966

Dolly Parton Debuts

Dolly Parton releases her first records, "Happy Birthday, Baby" and the tongue-in-cheek "Dumb Blonde."

1966

Charley Pride Debuts

Charley Pride, the most successful black man in country music, releases his first single "Snakes Crawl at Night." His label initially hides his racial identity. Pride will go on to score 29 No. 1 hits.

1968

Wynette Records Her Standards

Tammy Wynette releases "Stand By Your Man" and "D-I-V-O-R-C-E" in the same year, ironically.

Apr 1968

Racial Violence Closes the Opry

Several Opry performances are cancelled for fear of racial violence in Nashville after the assassination of Dr. Marin Luther King, Jr.

Jan 1970

Johnny Cash Show Launches on ABC

The Johnny Cash Show becomes a regular part of the ABC-TV lineup.

Jul 4, 1974

Willie Nelson Begins a Texas Tradition

Outlaw country icon Willie Nelson holds his first Fourth of July Picnic near Austin, Texas. The event will become an institution and, like its founder, be associated with a "progressive country music" scene.

1975

Willie Nelson Releases His Classic Album

Willie Nelson releases his best known album, Red Headed Stranger.

May 1976

Lynn Publishes Her Autobiography

Loretta Lynn publishes her autobiography, Coal Miner's Daughter.

1980

Travolta Stars in Urban Cowboy

Urban Cowboy, the John Travolta film that popularized western wear and country western dance clubs across the country, is released. Country music hits the urban mainstream.

1989

Garth Brooks Makes His Mark

Garth Brooks, the king of "stadium" country, scores his first big hit "If Tomorrow Never Comes." Brooks will be the dominant country musician of the next decade.

1992

Alt-Country Recognized with Uncle Tupelo's Debut

Uncle Tupelo releases No Depression, the album that will be heralded as one of the definitive statements of alt-country during a decade of radio ready pop-crossover releases from the major artists and labels.

2000

Bluegrass Returns with O Brother, Where Art Thou?

The T-Bone Burnett-produced original soundtrack to the popular film O Brother, Where Art Thou? becomes a surprise hit, signaling a popular revival of bluegrass and a return to traditionalism in country music.

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