The unpredictable politics of an American genre

Jesse Baron at Bookforum:

Country fans no longer resemble the characters in country songs; they are salaried accountants chewing Nicorette in Chevy Tahoes, not railroad linemen spitting Copenhagen through the shot-out windows of a Ford F-150. Their assimilation worries them, and they sometimes overcompensate. “If any of you tuned in to ABC tonight expecting to see the new show Black-ish,” said host Brad Paisley at the 2014 Country Music Association Awards, referring to the sitcom about assimilation anxiety in the suburbs, “this ain’t it. In the meantime, I hope y’all are enjoying white-ish.” The joke had another meaning, too, which Paisley probably didn’t intend: Despite the perception that country is white America’s music, it’s only ever been white-ish. “Country” descended from British and Celtic ballads that crossed the ocean into Appalachia and the South, where singers Americanized the names of the women and the rivers. It was stirred with Baptist hymns, black American folk songs, New Orleans jazz, and—crucially—the twelve-bar blues. Was the sound white? Was it native? The banjo derived from the African gourd-based banjar.

more here.