CCTE Breakfast: Popular Culture Scholarship- Country Singers

This is a live blogging of the session.

Introduction to the breakfast: More than McMurtry: Scholarly Takes on Country Culture

Popular Culture is an important side of academic investigation. But how often do I allow my students to go there? Can their personal voice be used in a scholarly analysis?

Pamela Sauer (first speaker):
grew up in Iowa and Minnesota, teaches at Lamar University in English and German

“All American Rags-to-Riches Myths”

This is a live blogging of the session.

country music is a major branch of the Am. entertainment industry.
Tension between real old-time and slick mainstream.
“trying to preserve tradition” “plastic”

Country songs are supposed to transmit the cultural values of small town, Southern, patriotic, white Americans.

Humble beginnings/hard work/poverty itself and money is scorned
versions of the rags-to-riches story = bios and autobios of CW stars
Hank Williams, Dolly Parton, yes. This is true.
Amazingly tall trajectory of CW singers are encouraging.

Country songs and bios are available to crossovers, even if they are outside the expectations.
Black singers = Charlie Pride
Canadian = Shania Twain
Australian = Keith Urban

Minnie Pearl- too rich for CW
But she yelled and wore her hats with the price tag on them.

Those country singers who do not have the correct background offer excuses:
father white class, but worked hard
Illinois fought for North, but accent is Southern and people there feel Southern

“I grew up in a shack, but I didn’t know it was a shack.” Willie Nelson

Hard work in a rural environment is one of the main criteria for legitimate background for country singing.
Picking cotton is the best prep for being CW singer.
“Hard work is good for you.” Johnny Cash
Tammy Wynette “I have great respect for farmers and their families because I know what they have to go through to dig a living out of the land.”

Far fewer younger country stars have picked cotton.

country bios also tell of the neg side of success: constant travel, wealth itself
The climb to the top can be hard.

Hank Williams- CW star has to be from humble beginnings and never deny it.
Loretta Lynn- “I’m proud I have my own ideas, but I ain’t no better than they are.”
Conway Twitty- “Just because you can sing songs… doesn’t make you any different from men who drive their trucks…”

Chet Atkins id’s fundamental values
rural
fundamental
conservative
Southern
blue-collar
fundamental

pop culture historian _________McKenna_
anti-elitism
anti-intellectualism
agrarianism
Prot fundamentalism
patriotism

They want to believe in the myth of a humble person, born in a log cabin… able to bring himself up by his boot straps.

Hank Wms quotes his mother, “Too much book learning might have spoiled the natural… of his songs.”

get their start singing in a small country Protestant church, preferably in the woods

house of God and honkytonks tension

many bios focus on their religious background.

Barbara Mandrell “coming face to face with the devil”
Cyrus said his daughter’s success was from the devil, trying to tear his family apart

most don’t seek role of political speaker.

“crazy Asian world” not politics
“Where have all the heroes gone?” not politics

autobio Gretchen Wilson shows traditional mythology around and well.
grew up in poverty, sneaking out to avoid rent, lived in women’s shelter with her mother

did not grow up on a farm, “but I know what it’s like stand for twelve hours to push beer across the bar”

laments the stereotyping of “redneck”
people who work hard and play harder and don’t take crap about who they are

“To me the song is an expression of pride.”

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