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Collection Dolly Parton and the Roots of Country Music

Country Music Timeline

A chronology of the development of Country Music from the seventeenth century through 2002.

Timeline of Country Music


  1. 17th Century

    European and African immigrants bring with them to North America their folktales, folk songs, favorite instruments, and musical traditions. Indigenous peoples retain their own folkways.

  2. 18th Century

    The music of subjugated native peoples and enshackled slaves is pushed into the background. The folkways continue, but in subdued fashion. White European culture dominates. Opera, instrumental, and vocal music are prevalent in the cities. In rural areas, many try to stay up-to-date, but communication with population centers is often slow or non-existent. Only instruments easily transportable are taken west.

  3. 19th Century

    The rush to the ever-expanding western frontier and the first signs of the American "melting pot" of heterogeneous cultures begin. Westward migration is fraught with difficulties. The first explorers, primarily men, drive westward, conquering and incorporating cultures as they go. Later, as women and children begin to migrate, so does "polite culture." Newspapers, publishing houses, the telegraph, and the railroad contribute to the distribution of information. America is so large that regional differences begin to appear. This is particularly evident in folk traditions and musical favorites. Waves of immigrants come to America, some involuntarily as slaves, others seeking relief from tyranny or poverty. The immigrants tend to settle in areas that remind them of their former homes. With them they bring the instruments most important to them and most easily transportable. Amid the novelty of their new homes they cling to the cultures of their origins as a means of stability. Ballads and tunes from home blend with the new American stories; morality songs and parables intermingle and new oral traditions are created. Music and stories are handed down from generation to generation orally, but popular music publishing carries on nevertheless. Music schools are rarely seen outside the cities. In the first half of the century, newspapers, song sheets, and songsters print song lyrics, but music notation is usually neglected in favor of the mnemonic cue "sung to the tune of . . . ." Printed music (vocal as well as instrumental) is slower to expand. Music is integral to American life in the 19th century. All aspects of life are celebrated in song. Musicians, especially those who learn by listening and imitating, not by reading from a printed score, subtly incorporate sounds from surrounding cultures. Thus, the true "country music" of America begins.

  4. 1834

    "Zip Coon," or, as it is better known, "Turkey in the Straw," is published in Baltimore.

  5. 1835

    William Walker's Southern Harmony is published.

  6. 1843

    The Virginia Minstrels introduce the popular song "Old Dan Tucker," by Dan Emmett, and "The Blue Tail Fly."

  7. 1844

    The Sacred Harp is published. Sacred harp, or shape-note singing, which originated in New England in the 1700s, is kept alive in churches and revivals throughout the South.

  8. 1859

    The Martin Guitar Company opens in Nazareth, Pennsylvania.

  9. 1864

    "Wake Nicodemus," by Henry Clay Work, is published in Chicago.

  10. 1875

    Dwight Moody and Ira Sankey popularize revival meetings and begin publishing a series of songbooks for use at the revivals. These new gospel hymns gain immediate popularity in emphasizing personal salvation: "When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder," "What a Friend We Have in Jesus," "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms," and "Amazing Grace."

  11. 1880s

    Vaudeville becomes a popular entertainment.

    Learn More: The American Variety Stage - Vaudeville and Popular Entertainment 1870-1920 - a multimedia anthology selected from various Library of Congress holdings. This collection illustrates the vibrant and diverse forms of popular entertainment, especially vaudeville, that thrived from 1870 to 1920.

  12. 1890

    Jesse Walter Fewkes makes cylinder recordings of the Possamaquoddy Indians. These are considered to be the first ethnographic recordings of Native American music.

    Learn More: Information on the The Jesse Walter Fewkes field recordings of the Passamaquoddy Indians - information on this recording as one of the 2002 Registry choices.

  13. 1896

    "In the Baggage Coach Ahead," by Gussie Davis, is published.

  14. 20th Century

    The inventions of the phonograph, radio, television, and other electronic media shape the progress of country music in the 20th century.

  15. 1909

    The Fisk Jubilee Singers record "Swing Low Sweet Chariot," the first commercially successful spiritual recording.

  16. 1910

    James D. Vaughan, a music publisher, hires a quartet of singers to tour southern churches to promote his songbooks. A. P. Carter receives his first lessons in close harmony singing.

  17. 1917

    Folklorist Cecil Sharp publishes his comprehensive study, English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians.

  18. 1920

    The Sears Catalog offers not only songbooks and music, but instruments as well.

  19. 1922

    The Victor and Okeh recording companies begin recording the first country music artists. Fiddler Eck Robertson records "Arkansas Traveler" and "Sallie Gooden" for Victor Records, becoming the first pure country music artist to make a recording.

  20. 1924

    WLS Radio in Chicago introduces the National Barn Dance on April 19, 1924.

  21. 1925

    Cowboy Songs is recorded by Victor Records in August 1925 by Carl T. Sprague. "When the Work's All Done This Fall" becomes a hit.

  22. 1927

    Ralph Peer of Victor Records begins recording a local family act, The Carter Family, in Bristol, Tennessee. A. P. Carter, his wife, Sara, and sister-in-law Maybelle make more than 250 recordings in the next 14 years. The Singing Brakeman, Jimmie Rodgers, is also discovered at Bristol.

    Carter Family
  23. 1929

    October 19, 1939: the stock market crashes and the Great Depression begins.

  24. 1931

    Gene Autry, "America's favorite singing cowboy," has his first hit record, "That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine."

  25. 1933

    Wurlitzer introduces its first jukebox.

  26. 1934

    Decca Records begins recording country music acts. Gene Autry makes his first movie, In Old Santa Fe. Bob Nolan writes "Tumbling Tumbleweeds," which becomes a hit for Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, as well as a signature song for Nolan's group, The Sons of the Pioneers.

  27. 1939

    John Lomax, honorary consultant and curator for the fledgling Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress, and his wife, Ruby, begin a southern states recording tour. They record hundreds of performances of ballads, blues, cowboy songs, field hollers, spirituals, and work songs in nine southern states. Many ethnomusicologists consider the recordings made on this field trip to be among the most important in this genre.

    Learn More: The John and Ruby Lomax 1939 Southern States Recording Trip - a multiformat ethnographic field collection that includes nearly 700 sound recordings, as well as fieldnotes, dust jackets, and other manuscripts documenting a three-month, 6,502-mile trip through the southern United States

    The Grand Ole Opry makes its first network broadcast on NBC. The first host is Roy Acuff. Acuff records his first hit record, "Great Speckled Bird," this same year.

  28. 1940-45

    The Special Service Division of the military introduces hillbilly bands to a wide audience of soldiers in USO shows. Honky tonk, bluegrass, and other country standards spread across the world.

  29. 1942

    Roy Acuff and Fred Rose found Acuff-Rose Publishing.

  30. 1943

    Republic Studios declares Roy Rogers "King of the Cowboys," producing a film by the same name.

  31. 1945

    Nashville, Tennessee, becomes the center for country music.

  32. 1947

    Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys record "Blue Moon of Kentucky," one of the finest examples of the new bluegrass style of country music.

  33. 1948

    KWKH Radio in Shreveport introduces Louisiana Hayride to the airwaves.

  34. 1950

    Country music, radio, and movie star Gene Autry moves to television with the introduction of the Gene Autry Show.

  35. 1951

    Roy Rogers, recording and movie star, follows Autry's lead and moves to television with the Roy Rogers Show.

    Roy Rogers
  36. 1954-55

    Elvis Presley changes the face of American music with the Sun Record sessions that introduce the world to rock and roll. Presley includes his version of "Blue Moon of Kentucky."

  37. 1950s

    Rockabilly artists such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Conway Twitty, Buddy Holly, and the Everly Brothers begin recording hit after hit.

  38. 1960s

    The "New Nashville Sound emerges", blending rockabilly and more traditional styles. Ray Price, Jim Reeves, Ferlin Husky, Eddy Arnold, Patsy Cline, and George Jones embody this sound in their recordings.

    Female singers come into their own as star performers. Kitty Wells and Patsy Cline lead the way for Jean Shepard, Skeeter Davis, Dottie West, Connie Smith, Loretta Lynn, Barbara Mandrell, Tammy Wynette, and Dolly Parton to rise to the top of the charts.

  39. 1961

    The Country Music Hall of Fame inducts its first members: Jimmie Rodgers, Fred Rose, and Hank Williams.

    Willie Nelson writes "Crazy" for Patsy Cline and "Hello Walls" for Faron Young, planting himself squarely at the heart of the country music tradition.

  40. 1962

    Roy Acuff is inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

    Roy Acuff
  41. Late 1960s

    Vocal groups rise to prominence. The Statler Brothers, the Oak Ridge Boys, Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers, the Forrester Sisters, and the Bellamy Brothers all gain popularity.

  42. 1964

    Charley Pride begins to rise to the top of the charts. He is the first black performer to become a star in the country music field. Pride successfully switches back and forth between the country, pop, and gospel charts.

  43. 1967

    Dolly Parton joins Porter Wagoner's TV show.

  44. 1968

    Bob Wills is inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

  45. 1969

    Gene Autry is inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

  46. 1970

    Bill Monroe and the Original Carter Family are inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

  47. 1970s

    Bakersfield, California, becomes a center for a west-coast country music style. Ferlin Husky and Buck Owens are early examples of the style. A more contemporary artist is Dwight Yoakum.

  48. 1973

    Precious Lord: New Recordings of the Great Gospel Songs of Thomas A. Dorsey is recorded by Thomas Dorsey, Marion Williams, and others. Thomas A. Dorsey is considered the Father of Gospel Music.

    Patsy Cline is inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

  49. 1975

    Minnie Pearl is inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

  50. 1976

    Willie Nelson creates the Outlaw movement (or Austin sound), exemplified in his album Wanted: The Outlaws, with vocals by Willie, Waylon Jennings, Jessi Colter, and Tompall Glaser. Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, and Hank Williams, Jr., also fit the Outlaw category in their 1970s recordings.

    Kitty Wells is inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

    Kitty Wells
  51. 1980s

    New Country, or "countrypolitan," emerges, containing elements of western swing and bluegrass. Asleep at the Wheel personifies this sound as do George Strait and Reba McIntire. Ricky Skaggs infuses his New Country with driving bluegrass instrumentals. Randy Travis uses a more traditional "lonesome" vocal style.

  52. 1980

    Johnny Cash and the Original Sons of the Pioneers are inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

  53. 1982

    The Bluebird Café opens in Nashville. It becomes one of the most important venues for new talent to be seen and discovered.

  54. 1983

    The Nashville Network debuts.

    MTV Networks creates CMT (Country Music Television) to air country programming, including news and music videos, in a 24-hour format.

  55. 1984

    Ralph Peer is inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

  56. 1988

    Loretta Lynn and Roy Rogers are inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

  57. 1990s

    Honky tonk, bluegrass, pop, and new country contribute to crossover appeal. Artists move freely from one genre to another. Emmylou Harris, Patsy Loveless, Marty Stuart, Vince Gill, and Kathy Mattea stay close to their traditional roots; Alan Jackson, Clint Black, Travis Tritt, Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, Lee Ann Rimes, Shania Twain, and the Judds all move closer to a pop/rock sound, but still keep it country. Country singers gain international fame.

  58. 1993

    Willie Nelson is inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

  59. 1996

    Patsy Montana is inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

  60. 1998

    Elvis Presley and Tammy Wynette are inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

  61. 1999

    Dolly Parton is inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

  62. 2000

    Charley Pride is inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

  63. 2001

    Waylon Jennings is inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

  64. 2002

    Porter Wagoner is inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.