Performing Southernness in Country Music Catherine Evans Davies The University of Alabama Even though vernacular music was performed in rural contexts through the United States country music has been
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Performing Southernness in Country Music Catherine Evans Davies The University of Alabama Even though vernacular music was performed in rural contexts through the United States country music has been

This study tracks the performance of Southernness through dialect from the origins of country music across 64257ve generations and claims that certain features and representations have become iconic and enregistered creating a situation in which non

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Performing Southernness in Country Music Catherine Evans Davies The University of Alabama Even though vernacular music was performed in rural contexts through the United States country music has been




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Presentation on theme: "Performing Southernness in Country Music Catherine Evans Davies The University of Alabama Even though vernacular music was performed in rural contexts through the United States country music has been"— Presentation transcript:


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Performing Southernness in Country Music Catherine Evans Davies The University of Alabama Even though vernacular music was performed in rural contexts through the United States, country music has been constructed over the past century as a Southern white working-class art form (Malone 2002, Cohen 2014), for which the notion of authenticity has been both central and yet redefined with each generation (Peterson 1997, Jensen 1998). This study tracks the performance of Southernness through dialect from the origins of country music across five generations and claims

that certain features and representations have become iconic and enregistered, creating a situation in which non-Southern speakers must sing with these features or risk being judged as inauthentic in a genre that prioritizes authenticity. This study builds on work on accent in popular music (Trudgill 1983, Gibson 2011) and particularly on an expansion from a purely phonological analysis to one that considers all levels of dialect (Simpson 1999, Coupland 2011, Davies 2014), on work on the dialects of the founders of country music, i.e., Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams (Wilmuth 1997, Davies

2011), and on work specifically on aspects of the contemporary dialect in country music (Davies 2003, 2005; Lide 2007). Starting with Hank Snow (b. 1914) from Nova Scotia, who revealed in an oral history recorded by the Country Music Hall of Fame archive that he tried to sound exactly like Jimmie Rodgers, this paper analyses examples across subsequent generations both of native Southern speakers who incorporated a range of Southern dialect features into their lyrics and of non-Southern speakers who have learned to write and sing with a country music register. Features at various levels

of dialect that appear to have been iconized are identified as well as discourses that appear to have contributed to the process of enregisterment. Following Agha (2003), Silverstein (2003), and Johnstone, Andrus, and Danielson (2006), it would appear that the sung dialects of Rodgers and Williams could be conceptualized as a first-order indexical for region and class. In contrast with their constructed stage personas (Rodgerss singing brakeman and Williamss cowboy), it would appear, from examination of their singing and speech and comparison with LAGS data, that their sung

dialect represented their speech. Both of these men also wrote many of their own songs, adding more levels of dialect to the performance of Southernness. Given the classic musical characteristics of the genre (Rogers and Williams 2000, Davies 2014), as country music became increasingly commodified and constructed as Southern, it is argued that the dialect found in the lyrics and performance took on second-order indexicality as part of the country music style and that accordingly singers who were not native Southern speakers began to imitate it as part of their performance. In the

constant redefinition within country music of authenticity in relation to the Southern white working class, we no longer find any Rodgers-type railroad man personas (although the cowboy hat has been maintained as essential) but a representation of Southern dialect in the performance of country music appears to have moved to third-order indexicality with increasing commentary on the phenomenon.
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References Agha, Asif. (2003). The social life of cultural value. Language and Communication 23: 231273. Cohen, Ronald D. (2014). Bill Malone, Alan Lomax, and the Origins

of Country Music, Journal of American Folklore 127 (Spring 2014): 126-139. Coupland, Nikolas. (2011). Voice, place and genre in popular song performance. Journal of Sociolinguistics 15/5, 2011: 573602 Davies, Catherine Evans. (2003). The Representation of the South in Alabamas Lyrics, paper presented at the 20th Annual International Country Music Conference, Belmont University, Nashville, TN (2005). Dialect and the Spread of Country Music: The Case of Alabama, paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Dialect Society, Oakland, CA (2011). The Founders Accents in

Country Music: Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams. paper presented at Southeastern Conference on Linguistics (SECOL), Callaway Gardens, Pine Mountain, GA (2014). Reaching across the partisan divide: The linguistic construction of an oppositional country music voice. The International Country Music Journal , 2: 115-146. Gibson, Andy. (2011) Flight of the Conchords: Recontextualizing the voices of popular culture. Journal of Sociolinguistics 15/5, 2011: 603626 Jensen, Joli. (1998). The Nashville Sound: Authenticity, Commercialization, and Country Music . Nashville: The Country Music

Foundation Press and Vanderbilt University Press. Johnstone, Barbara, Andrus, Jennifer and Andrew E. Danielson. (2006). Mobility, Indexicality, and the Enregisterment of Pittsburghese Journal of English Linguistics 34: 77-104. Lide, Sara. (2007). Accent Accommodation and Identity Projection: An Analysis of the Use of the Southern Accent by Country Singers . M.A. thesis, University of South Carolina. Linguistic Atlas of the Gulf States : http://www.lap.uga.edu/Site/LAGS.html Malone, Bill C. (2002). Dont Get above Your Raisin: Country Music and the Southern Working Class Urbana, Illinois:

University of Illinois Press. Peterson, Richard A. (1997). Creating Country Music: Fabricating Authenticity . Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Rogers, Jimmie N., and Miller Williams. (2000). Figure It Out: The Linguistic Turn in Country Music. Country Music Annual 2000, 46-56. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky. Silverstein, Michael. (2003). Indexical order and the dialectics of sociolinguistic life. Language & Commu- nication 23 (2003)193229 Simpson, Paul. (1999). Language, Culture and Identity: with (another) Look at Accents in Pop and Rock Singing. Multilingua . 18(4), p.

343-367 Trudgill, Peter. (1983). Acts of Conflicting Identity: The sociolinguistics of British popsong pronunciation. In Trudgill, P. (ed.) On Dialect . Oxford: Basil Blackwell, pp. 141-160. Wilmuth, Thomas A. (1997). Pictures from Lifes Other Side: Southern Regionalisms in Hank Williamss Luke the Drifter Recordings. In Language Variety in the South Revisited , 255-255, (ed. Cynthia Bernstein, Thomas Nunnally, and Robin Sabino). Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press.