From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

Related e



Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Hillbilly can be a pejorative term referring to people who dwell in remote, rural, mountainous areas usually of the United States. Because of its strongly stereotypical connotations, the term is frequently considered derogatory and is highly offensive to those of Appalachian heritage. However, the term is also often used in celebration of Appalachian heritage such as in the Hillbilly Hot Dog stand photo below.


Hillbilly music was at one time considered an acceptable label for what is now known as country music. The label, coined in 1925 by country pianist Al Hopkins, persisted until the 1950s.

The "hillbilly music" categorization covers a wide variety of musical genres including bluegrass, country, western, and gospel. Appalachian folk song existed long before the "hillbilly" label. When the commercial industry was combined with "traditional Appalachian folksong", "hillbilly music" was formed. Some argue this is a "High Culture" issue where sophisticated individuals may see something considered "unsophisticated" as "trash".

In the early-20th century, artists began to utilize the "hillbilly" label. The term gained momentum due to Ralph Peer, the recording director of OKeh Records, who heard it being used among Southerners when he went down to Virginia to record the music and labeled all Southern country music as so from then on. The York Brothers entitled one of their songs "Hillbilly Rose" and the Delmore Brothers followed with their song "Hillbilly Boogie". In 1927, the Gennett studios in Richmond, Indiana, made a recording of black fiddler Jim Booker. The recordings were labeled "made for Hillbilly" in the Gennett files and were marketed to a white audience. Columbia Records had much success with the "Hill Billies" featuring Al Hopkins and Fiddlin' Charlie Bowman.

By the late-1940s, radio stations started to use the "hillbilly music" label. Originally, "hillbilly" was used to describe fiddlers and string bands, but now it was used to describe traditional Appalachian music. Appalachians had never used this term to describe their own music. Popular songs whose style bore characteristics of both hillbilly and African American music were referred to as hillbilly boogie and rockabilly. Elvis Presley was a prominent player of rockabilly and was known early in his career as the "Hillbilly Cat".

When the Country Music Association was founded in 1958, the term hillbilly music gradually fell out of use. The music industry merged hillbilly music, Western swing, and Cowboy music, to form the current category C&W, Country and Western.

Some artists (notably Hank Williams) and fans were offended by the "hillbilly music" label. While the term is not used as frequently today, it is still used on occasion to refer to old-time music or bluegrass. For example, WHRB broadcasts a popular weekly radio show entitled "Hillbilly at Harvard". The show is devoted to playing a mix of old-time music, bluegrass, and traditional country and western.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Hillbilly" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools