Country Music’s Rise to Popularity in the 1950s

by admin - October 23rd, 2017

By Erin McCormack

Country music became increasingly popular throughout the 1950s in America and artists such as Hank Williams and Johnny Cash dominated a good portion of the Billboard Top Hits list. Hank Williams one of the biggest country stars at the time, “recorded his biggest hit, “Your Cheatin’ Heart” in September 1952, only to die three months later” which left Roy Acuff as the “most prominent force in country music” (Dunar 268). Other stars included Eddy Arnold and Gene Autry which had numerous number one hits on the country charts, only made it onto Billboard a few times on the pop charts (Dunar 269). Although country music made its way into the pop music scene during the 1950s, it was not the predominant genre of music at the time. Many country hits found their way to pop charts through covers of other songs (Dunar 269).

Kitty Wells was one of the first female country stars, she broke the barrier of an industry that was dominated by male artists with her song, “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky-Tonk Angels” (Dunar 269). This song was in response to Hank Thompson’s lyrics to “Wild Side of Life” which described how married women run around to different bars to be “anybody’s baby” and he sung that he, “didn’t know God made honky-tonk angels and I might’ve known you’d never make a wife” (Wild Side of Life Lyrics). Wells reacted to Thompson’s accusations with her own song, directly calling out in her own lyrics that while she was listening to the lyrics of “Wild Side of Life” that “too many times married men think that they’re still single” and that’s why women go out and that it is a “shame all blame is on us women” (Kitty Wells -It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels Lyrics). This rise of female influence in the realm of country music was due largely in part to Wells and her music led the way for many other female country artists in future generations such as Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette and Patsy Cline.

A huge part of country music both in the 1950s and today is the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee. Nashville “was to country music what Hollywood was to film” (Dunar 269). Music Row, 17th avenue in Nashville was where some of the most notable country songs came out of and artists who achieved success performed at the Grand Ole Opry. Some of the stars who were part of the Opry in the 1950s were Kitty Wells, George Jones and Johnny Cash among 40 or so others and the list can be viewed on the Opry website. The Grand Ole Opry was not just a place for successful artists to showcase their talent, it’s also where unknown talents turned into stars, like Stonewall Jackson who sang “Don’t be Angry with Me Darlin” and “Waterloo.”

Country music’s rise in the 1950s is what shaped American music to present day where country music is widely popular today. The Grand Ole Opry is also still a huge part of country music and is inducting members into it constantly, just recently on October 17, 2017 new artist Chris Young was inducted into the Opry making its member count up to 457 artists of past and present country music.

Johnny Cash playing at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, TN in the 1950s

Works Cited
“1950s.” Grand Ole Opry. N.p., 14 Jan. 2015. Web.

“Artists.” Grand Ole Opry. N.p., n.d. Web.

Dunar, Andrew J. America in the Fifties. N.p.: Syracuse UP, 2006. Print.

“It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels Lyrics.” Kitty Wells – It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels Lyrics | MetroLyrics. N.p., n.d. Web.

Lytation. “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels – Kitty Wells.” YouTube. YouTube, 27 Jan. 2013. Web.

Verycoolsound. “HANK THOMPSON – The Wild Side of Life.” YouTube. YouTube, 18 Feb. 2010. Web.

“Wild Side Of Life Lyrics.” Hank Thompson – Wild Side Of Life Lyrics | MetroLyrics. N.p., n.d. Web.

2 Responses to “Country Music’s Rise to Popularity in the 1950s”

  1. Meagan Perro says:

    This post interested me because I listen to mostly country music today. Old country music is definitely different than what is considered country today. The paragraph on Kitty Wells and Hank Thompson was interesting because I think a lot of singers today write songs as a reaction. It is known today that singers release albums after a breakup, like Taylor Swift, or when they’re madly in love, such as Thomas Rhett. That specific paragraph reminded me of one of my favorite country songs today “Song for Another Time” by Old Dominion. I attached a link that explains how this song is made up of titles of 20 popular songs.