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Western music (North America)

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Western music (North America)

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Poster from the Western Music Association. Poster from the Western Music Association.

Western Music, directly related to the old English, Scottish, and Irish folk ballads, was originally composed by and about the people settling and working in the American West and western Canada. Mexican music, especially in the American Southwest, also somewhat influenced its development. Country music had similar origins but developed in the Appalachians to suit the people of that region.


An account of Western Music

Western music was first brought to national attention by John Lomax in his 1910 publication, Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads. With the advent of radio and recording devices the music found an audience previously ignored by music schools and Tin Pan Alley. Many Westerners preferred familiar music about themselves and their environments.

With the romanticization of the cowboy in the following decades, the music attracted a much greater audience. Hollywood and New York City began composing fully orchestrated four-part harmonies for their motion pictures and recordings, something far from its folk roots but still Western. In its heyday, the 1930s and 1940s, the most popular recordings and musical radio shows such as the National Barn Dance of the era were of Western music. Western swing also developed during this era.

By the 1960s, Western music was in decline. Relegated to the Country and Western genre by the marketing agencies, popular Western recording stars released albums to only moderate success. Rock and Roll dominated music sales and the Hollywood recording studios dropped most of their Western artists. Caught unawares by the boom in Country and Western sales from Nashville that followed, Hollywood rushed to cash in. In the process, Country and Western music lost its regionalism and most of its style. Except for the label, much of the music was indistinguishable from Rock and Roll or Popular. Some Western music traditionalists resent the blurring of "Western" in a Country and Western category that no longer represents them, but the name is too well ingrained to be changed.

Still, many Westerners prefer music about themselves, their culture, and the land around them. Older music is still available at retail stores in major population centers, through mail-order, or by the internet. New Western music is constantly written and recorded, and performed all across the American West and western Canada.

Traditional Western Music used the voice, and the guitar, with other instruments as to the musician's taste, with one major exception: Percussion and percussive sounds were missing from most if not all performances. This article links to a very traditional version of Home on the Range that is done in traditional Western music style. Modern Western Music pays more heed to time signatures, emphasis and beat. Much western music with a percussive flavor is Western Swing, and not traditional Western. Many traditional performers tried to create the image of a working cowboy, and therefore avoided instruments that could not be carried on a horse. Today this has been diluted significantly, and even Riders in the Sky have a bunkhouse bass which carries some of the rhythm on their Western Swing numbers.

Western Music

Traditional ballads include; Home on the Range, Sweet Betsy from Pike, Ceilito Lindo, Red River Valley, and Streets of Laredo.

Songs during the height of popularity include; Cool Water, Cattle Call, Tumbling Tumbleweeds, Carry Me Back to the Lone Prairie, Happy Trails, and Back in the Saddle Again.

Artists include; Bob Nolan and the Sons of the Pioneers, Tex Ritter, Rex Allen, Roy Rogers, and Gene Autry. Riders in the Sky are actively recording a mix of Western and Western Swing and have won Grammy Awards for their work with Disney on Toy Story 2 and Monsters, Inc.

See also

Additional reading

  • Cannon, Hal. Old Time Cowboy Songs. Gibbs Smith. ISBN 0-87905-308-9
  • Green, Douglas B. Singing in the Saddle: The History of the Singing Cowboy. Vanderbilt University Press, August 2002. ISBN 082651412X
  • O'Neal, Bill; Goodwin, Fred. The Sons of the Pioneers. Eakin Press, 2001. ISBN 1571686444

External links

Links to Western music associations

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This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

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