Sounding Southern: Music, Militarism, and the Making of the Sunbelt

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Thompson, Joseph, History - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Hale, Grace, AS-History, University of Virginia

“Sounding Southern” traces the ways in which the Defense Department and the country music industry created an economic relationship that would benefit the growth of the genre’s commercial power while also helping to encourage enlistment in the Cold War military. Using music industry archives, oral histories, and military records, this project examines how the Pentagon sponsored country music radio and television programs aimed at enlisting the music’s predominantly white fan base. At the same time, this relationship gave Music Row, Nashville’s neighborhood of publishing houses and recording studios, a promotional outlet to sell their products and expand their audiences around the globe. The military also helped boost country music’s image from a genre associated with rural ignorance to a music appropriate for the postwar middle class. In the process, Nashville’s musical-military partnership taught white southerners to accept unprecedented levels of government growth in the form of defense spending and altered the construction of southern identities and the national political culture over the first twenty-five years of the Cold War. This study argues that Nashville’s military-musical alliance also pushed the country music industry to the political right, as unflinching support for the warfare state and veneration of masculine individualism emerged as rallying cries for political conservatism.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
country music, military-industrial complex, politics
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