Profiles of influential but largely forgotten country music artists.
Wolfe’s (Mahalia Jackson, 1990, etc.) mini-biographies are based largely on personal interviews with the musicians themselves (many of whom have long since moved on to their Great Audience Above) and with those who knew them. The anecdotes provide some interesting tidbits (Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams, for example, copied the falsetto singing style of blackface performer Emmett Miller), and Wolfe is able to sketch out the larger significance of each artist’s musical accomplishments. There are 50 profiles altogether, and the collection is divided into 7 sections. The first section showcases well-known artists from the Country Music Hall of Fame (such as the Carter Family, Roy Acuff, Lefty Frizzell, and Kitty Wells), while less-familiar names (such as Fiddlin’ John Carson—who is largely credited with making the first country record) fill out the second. Artists famous for performing on live country radio (including Cousin Emmy, who paved the way for future female stars but whose legacy may be overlooked due to an absence of taped recordings) are featured in “From the Airwaves.” The remaining sections focus on unsung heroes (including studio or backup musicians), successful live-act touring performers, genuine singing cowboys and cowgirls, and modern artists who have a special affinity for the traditional style. From the hillbilly sound to gospel to duets to swing, from the banjo to the fiddle to the harmonica, the roots of country music are revealed in a representative (if not altogether comprehensive) manner.
Many of these pioneering artists died in relative obscurity, but Wolfe goes a good ways toward reviving their legacies. (47 b&w photos)