|Thomas Hart Benton died in 1975 as he reviewed his "The Origins of Country Music" at the Country Music Hall of Fame.|
"It's the closest thing visually to what country music sounds like," says singer Kathy Mattea, who was a hall tour guide.
"It's probably white man's soul music," says Kris Kristofferson, followed immediately by Charley Pride, one of the very few African Americans in the genre, who says "You can find a country song to fit any mood you're in." Bill C. Malone, country music's leading historian, says "You can't conceive of this music existing without the African American infusion."
The first episode is titled "The Rub." When the genre formed in the 1920s, segregation was enforced, except in music, and "The rub is people mixing," black fiddle and banjo player and singer Rhiannon Giddens says. You may know Jimmie Rodgers was influenced by blacks with whom he worked on railroads in Mississippi, but did you know that Rodgers recorded with Louis Armstrong? That DeFord Bailey, son of a slave, and Dave Macon, son of a Confederate soldier, were the first stars of the Grand Ole Opry, and that Bailey played the first tune the night the Opry was named? And that A.P. Carter, who couldn't remember melodies, rode the ridges to find songs with black guitarist Lesley Riddle, who could?
The show notes that audience for country was "predominantly white, working-class Southerners," which black and country recording pioneer Ralph Peer called "hill country music," and then "hillbilly music," which didn't set well with some. The adjective "is almost like a racist remark," Dolly Parton says. That suggests common ground; script writer Dayton Duncan says the music met "the need of Americans, especially those who felt left out and looked down upon, to tell their stories."