- Fellowship year:2020-2021
- University: University of California at Los Angeles
- Dissertation Topic/Category: United States
- Dissertation Title: Keepin’ It Country: Race and the Popular Music Industry in the Age of the New Right, 1969-1998
My dissertation reframes the country music genre as the product of Black and Brown artists and listeners, and reveals how the white music industry disregarded the music’s multiracial and multiethnic roots and instead embraced a politics of white conservatism. As a business history of the country music industry in Nashville, my work looks at how systemic racism has functioned in the popular music business. I analyze the tension between how the music industry marketed the genre of country music as a product exclusively by and for whites, with how musicians and fans engaged with the music in more diverse displays. I argue that while Black and Brown artists resisted the industry’s exclusionary marketing practices and suggested country music had the potential to become a symbol of multiracialism, the music business instead found it more financially valuable to cling to the optics of whiteness.
In considering the second half of the twentieth century, I analyze how country music’s trajectory towards mainstream acceptance during this era both benefited from and boosted New Right policies related to the political economy and defining social issues. At a time when neoliberal strategies increasingly emphasized individualism and the defunding of public services, I argue the country music industry profited from these policies by upholding the optics of a musical form that perpetuated myths about self-sufficient, bootstrapping capitalism as seen in white figures like the farmer, the “redneck,” and the cowboy. During a period when social and cultural issues like religion and family values had a growing influence in American political life, I reveal the role popular music played in championing the New Right’s agenda as country music became the sound of wholesome, family-friendly white conservatism.