Smile When You Call Me a Hillbilly
Country Music's Struggle for Respectability, 1939–1954

Jeffrey J. Lange

How country music gained regional and national acceptance


"Smile When You Call Me a Hillbilly is a very good summation of country music's history during the crucial years from 1939 to 1954. Lange does a particularly good job in exploring the tensions that accompanied the efforts made by entertainers and fans to create a musical product that would be both popular and roots-based. That struggle, of course, is still very much a part of the country music scene today."
—Bill C. Malone, author of Don't Get above Your Raisin’: Country Music and the Southern Working Class

"A lively, readable collection of well-written and researched essays about Country Music within the context of America's history."
Southern Scribe

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Today, country music enjoys a national fan base that transcends both economic and social boundaries. Sixty years ago, however, it was primarily the music of rural, working-class whites living in the South and was perceived by many Americans as “hillbilly music.” In Smile When You Call Me a Hillbilly, Jeffrey J. Lange examines the 1940s and early 1950s as the most crucial period in country music’s transformation from a rural, southern folk art form to a national phenomenon.

In his meticulous analysis of changing performance styles and alterations in the lifestyles of listeners, Lange illuminates the acculturation of country music and its audience into the American mainstream. Dividing country music into six subgenres (progressive country, western swing, postwar traditional, honky-tonk, country pop, and country blues), Lange discusses the music’s expanding appeal. As he analyzes the recordings and comments of each of the subgenre’s most significant artists, including Roy Acuff, Bob Wills, Bill Monroe, Hank Williams, and Red Foley, he traces the many paths the musical form took on its road to respectability.

Lange shows how along the way the music and its audience became more sophisticated, how the subgenres blended with one another and with American popular music, and how Nashville emerged as the country music hub. By 1954, the transformation from “hillbilly” music to country music was complete, precipitated by the modernizing forces of World War II and realized by the efforts of promoters, producers, and performers.

Page count: 336 pp.
Trim size: 6 x 9


List price: $30.95

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Jeffrey J. Lange currently teaches history at the University of St. Francis in Joliet, Illinois.