As a student whose primary studies are not in American Studies, I was unsure what to expect going to the Eastern American Studies Association Conference. My interest in American Studies began when I took a course titled “Springsteen’s American Vision,” which explored Bruce Springsteen’s messages on the American way of life, through his lyrics, albums, and other forms of media. At the EASA Conference, I found that a few of the panelists we heard from were interested in music, specifically country music, and how it has been changing in American culture.
One panelist in particular stood out to me; Matthew Anthony, from Penn State Harrisburg, whose presentation was “I Got Country Roots.” His focus was on diversity in American country music, mainly pertaining to black artists like O.B. McClinton and Charley Pride. These singers always wanted to identify with their southern working class roots rather than their African-American roots, and tried to get this across in their lyrics. I was able to make a connection to Springsteen at this point; one of the central points of his music has always been connecting with his peers, the working class of America. However, when these black artists tried to do this, it seemed they were never accepted fully by whites or blacks. African-Americans saw country music as the “music of their white oppressors,” and they thought they were being abandoned by these artists as they tried to be accepted by whites. However, to be accepted by whites, these artists often had to resort to stereotypical racist jokes in their music, and any progress they had made was stalemated in the 80’s with the election of the more conservative Ronald Reagan. I found all this information from Anthony to be the most engaging of the panels, and he knew his material very well. He also got me thinking; how much control does one really have over their own identity, and to what extent does the surrounding American culture make decisions for them?
Charley Pride Album Cover (Image from http://www.mswritersandmusicians.com/musicians/charley-pride.html)