Academic journal article Current Musicology

Pamela Fox. 2009. Natural Acts: Gender, Race, and Rusticity in Country Music

Academic journal article Current Musicology

Pamela Fox. 2009. Natural Acts: Gender, Race, and Rusticity in Country Music

Article excerpt

Pamela Fox. 2009. Natural Acts: Gender, Race, and Rusticity in Country Music. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

What constitutes authenticity in country music? Artists' claims to "realness" might be based on the sincerity of their performances, rural upbringing, or working-class credentials. Authenticity in country music is often established via the performance of rusticity--a performance is deemed authentic if it is unrefined and unsophisticated, if the performer is acting "naturally." It is also the case, however, that factors such as changing economies, migrations, and contemporaneous shifts in social norms and hierarchies all contribute to varied definitions of authenticity and how those definitions change over time. In Natural Acts: Gender, Race, and Rusticity in Country Music, Pamela Fox shows how some of country's "natural acts" are predicated on complex and changing definitions of authenticity produced and circulated by artists, listeners, critics, and the country music broadcast and recording industries. Through her astute analysis of several country archetypes and modes of performance, Fox demonstrates how gender and race, in addition to class, have informed these notions of authenticity in country music over the course of the twentieth century.

As Fox explores "how the uneven coalescence of gender, class, and race positionalities fuels country's claims to authenticity and its concomitant performative practices" (4), the chronologically and often conceptually distinct musical subjects of the book come together to form "an alternative history of country authenticity as a gendered and racialized class construction" (11). Fox focuses primarily on four phases/performative models within country: blackface and hillbilly comedy acts that appeared side-by-side in early twentieth century barn dance programs, post-war honky-tonk and the "answer songs" of female honky-tonk performers, memoirs of women country stars, and the alt.country (alternative country) movement of recent decades. Fox's critical approach is informed by multiple theories of gender, race, and class; the result of applying her approach to this variety of subjects is an insightful, multi-faceted history of the construction of country authenticity, one that recognizes the compound influences contributing to the formation of the notion of country authenticity over time.

Fox's scholarly background is in literary and cultural studies and feminist theory, with a focus on working-class literature and culture. Tier prior publications include work on female country star autobiographies and women in alt.country, and this book represents a deeper investigation of the historically racialized and gendered elements of authenticity construction that continue to influence these more recent developments in country music culture. As she delves into the different performative models of each chapter, Fox analyzes radio scripts, song lyrics, memoirs, and publicity materials, employing feminist theory, contemporary scholarship on blackface minstrelsy, and cultural materialist theory to flesh out her approach. A large portion of her book focuses on women in country music, and Fox is indebted to the feminist country music scholars who precede her, namely Mary Bufwack and Robert Oermann, Joli Jensen, Barbara Ching, Kristine McCusker, and Diane Pecknold. (1) She is primarily interested, however, in not only recognizing gender as a significant dynamic of country music culture, but in moving beyond basic identity politics to examine the intersection of race, class, and gender at various moments in country music history. Employing a framework devised by sociologist Joan Acker, Fox investigates racialized and gendered practices embedded in a class structure "governed by white middle-to-upper-class men yet almost exclusively associated with Southern white rustic or working-class imagery, lowbrow cultural taste, and artists who convincingly represent both in their personal histories" (6). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.