RUSTIC ROOTS AND RHINESTONE COWBOYS: AUTHENTICITY, SOUTHERN IDENTITY, AND THE GENDERED CONSTRUCTION OF PERSONA WITHIN THE LONG 1970s COUNTRY MUSIC INDUSTRY
Throughout the long 1970s, country music actively sought to cultivate a more traditional, “authentic,” and conservative image and sound. By examining the country music industry, during the long 1970s, this dissertation highlights how authenticity, Southern heritage, and traditionalism within country music overlapped with the South’s broader resistance to social change. Past studies of country music have primarily been concerned with how the music and its traditional format represent the working-class culture of its audience. However, very little attention has been paid to how this adherence to authenticity and traditionalism impacted its artists, particularly the female ones. In turn, the scholarship that does pertain solely to female artists is often dismissive of the impact that the country music industry and its restrictive culture had on female artists and instead opts to foster a retroactively feminist portrayal of the them and their music.
In examining the careers of Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Tanya Tucker, and Tammy Wynette, this dissertation argues that country music held its female artists to a far stricter standard than its male artists throughout the long 1970s and actively encouraged them to foster lyrics and personas that were in line with the genre’s conception of traditional femininity. Over time, artists like Lynn and Wynette became so intrinsically connected to these traditional personas that they could not escape it, which negatively impacted not only their careers but personal lives as well. Likewise, when Parton and Tucker attempted to challenge the gendered restriction that they encountered within country music, they were punished and shunned by the broader country music community to the point that they left it altogether.
By exploring these highly calculated measures that the industry used to maintain each of these elements and its broader effects on the genre, its artists, and audience base, this dissertation also highlights how the authenticity label evolved into a gatekeeping term, employed at various times throughout the industry’s history to prevent unsatisfactory or controversial ideologies, images, people, and musical elements from gaining access to or the ability to change and diversify the genre.
- Doctor of Philosophy
- West Lafayette