Country Music History Timeline
(June 14, 1923)
The First Country Records
Ralph Peer of Okeh records the music of Fiddlin' John Carson in an empty loft in Atlanta. Carson's record becomes a regional hit and convinces Peer that there is an untapped market for "hillbilly" music.
(September 17, 1923)
Hank Williams Born
Hiram King "Hank" Williams is born in Olive, Alabama. Hank Williams will become country music's greatest icon and most imitated performer.
Vocalion Starts "Hillbilly" Series
The Vocalion company starts a series called "Special Records for Southern States" that will issue "hillbilly" records.
"Hillbilly" Becomes Genre Tag
The term "hillbilly" is first used in commercial country music.
(November 28, 1925)
The Barn Dance Format Launches
The show that will become the Grand Ole Opry radio "barn dance" program begins its run on WSM radio out of Nashville, Tennessee. It will grow to be the most popular and important program of its kind and launch the careers of many of country music's biggest stars.
First Country Stars Recorded at Bristol
During the first week of August, Ralph Peer makes the recordings of the now famous "Bristol Sessions" in Bristol, Tennessee, introducing fans to the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers, the two most influential acts in the early history of country music.
The Opry Begins Its Official Run
WSM's Saturday night "barn dance" program officially becomes the Grand Ole Opry.
(September 8, 1932)
The Queen of Country Music is Born
Virginia Hensley, who will later be called Patsy Cline, is born in Winchester, VA. She will become the most influential female country artist of all time.
(May 6, 1933)
Rodgers, Country's First Superstar, Dies
Jimmie Rodgers dies of tuberculosis in New York City.
Fred Rose Begins His Career
Fred Rose, who will later revolutionize the country music business, briefly works for WSM as a songwriter.
Bob Wills Forms the Greatest Western Swing Band
Bob Wills and his Playboys become Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, the most famous of the era's western swing bands.
The Opry Tours the South
The first Grand Ole Opry tent show (still featuring a black-face comedy team) tours the South.
The Opry Tours Abroad During Wartime
The Grand Ole Opry sends a tour abroad to take country music to World War II servicemen.
Rose-Acuff Publishing Company Forms in Nashville
Fred Rose and the singer Roy Acuff form the Nashville-based country music publishing company Acuff-Rose, helping to permanently re-center all of the country music business in Nashville, Tennessee. 'Tennessee Waltz' was the first song to be published.
Billboard Recognizes "Folk" Music
The year's first issue of Billboard magazine introduces a "folk" chart that mixes country, jazz, and blues.
Bluegrass Comes into its Own
Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs join Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys, beginning the band's most famous incarnation and marking the coming of age of the bluegrass style Monroe pioneered.
Hank Williams Makes His Mark
MGM releases Hank Williams's "Lovesick Blues."
Hank Williams in Decline
Hank Williams is fired from the Grand Ole Opry for drunkenness and persistent no-shows.
(Jan 1, 1953)
Country's Most Iconic Performer Dies at 29
Hank Williams dies in the backseat of his Cadillac on New Years Day.
The Queen of Country Joins a Barn Dance
Patsy Cline begins performing on the Louisiana Hayride program.
Elvis Presley makes his recording debut on Sun Records with an electrifying mix of gospel, R&B, and country tunes.
Cash Records for Sun
Late in 1954, Johnny Cash does his first recording sessions at Sun, singing "Wide Open Road" and "You're My Baby," both self-written. Cash will make a tremendous career in country music by largely following his own muse.
Elvis Launches Tour
Elvis headlines his own country music tour.
Jerry Lee Lewis Records Crossover Smash "Great Balls of Fire"
Country music's greatest wildman, Jerry Lee Lewis aka "The Killer", records his biggest hit, "Great Balls of Fire" one of the year's many crossover smashes.
Cash Performs at San Quentin
Johnny Cash performs his first free concert for the inmates at San Quentin Prison.
The Opry Rules the Airwaves
A reader poll by Radio Mirror announces that Grand Ole Opry is America's favorite radio program.
(January 9, 1960)
Cline Joins the Opry
Patsy Cline joins the Grand Ole Opry.
Cline Records Her Greatest Songs
Patsy Cline cements her status as a superstar with the release of two of her greatest songs, "Crazy" and "I Fall to Pieces."
Country Music Hall of Fame is Established
The Country Music Hall of Fame is established. It's first three inductees are Jimmie Rodgers, Fred Rose, and Hank Williams.
(March 5, 1963)
Queen of Country Dies in Plane Crash
Patsy Cline dies in a plane crash.
(March 25, 1966)
Bakersfield Sound Immortalized
Buck Owens, the guitar hero of "Bakersfield sound"-style country music, records what is still believed by many to be country music's greatest live album at Carnegie Hall in New York.
Dolly Parton Debuts
Dolly Parton releases her first records, "Happy Birthday, Baby" and the tongue-in-cheek "Dumb Blonde."
Charley Pride Debuts
Charley Pride, the most successful black man in country music, releases his first single "Snakes Crawl at Night." His label initially hides his racial identity. Pride will go on to score 29 No. 1 hits.
Wynette Records Her Standards
Tammy Wynette releases "Stand By Your Man" and "D-I-V-O-R-C-E" in the same year, ironically.
Racial Violence Closes the Opry
Several Opry performances are cancelled for fear of racial violence in Nashville after the assassination of Dr. Marin Luther King, Jr.
Johnny Cash Show Launches on ABC
The Johnny Cash Show becomes a regular part of the ABC-TV lineup.
(July 4, 1974)
Willie Nelson Begins a Texas Tradition
Outlaw country icon Willie Nelson holds his first Fourth of July Picnic near Austin, Texas. The event will become an institution and, like its founder, be associated with a "progressive country music" scene.
Willie Nelson Releases His Classic Album
Willie Nelson releases his best known album, Red Headed Stranger.
Lynn Publishes Her Autobiography
Loretta Lynn publishes her autobiography, Coal Miner's Daughter.
Travolta Stars in Urban Cowboy
Urban Cowboy, the John Travolta film that popularized western wear and country western dance clubs across the country, is released. Country music hits the urban mainstream.
Garth Brooks Makes His Mark
Garth Brooks, the king of "stadium" country, scores his first big hit "If Tomorrow Never Comes." Brooks will be the dominant country musician of the next decade.
Alt-Country Recognized with Uncle Tupelo's Debut
Uncle Tupelo releases No Depression, the album that will be heralded as one of the definitive statements of alt-country during a decade of radio ready pop-crossover releases from the major artists and labels.
Bluegrass Returns with O Brother, Where Art Thou?
The T-Bone Burnett-produced original soundtrack to the popular film O Brother, Where Art Thou? becomes a surprise hit, signaling a popular revival of bluegrass and a return to traditionalism in country music.