This talk continues the project of our research on country duo Karl & Harty’s song “Kentucky” (1941), which over the two or three decades after WWII became a staple, familiar number in the country and bluegrass songbook. We examine versions of the song by the Blue Sky Boys (1947), the Louvin Brothers (1956), Homer & Jethro (1957), and the Everly Brothers (1958); a number of these seem to have spawned distinct cover lineages in the 1960s–1970s and after. We then focus on the Blue Sky Boys, whose four recorded versions of the song (1947, 1949, 1963, 1964) provide fascinating windows into their performance practices, artistic choices, and commercial compromises with the country music industry that they demonstrated and negotiated over the course of their career. As in our initial study, our arguments here focus on the problems of racialization in “Kentucky”: the different lineages illustrate a variety of ways in which racial and ethnic style markers suppress, affirm, or amplify the multiracial/multiethnic dimensions of the original song. In the case of the Blue Sky Boys in particular, their strong aesthetic preferences (seemingly inseparable from their religious and personal values) reimagined the song as a purified expression of rural Appalachian whiteness.
Join us tonight on Zoom!