What is Appalachian Music?

Music serves as a vital social function for many people in Appalachia.  As a public event, it is still important in community celebrations and local festivals.  Rather than an ancient tradition that is frozen in time, music is something that changes constantly to meet the needs of local communities.

Photo by Tom Hansel


Some have argued that there is no such thing as "Appalachian Music." It is difficult to produce a particular definition of Appalachian music because the region has long been influenced by cross-cultural factors and is diverse because of them. Even so, it is clear that Appalachian music has been defined by the relationship between rural life and industrialization.

Despite myths of isolation and unchanging British traditions, Appalachian music was influenced by other national trends. The Civil War exposed mountain musicians with new tunes throughout the South. At the end of the century, the logging and coal industries brought laborers from other parts of the country, with musicians among them. Similarly railroad construction increased the region's African-American presence which generated standards like "John Henry."

Mountain music first reached a national audience with the rise of the recording industry in the 1920s and 30s when record companies capitalized on the rural South’s love of old-time string band music.  Since the first "hillbilly" records of the early twentieth century, Appalachian music has spanned genres as varied as the regions geography.