Country Music Goes to War edited by Charles K. Wolfe and James E. Akenson (University Press of Kentucky)
Country Music Goes to War, in its 14 chapters, covers a great deal of ground, including Australia and Northern Ireland. Domestically, its authors look at the Civil War, the early years in commercial country music (from 1923 on), several examinations of the impact of World War II , Korea, the Cold War, the threat of the atom bomb on country music, the Toby Keith-Dixie Chicks era of Gulf War II, and 9/11 and its impact on country music. The Vietnam War, a fertile battleground of war songs, is not examined here and deserves its own book (as the authors note in their introduction).
The essays in Country Music Goes to War demonstrate that country musicians’ engagement with significant political and military issues is not strictly a twenty-first-century phenomenon. The contributors examine the output of country musicians responding to America’s large-scale confrontations in recent history. They address the ways in which country songs and artists have energized public discourse, captured hearts, and inspired millions of minds.
Andrew K. Smith and James E. Akenson catalogue a number of country songs and albums that invoke the Civil War. Charles K. Wolfe traces the emergence of the war song in early country music, and in a second essay combines original interviews with solid textual analysis and an awareness of historical context to fashion a solid overview of the short-lived atomic bomb genre in country music.
Entries chronicle the World War II experiences of Kentucky entrepreneur John Lair, the “Hayloft Gang” of Chicago’s National Barn Dance, and Gene Autry.
Hollywood wanted to punish cowboy singing star and actor Gene Autry for joining the military and serving in World War II. The head of his movie studio, Herbert Yates of Republic Pictures, threatened to “break” Autry and to promote Roy Rogers (who had a deferment as a father) over Autry if he refused Yates’ offer to have Republic engineer a deferment for Autry — as Yates had done for John Wayne. Republic Pictures felt that the studio’s success was more important than the war effort. Autry became a pilot in the Army Air Corps, and Yates did everything in his power for years to scuttle Autry’s career.