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Bethpage Public Library Probes the Origins of Country Music
Johnny Cash called the Bristol Sessions of 1927 “the single most important event in the history of country music,” and they’ve subsequently became known as “the Big Bang of Country Music.” Now Tennessee Walt is offering an in-depth exploration of the Sessions and their legacy in an online lecture/concert sponsored by the Bethpage Public Library, streaming on Sunday, January 24, at 2 p.m.
“Tennessee Walt’s Bristol & Beyond: The Birth of Country Music” is a one-man concert marking the 90th anniversary of the so-called “Big Bang of Country Music,” which took place in Bristol, Tennessee, between July 25 and August 5, 1927. The show features songs by Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family, both of whom were “discovered” at the Sessions, as well as songs by other artists who recorded at Bristol and such subsequent heirs to the Bristol legacy as Roy Acuff, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Hank Snow, Hank Thompson and Kitty Wells, arranged for voice and piano. It’s an intriguing, fact-filled look into the origins of country music (and its most prominent descendant, rock ‘n’ roll), with lots of the greatest American songs ever written.
“The Bristol Sessions represent the origin of today’s country music, the commercial art form that has fostered everyone from Hank Williams and Johnny Cash to Willie Nelson and Taylor Swift,” said Gayden Wren, the musical-theater veteran who performs as Tennessee Walt. “The songs in this show span the period from 1927 to the present day, and I think they make a good case for country as America’s music. There was a time when country was dismissed as `hillbilly music,’ but in the past 10 or 20 years I think we’ve come to realize that the songs of Hank Williams, Kris Kristofferson and Loretta Lynn are as classically American as any written by Irving Berlin, the Gershwins or Rodgers & Hammerstein.
“This isn’t what people may think of when they hear the words `country music,’” Wren added. “It’s voice and piano, not fiddles and steel guitars, and I won’t be yodeling. And this isn’t the country of Toby Keith or Carrie Underwood—it’s the older, purer country music that inspired them and everybody from Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley to Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan and Ringo Starr. Anyone who watches this show will learn some things they never knew about 20th-century American music, not to mention hearing some of the funniest, most moving and most musically engaging songs ever written.”
Tennessee Walt’s Bristol & Beyond: The Birth of Country Music will be streamed on Sunday, January 24, at 2 p.m. at www.bethpagelibrary.info. Admission is free. For further information, call (516) 931-3907 or visit www.bethpagelibrary.info.