Pamela Fox. Natural Acts: Gender, Race, and Rusticity in Country Music

Heidemann, Kate Ellen

What constitutes authenticity in country music? Artists’ claims to “realness” might be based on the sincerity of their performances, rural upbringing, or working-class credentials. Authenticity in country music is often established via the performance of rusticity-a performance is deemed authentic if it is unrefined and unsophisticated, if the performer is acting “naturally.” It is also the case, however, that factors such as changing economies, migrations, and contemporaneous shifts in social norms and hierarchies all contribute to varied definitions of authenticity and how those definitions change over time. In Natural Acts: Gender, Race, and Rusticity in Country Music, Pamela Fox shows how some of country’s “natural acts” are predicated on complex and changing definitions of authenticity produced and circulated by artists, listeners, critics, and the country music broadcast and recording industries. Through her astute analysis of several country archetypes and modes of performance, Fox demonstrates how gender and race, in addition to class, have informed these notions of authenticity in country music over the course of the twentieth century. As Fox explores “how the uneven coalescence of gender, class, and race positionalities fuels country’s claims to authenticity and its concomitant performative practices”, the chronologically and often conceptually distinct musical subjects of the book come together to form “an alternative history of country authenticity as a gendered and racialized class construction”. Fox focuses primarily on four phases/performative models within country: blackface and hillbilly comedy acts that appeared side-by-side in early twentieth century barn dance programs, post-war honky-tonk and the “answer songs” of female honky-tonk performers, memoirs of women country stars, and the alt. country ( alternative country) movement of recent decades. Fox’s critical approach is informed by multiple theories of gender, race, and class; the result of applying her approach to this variety of subjects is an insightful, multi-faceted history of the construction of country authenticity, one that recognizes the compound influences contributing to the formation of the notion of country authenticity over time.


Also Published In

Current Musicology

More About This Work

Published Here
August 18, 2022