Classroom Discussion Questions

This week some of our readings consisted of Robert Cantwell’s “Hillbilly Music” and select chapters of Thomas Goldsmith’s ‘TheĀ  Bluegrass Reader”. After reading them several questions rose to mind. Chiefly among them were two issues I’ve been considering regarding bluegrass music:

1. Much of bluegrass’s success can be credited to the widespread of radio in the early 20th century. If there hadn’t been radio stations and shows like the Old Opry, would bluegrass have still risen to popularity? Like Jazz and Blues before it, could the mountain music have spread simply by traveling musicians and word of mouth?

2. One of the most prominent and most respected musicians today, Ralph Stanley has a history of over 70+ years of making bluegrass music. What is it about the Stanley Brothers (and later just Ralph’s) singing that draws so many people? How does it differ from Bill Monroe’s “high lonesome” sound, or the high energy drive of the Osborne Brothers?

To show why Ralph Stanley is such a talented vocalist and musician, here is an earlier version of “Oh Death”, as recorded with his brother Carter and the Clinch Mountain Boys. This song would later bring worldwide recognition for Ralph’s solo performance featured in the film Oh Brother Where Art Thou?

One thought on “Classroom Discussion Questions”

  1. Hi,

    Much like yourself, I wonder many “what ifs” while reading Cantwell’s article. It is a thought-provoking question to ask where would bluegrass be without radio. My opinion is that the music would have just been contained to Appalachia. The sound still would have been present but not on the scale. I believe that if there was no radio there would have not been as many changes to the music itself either such incorporating new instruments. I feel that many people also wonder what made the Stanley Brothers so loved. To me, I feel there is a certain type of person that amuses people whether it be by humor, actions or shear demeanor. From what I have read and heard the Stanley Brothers were these kind of people that just attracted attention. You have a very well written blog post that asks sound questions, and you incorporate the video clip nicely.


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