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Hillbilly is a term referring to people who dwell in rural, mountainous areas of the United Statesmarker, primarily Appalachia and the Ozarksmarker. Due to its strongly stereotypical connotations, the term is frequently considered derogatory, and so is usually offensive to those Americansmarker of Ozarkan and Appalachian heritage. However, the term is also used in celebration of their culture by mountain people themselves. Such co-opting and neutralizing use is almost exclusively reserved for Appalachian people themselves. Such people consider the term Hillbilly to be a descriptive term lumping all such inhabitants together in a single ethnic group similar to the term Cajun as a description of a uniquely American ethnic group.

History

The origins of the term "hillbilly" are obscure. According to Anthony Harkins in Hillbilly: A Cultural History of an American Icon, the term first appeared in print in a 1900 New York Journal article, with the definition: "a Hill-Billie is a free and untrammeled white citizen of Alabama, who lives in the hills, has no means to speak of, dresses as he can, talks as he pleases, drinks whiskey when he gets it, and fires off his revolver as the fancy takes him."

The Appalachian region was largely settled in the 1700s by the Scotch-Irish, the majority of whom originated in the lowlands of Scotland. Harkins believes the most credible theory of the term's origin is that it derives from the linkage of two older Scottish expressions, "hill-folk" and "billie" which was a synonym for "fellow", similar to "guy" or "bloke".

Although the term is not documented until 1900, a conjectural etymology for the term is that it originated in 17th century Ireland for Protestant supporters of King William of Orange. Roman Catholic King James II landed at Kinsale in Ireland in 1689 and began to raise a Catholic army in an attempt to regain the British throne. Protestant King William III, Prince of Orange, led an English counterforce into Ireland and defeated James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. A significant portion of William III's army was composed of Protestants of Scottish descent (Planters) who had been settled on land confiscated from Catholics in Ulster, the northernmost of the four provinces of Ireland. The southern Irish Catholic supporters of James II referred to these northern Protestant supporters of King William as Billy Boys, Billy being an abbreviation of William. However, Michael Montgomery, in From Ulster to America: The Scotch-Irish Heritage of American English, states "In Ulster in recent years it has sometimes been supposed that it was coined to refer to followers of King William III and brought to America by early Ulster emigrants…, but this derivation is almost certainly incorrect… In America hillbilly was first attested only in 1898, which suggests a later, independent development."

Harkins theorizes that use of the term outside the Appalachians arose in the years after the American Civil War, when the Appalachian region became increasingly bypassed by technological and social changes taking place in the rest of the country. Until the Civil War, the Appalachians were not significantly different from other rural areas of the country. After the war, as the frontier pushed further west, the Appalachian country retained its frontier character, and the people themselves came to be seen as backward, quick to violence, and inbred in their isolation. Fueled by news stories of mountain feuds, such as that in the 1880s between the Hatfields and McCoys, the hillbilly stereotype developed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The "classic" hillbilly stereotype - the poor, ignorant, feuding family with a huge brood of children tending the family moonshine still - reached its current characterization during the years of the Great Depression, when many mountaineers left their homes to find work in other areas of the country. It was during these years that comic strips such as Lil' Abner and films such as The Grapes of Wrath made the "hillbilly" a common American stereotype.

The period of Appalachian out-migration, roughly from the 1930s through the 1950s, saw many mountain residents moving north to the midwestern industrial cities of Chicago, Cleveland, and particularly Detroit, where jobs in the automotive industry were plentiful. This movement north became known as the "Hillbilly Highway".

The advent of the interstate highway system and television brought many previously isolated communities into mainstream United Statesmarker culture in the 1950s and 1960s. The Internet continues this integration.

Slang use

The term hillbilly is commonly used in non-Appalachian areas as a reference in describing socially backward people that fit certain "hillbilly" characteristics. In this context, it is often (though not always) derogatory. Although the described person may not reside in a region that has hills of any kind, it is substituted in place of more disparaging terms like white trash. In urban usage, it is sometimes used interchangeably for terms like redneck or hick.

Music

Hillbilly music was at one time considered an acceptable label for what is now known as country music. However, some artists and fans, notably Hank Williams Sr., found the term offensive even in its heyday. The label, coined in 1925 by country pianist Al Hopkins, persisted until the 1950s.

Now, the older name is widely deemed offensive (and inappropriate). However, the term hillbilly music is now sometimes used to describe old-time music. An early tune that contained the word hillbilly was "Hillbilly Boogie" by the Delmore Brothers in 1946. Earlier, in the 1920s, there were records by a band called the Beverly Hillbillies. In 1927, the Gennett studios in Richmond, Indianamarker, made a recording of black fiddler Jim Booker with other instrumentalists; their recordings were labeled "made for Hillbilly" in the Gennett files, and were marketed to a white audience. Also during the 1920s, an old-time music band known as the Hill Billies featuring Al Hopkins and Fiddlin' Charlie Bowman, achieved acclaim as recording artists for Columbia Records. By the late forties, radio stations broadcast music described as "hillbilly," originally to describe fiddlers and string bands, but was then used to describe the traditional music of the people of the Appalachian Mountains. The people who actually sang these songs and lived in the Appalachian Mountains never used these terms to describe their own music.

Popular songs whose style bore characteristics of both hillbilly and African American music were referred to, in the late 1940s and early 1950s as hillbilly boogie, and in the mid-1950s as rockabilly. Elvis Presley was a prominent player of the latter genre. When the Country Music Association was founded in 1958, the term hillbilly music gradually fell out of use. However, the term rockabilly is still in common use.[1786]

Later, the music industry merged hillbilly music, Western Swing, and Cowboy music, to form the current category C&W, Country and Western.

The famous bluegrass fiddler Vassar Clements described his style of music as "hillbilly jazz."

As in Hillbilly, slap bass was used in Western Swing and Bluegrass and is a critical element in a new form of music called Gypsybilly created by Fabrice Vignatiand Tracy Vignati.

Billy Hill and the Hillbillies are a musical/variety group at Disneyland Park marker in Anaheim, Californiamarker.

In fiction and popular culture

In the Appalachian and Ozark regions, the hillbilly stereotype formed the basis for financially lucrative commercial interpretations of traditional culture through theme parks and theaters, such as Dogpatch USAmarker in Arkansas, and Dollywoodmarker in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

The stereotypical hillbilly has inspired many fictional accounts in a variety of media, from novels and comic strips to movies and television. These accounts introduced the hillbilly to the general American public.

  • The hillbilly lifestyle of Kentuckymarker was gently parodied in the comic strip Li'l Abner, which inspired a Broadwaymarker musical and movie by the same name.
  • Another comic strip, Snuffy Smith, offers a less gentle hillbilly family parody set in North Carolinamarker, featuring a lazy father, a hard-working church-attending mother, and a simple nephew "Jughaid" who wears a raccoon skin cap.
  • Lum and Abner was a popular radio show about two stereotypical hillbillies of Arkansasmarker that ran from 1931 to 1954.
  • Ma and Pa Kettle were very popular characters in comedic movies of the 1940s and 1950s.
  • The 1949 Tex Avery cartoon Little Rural Riding Hood featured the fable of Little Red Riding Hood with hillbillies as the main characters.
  • The earliest television series dealing with hillbillies was The Real McCoys, starring Walter Brennan, Richard Crenna, and Kathleen Nolan, about a West Virginiamarker family that moves to California. The show ran from 1957-1963.
  • The 1960s American sitcom The Andy Griffith Show has two contrasting stereotypes of recurring hillbilly characters: The ignorant but kindly, impoverished but generous Darling family, portrayed by bluegrass band The Dillards, Maggie Peterson, and Denver Pyle; and the belligerent, paranoid, frankly violent buffoon, Ernest T. Bass, portrayed by Howard Morris.
  • In the 1960s American popular sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies, the Clampett family were supposed to have come from the hills near a fictional hamlet in the Ozarksmarker known as Bugtussle. While Granny was from "across the river" in Tennessee, Jed and his family were from the Ozarks as noted to the references of Tulsamarker and Joplinmarker being close by.
  • In 1970, the author James Dickey published the novel Deliverance, a story about four men going for a canoe-trip on a river in the mountains of Georgiamarker. They encounter several sociopathic hillbillies and are subsequently attacked, captured, tortured, and raped by them. (Dickey based his novel on a real canoe trip in which he was actually helped by friendly mountaineers.)
  • The popular television comedy-variety show Hee Haw starred several well-known country singers and regularly lampooned the stereotypical hillbilly lifestyle.
  • On the popular television show, Hannah Montana, the characters, who are from Nashvillemarker, affectionately refer to each other as hillbillies, especially the father, who often invents "country sayings".


Local pride

The Springfield, Missourimarker Chamber of Commerce once presented dignitaries visiting the city with an "Ozark Hillbilly Medallion" and a certificate proclaiming the honoree a "hillbilly of the Ozarks." On June 7, 1953, President Harry S. Truman received the medallian after a breakfast speech at the Shrine Mosque for the 35th Division Association. Other recipients included US Army generals Omar Bradley and Matthew Ridgeway, J. C. Penney, Johnny Olsen and Ralph Story.

Hillbilly Days is an annual festival held in mid-April in Pikeville, Kentuckymarker celebrating the best of Appalachian culture. The event began by local Shriners as a fundraiser to support the Shriners Children's Hospital. It has grown since its beginning in 1976 and now is the second largest festival held in the state of Kentucky. Artists and craftspeople showcase their talents and sell their works on display. Nationally renowned musicians as well as the best of the regional mountain musicians share six different stages located throughout the downtown area of Pikeville. Want-to-be hillbillies from across the nation compete to come up with the wildest Hillbilly outfit. The event has earned its name as the Mardi Gras of the Mountains. Fans of "mountain music" come from around the United States to hear this annual concentrated gathering of talent. Some refer to this event as the equivalent of a "Woodstock" for mountain music.

See also



Notes

  1. Hillbillies in the White House
  2. Michael Montgomery, From Ulster to America: The Scotch-Irish Heritage of American English, Ulster Historical Foundation, 2007, pg 82.
  3. David Sanjek, "All the Memories Money Can Buy: Marketing Authenticity and Manufacturing Authorship", p. 155–172 in Eric Weisbard, ed., This is Pop, Harvard University Press, 2004. ISBN 0-674-01321-2 (cloth), ISBN 0-674-01344-1 (paper). p. 156–157.
  4. Gypsybilly review
  5. The Vignatis
  6. Anthony Harkins, Hillbilly: A Cultural History of an American Icon, Oxford University Press US, 2005, ppg 187-191.
  7. Dessauer, Phil "Springfield, Mo.-Radio City of Country Music" (April, 1957), Coronet, p. 151
  8. [1]


References

  • Dessauer, Phil "Springfield, Mo.-Radio City of Country Music" (April, 1957), Coronet
  • Hillbilly, A Cultural History of an American Icon, by Anthony Harkins
  • Hillbillyland: What the Movies Did to the Mountains & What the Mountains Did to the Movies, by J.W. Williamson



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