American Music in the United States

Country Music at BMI

Country music particularly benefited from the changes in the musical environment, as exposure to country performers in USO tours and the intermingling of individuals from all regions of the country in the military introduced many Northerners to a genre they heretofore ignored or denigrated as "hillbilly" music.

Billboard began to report on country record releases in 1942 in its American Folk Records columns. It began tracking jukebox activity in 1944, retail country charts began in 1948, and radio airplay charts for country songs were added in 1949. A clear sign of the public and music industry's acceptance of country music was Billboard's shift from the term "folk" to "country & western," which began in 1949.

From the start, BMI had taken an interest in the country community. The practice of providing new publishers with advances helped many firms take off, including Acuff-Rose Publications, headquartered in Nashville, and Hill and Range Songs, based in New York, both of which would become titans in the country field. Founded by Julian and Jean Aberbach in 1943, Hill and Range eventually became more active in pop and r&b, yet country provided the foundation for the Aberbachs' expanding publishing empire, the brothers having set up subsidiary companies for such hitmakers as Eddy Arnold, Ernest Tubb, and Hank Snow.

Acuff-Rose, begun in 1942, was fully committed to the country field; its founders were Grand Ole Opry superstar Roy Acuff and veteran songwriter Fred Rose. Acuff-Rose quickly became one of the most successful country publishers. Among its most-performed, most-recorded and best-loved songs is "Tennessee Waltz," penned by Redd Stewart and Pee Wee King in 1947, a 6 million copy seller for Patti Page and eventually a state song of Tennessee.

However, Acuff-Rose's most illustrious artist was Hank Williams, arguably the greatest singer-songwriter the country field has yet produced. Before he died in 1953 at the age of 29, his mournful, poetic brilliance had resulted in such classics as "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," "Honky-Tonkin'," and "Your Cheatin' Heart." The success of these firms and others like Jack Stapp's and Buddy Killen's Tree Music and Howie Richmond's The Richmond Organization was a result of country's assimilation into the musical mainstream.

BMI, in turn, benefited from their prescient support of Nashville, for between 1944 and 1954 fully 77 percent of all songs making the Top 10 on Billboard's various country charts were BMI-licensed. The link between BMI and Nashville was also recognized when BMI was asked to provide the banquet entertainment for the 1951 annual broadcasters' convention. The show was built around Nashville entertainers, the first time country music was officially presented to a national audience of leading broadcasters and advertising agencies. Later, in 1953, BMI arranged its first annual awards presentation devoted specifically to country's writers and publishers, a clear sign that the Nashville connection was firmly solidified.

Information on this page courtesy of the bmi library