East Tennessee: The Cradle of Country Music

Gatlinburg music

Country music is a multi-million dollar industry with fans all across the United States and the world. Did you know that this global phenomenon originated right here in East Tennessee?

Country music developed from the unique mix of cultures found in the rural communities living in the Southern Appalachian Mountains in the 18th and early 19th centuries. European immigrants brought diverse musical traditions and instruments with them when they began their new lives in America. The Irish fiddle, the Spanish guitar, the Italian mandolin, and the German dulcimer joined together to form a unique sound. Joining these European influences, was the West African banjo, an instrument popular among African Americans living in the South. At the turn of the century, Smoky Mountain and Gatlinburg music began to spread throughout Tennessee and the surrounding states.

In the 1920s, talent scout and record producer Ralph Peer put country music on the map when he founded a recording studio in Bristol, Tennessee.  With the famous 1927 “Bristol Sessions”, Peer launched the careers of country’s first stars, Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family. Jimmie Rodgers, known as “The Father of Country Music”, sold over a million records with his distinctive yodeling. The Carter Family, originally made up of A.P. Carter, his wife Sara and his sister-in-law Maybelle, formed country’s first popular vocal group.

Country Stars from East Tennessee

Many of country’s most important names have come from east Tennessee. Roy Acuff, known as the “King of Country Music”, helped move country music away from its string band and hoedown format and popularized the singer-songwriter model in the early 1940s. Carl Smith, aka “Mister Country”, merged country music with rockabilly as he scored 30 Top 10 hits in the 1950s. Perhaps the most recognizable country musician from east Tennessee, Dolly Parton continues to have a hugely successful career, with over 100 million record sales, 25 number one country singles, and her own theme park in her hometown of Sevierville. Today’s Gatlinburg music is heavily influenced by the country-pop style pioneered by Dolly Parton.

East Tennessee’s rich musical tradition is alive and well in Pigeon Forge’s Country Tonite show. Consistently voted the Best Show in the Smokies, this stellar performance combines authentic Gatlinburg music with side-splitting comedy and feel-good family entertainment. There is a $5.00 discount when you book your Country Tonite tickets online, so be sure to reserve your seat today!