COUNTRY MUSIC MEETS IMPEACHMENT: Faron Young came to [HEART] Charley Pride!

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 3, 2019

Race meets the Grand Ole Opry:
In Episode 5 of his eight-part PBS series, Country Music, Ken Burns lets Merle Haggard make an intriguing claim.

Burns is describing the way Haggard's parents became Dust Bowl refugees. They left Oklahoma "after a fire destroyed their farm during the Depression," we're told by the Burns narrator.

Haggard was born three years later, in 1937. But his parents "were still looked down on as Okies," the narrator of the Burns film says—and Haggard is shown saying this:
"The human being has a history of being awful cruel to something different. Okie was not a good word, you know. They were talked down to, and looked down on. It might have been something comparable to the way they treated the blacks."
At any rate, Haggard's parents were said to have been talked down to and looked down on. As we noted yesterday, Haggard presented a romanticized version of his parents' struggles in his song, Mama's Hungry Eyes:
[Daddy] dreamed of something better,
And my mama's faith was strong
And us kids were just too young to realize
That another class of people put us somewhere just below;
One more reason for my mama's hungry eyes.
In Haggard's telling, another class of people put his family somewhere just below. "The human being has a history of being awful cruel to something different," Haggard is shown saying.

In 1939, Steinbeck described this slice of human and American history in The Grapes of Wrath. On tape, Haggard suggested that the treatment afforded the Okies was something like the treatment long afforded to people socially defined as "black."

Is Haggard allowed to say that? Within the context of today's tribal wars, some will say that the late country music legend was making an inappropriate comparison.

We'll let each person decide that. But that last comment by Haggard is especially striking because of its placement within the Burns film. As Burns starts his profile of Haggard, he has just finished telling the story of Charley Pride, the son of a black Mississippi sharecropper—the fourth child of eleven—who, starting in 1965, broke a type of color line at the Grand Ole Opry.

"He would become the first black member of the Grand Ole Opry since DeFord Bailey decades earlier," Burns' narrator says. "The first black artist to have a number one country record, and the first artist of any color to win the Country Music Association Male Vocalist award two years in a row."

Indeed, Pride was selected as the CMA's top male vocalist in 1971 and 1972. In 1971, he was also selected as the CMA's entertainer of the year.

Pride had a very big country career. "Times were changing," the Burns narrator says. "Other awards would follow."

So we were told as we watched Country Music last week. In Episode 5, the film offers wickedly funny story-telling by Pride, thanks to his wickedly funny sense of humor. That said, we thought the Burns film tended to give wide berth to the general topic of race in Nashville, an apparent offshoot of Burns' apparent fondness for stories designed to illustrate the greatness of Americanism.

Consider the way Burns tells Pride's story in Episode 5. (To watch the material in question, click here, move ahead to the 58-minute mark.)

Ken Burns' Charley Pride is a remarkable figure, much like his Dolly Parton. Pride's breezy attitude, and his giant career, suggest the remarkable personal traits which let certain people blow through apparent obstacles while barely noticing their existence.

That said, Burns tells Pride's story through a series of heartwarming, feel-good stories which, it must be said, feel a bit like the "perfect stories" which are sometimes said to be "too good to check."

There's a perfect, feel-good story in which Pride wins over a silent, all-white audience in Detroit by telling a single joke.

There's a perfect, feel-good story in which Pride's racially nervous record label doesn't want him recording love songs—until his gigantic single, Kiss An Angel Good Mornin', became his biggest hit.

There's a perfect, feel-good story in which Loretta Lynn hugs Pride as he received one of his major early awards, ignoring directions to "step back one step" and avoid such physical contact.

Pride is very funny telling these stories, all of which may have the feel of tales too good to check. But the major such stories in the Burns profile involve Pride's relations with Faron Young, who was already a major Nashville star as Pride was attempting to make it.

When Pride arrives in Nashville, his manager tells him there are certain people he will have "to get by" due to their racial attitudes. Pride is shown telling the start of the story:
PRIDE: He said, "Now there are certain people in Nashville that you're just going to have to get by."...And the first name he named is Faron Young. And he said, "Faron's just subject to walk up to you and say, 'So you're that N-word who's trying to sing music!' "
Frankly, it didn't sound promising! But the story proceeds as shown:
PRIDE: I said, "Let's go find him." I said, "Might as well get it over with right now."

NARRATOR: They tracked down Faron Young at one of his favorite clubs.

PRIDE [affecting the voice of his manager]: "Faron, I want you to meet Charley Pride!"

[Pride scrunches his shoulders down.]

His shoulders went like that. I said, "Uh-oh, here it comes."

He got up and he says, "Charley Pride, you sing a fine song."

I said, "Faron, you do yourself."
Please understand! As this perfect story proceeds, Faron Young is a major star. Charley Pride hasn't even signed a record contract.

To our ear, this makes his statement to Young seem almost strangely cheeky. But the story proceeds apace:
PRIDE (continuing directly): But he would sing one, and I would sing one. He would sing one, and I would sing one. And finally he said, "Well, I'll be! Who would ever have thought I'm sitting here singing with a jig and don't mind?"
To tender ears, we'll only say this—that is intended to count as a feel-good story. Charley Pride is a major unknown, and Faron Young is a major star. But Young agrees to accept Pride as an equal based on the content of his obvious talent!

For all we know, the story happened exactly the way Pride tells it. At any rate, Pride tells several wickedly funny stories as the film's profile continues. But as Burns ends his profile of Pride, we return to Brother Young, and we get to enjoy the ultimate denouement:
NARRATOR: Charley Pride would go on to have 29 number-one country hits and 12 gold albums, be indicted into the Country Music Hall of fame—and remain a lifelong friend of Faron Young.

PRIDE: We went into the Country Music Hall of Fame [clasping hands as if in prayer] together. Faron Young—one of my best, best friends there ever was.
So ends the profile of Pride, with the ultimate feel-good outcome.

Personally, we like that feel-good story! We like the idea that Faron Young may have grown as a person during the years in question. We like the fact that Charley Pride treasured his friendship with Young.

We like the part of Pride's persona which lets him speak and joke about "race" in the ways he does, blowing through apparent obstacles as he describes an astounding breakthrough career.

That said, we also note some positive elements in the Pride history which the Burns profile seems to skip in search of a few perfect tales.

Was Nashville growing in its treatment of race during the years in question? According to the Burns profile, Pride is first encouraged to come to Nashville by two musicians who see him singing in a bar in Helena, Montana.

Each of these musicians is white. Indeed, each musician is named Red! (Red Foley and Red Sovine, and let us say good for them.)

Was Nashville growing in its approach to race? Burns presents a perfect story in which Kiss An Angel Good Morning gives the lie to RCA's squeamishness about letting a black guy sing a love song.

The story has the perfect feel of the perfect squelch. But if RCA was so squeamish on this subject, how the heck did Kiss An Angel Good Morning ever get recorded and released in the first place?

We like the idea that various people in the country music industry were trying to move away from Jim Crow during the 1960s. But as we watched Country Music over the past two weeks, we often got the impression that Burns was himself a bit squeamish on the subject of race.

We think the film does a poor job exploring the role of race in the earlier years of country music. For example, in the 1940s and 1950s, did black Southerners listen to the Grand Ole Opry (and the Louisiana Hayride) on the radio?

Aside from a dreamer named Charley Pride, did black Southerners listen to and like Hank Williams? Did they buy Hank Williams records? Did black Southerners attend the Grand Ole Opry? Were black Southerners even allowed to do so?

It seemed to us that such basic questions were ignored as Burns tried to fashion a larger story about the inevitable triumphs of Americanism. Wynton Marsalis would get dragged out to say that "the music" was open concerning matters of race while the wider culture wasn't. But it seemed to us that Burns skipped past some basic questions, with the feel-good tale about Faron Young providing a preconceived outcome.

A very large industry grew in Nashville during the Jim Crow era. We would have liked to learn more about the way that industry actually functioned during its earlier decades.

Beyond that, "race" now plays a leading role in the tribal warfare which underlies our impending impeachment. And uh-oh!

Descendants of Merle Haggard's "white" Okies now inhabit one of our warring political tribes. Descendants of Charley Pride's "black" sharecroppers now largely inhabit the other.

What keeps these two groups split apart—one might say, divided and conquered? Tomorrow, we'll finally get to that intriguing Kevin Drum post, and we're going to tour the South with the young, wise Minnie Pearl.

Tomorrow: Never got above her raisin'

24 comments:

  1. "What keeps these two groups split apart—one might say, divided and conquered?"

    Why, their economic interests, of course.

    One group is largely comprised of the working people, who refuse to compete with third world labor force, as your globalist zombie cult would have it.

    And the other group is mostly chronically unemployed underclass, bribed (with foodstamps and shit like that) by your zombie cult.

    Nothing complicated, dear Bob. Plus your goebbelsian propaganda, obviously.

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  2. 'What keeps these two groups split apart—one might say, divided and conquered?'

    Trumptards like you ?

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  3. Somerby makes an important post today about how the stories we use as foundational to our society, culture, and even individual identity are largely false - myths.

    But then he ruins it with his "can't we all get along" bs.

    The country is not evenly split. Dems outnumber Repubs, interest in socialism is growing, religiosity is declining.

    No we can't all get along, largely due to racism, and then also due to all the other isms - sexism, xenophobia-ism, etc. These isms are abetted by corporatism and capitalism.

    We do not need to all get along, and it is a false notion often sold by cons. We do need to motivate our side to get out and vote, that is all that is needed to win.

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  4. "Descendants of Charley Pride's "black" sharecroppers now largely inhabit the other."

    Why is black in quote marks? Does Somerby mean that Charley Pride wasn't black? Or does he think Pride's relatives who sharecropped weren't black? Is he now putting quotes around racial terms because he has become woke to the idea of race as a social construct? If so, he needs to be consistent about it. He did the same with the term "white" in reference to Haggard.

    If Somerby is now questioning the concept of race, it makes no sense to do so in the context of an article that chastises Burns for failing to discuss race more comprehensively and for being squeamish about race. You cannot challenge the legitimacy of the concept while complaining that another has failed to mention it while talking about country music.

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    1. Why is black in quote marks? Does Somerby mean that Charley Pride wasn't black? Or does he think Pride's relatives who sharecropped weren't black? Is he now putting quotes around racial terms because he has become woke to the idea of race as a social construct?

      You may be overthinking this, or at least overemphasizing its importance. The quotes may just be TDH’s way of emphasizing the two skin tones as labels, surrogates for the other labels “Us” and “Them.”

      If so, he needs to be consistent about it.

      You’re absolutely right; it’s outrageous! Ask for you money back.

      You cannot challenge the legitimacy of the concept while complaining that another has failed to mention it while talking about country music.

      The concept that has no legitimacy is the theory that race (in the sense of skin color) has biological importance. Of societal importance is the color line that Du Bois called “the problem of the 20th century.” He’d probably have updated that if he’d lived into this century.

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  5. Okies were apparently looked down on. By whom, is not made clear. Haggard, in his song “Okie from Muskogee”, apparently channels his outrage at being looked down on into...looking down on other people. It isn’t a very convincing way of countering “being awful cruel to something different.” In fact, it is a hypocritical exercise, since he defines Okies by how they are different (and implicitly better than) the hippies burning their draft cards.

    In fact, Haggard seems to suggest in that song that it is the hippies or the liberals who looked down on Okies, and for that, there is no evidence. His song is just another example of performative conservative outrage, attacking as always the wrong target.

    It would be informative to look at the history of the Okies in California, and to compare the career of another man from dust-bowl Oklahoma, Woody Guthrie, with that of million-selling Haggard.

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    1. Interestingly Oklahoma has a history of significant support of socialism prior to WWI, electing hundreds of socialists to local and state-wide offices.

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  6. Haggard is quoted as saying: "They were talked down to, and looked down on. It might have been something comparable to the way they treated the blacks."

    Somerby rightly says that the comparison is not justified. Somerby fails to add that a white person can acquire money and status and will be treated differently. A black person is always black by virtue of skin color, no matter how much money or accomplishment, as Oprah has complained.

    Haggard also fails to consider that his parents and the other Okies who fled to California in the 30s WERE uneducated, unskilled, business failures with no means of support and no understanding of California except the hope that someone would feed them and give them a chance to pick crops. That's why they were talked down to and treated as stupid. Most had not even a high school education. Many were illiterate. They were victims of the dust bowl drought because they were bad farmers (the good ones rode it out). They hadn't earned any respect and they typically got none, just as migrant farm workers are treated today. They perhaps expected more because of the way any white man in the South is treated better than any black or brown person.

    Somerby thinks the stories about Charlie Pride's success are apocryphal. I doubt that. There are always one or two exceptions that are permitted to succeed while all others are kept down and out. Sammy Davis Jr. comes to mind, and Sydney Poitier. They don't represent any loosening of race barriers because they don't create opportunities for others to follow. If Somerby wants to know how many black performers were successful in country music at that time, he can just count them.

    Meanwhile, Tennessee remains a bastion of white supremacist sentiment and activity. I was browsing through the database of symbols used by such groups and noticed that a disproportionate number are from groups centered in Tennessee. You don't see black tourists but you do see confederate flags on white people's clothing in Gatlinburg.

    See for yourself: https://www.adl.org/hate-symbols

    An analysis of hip hop would produce mirror results. Few white performers, a somewhat mixed audience, and troubling racial attitudes in the lyrics.

    If Somerby wants to present country music as the music of poor working class white people, he needs to account for why there is so much more anger in hip hop culture, the music of poor working class black people (and a lot of white teens trying to piss off their parents).

    I would argued that the poorest white people have the hope of succeeding whereas the wealthiest, most accomplished black people still have to cross a barrier of social acceptance that exists because they are black. Anger has been suppressed among black people in order to get along, so young people's music presents the most shocking messages it can, black anger.

    Back to Charlie Pride. If he ever, for a single moment, expressed anger or discontent or described a need for change, he would be out of his favored position and back on the street singing in Montana bars. His willingness to gloss over the racial inequities is the reason he was encouraged in Nashville.

    Has Somerby never heard the term "token" and does he not understand why it is applied to the South Park character, and to performers like Charlie Pride?

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    1. Are you black? Are you working class? Are you a minority?

      If you are white, especially why middle or upper class, don't worry about racism and blacks. They can fight their own battles and take care of themselves.

      Why don't you worry about issues that affect everyone? If you want a cause, be anti-war for instance.

      minorities are sick and tired of upper middle-class whites trying to fight their battles for them. Mostly because the upper middle-class whites do a really bad job of it!

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    2. Fuck off, 3:06.
      My grandparents fought Nazis. There's no reason why the rest of us shouldn't.

      Delete
    3. The blacks DONT WANT YOU TO FIGHT for them. ASK THEM. So you are really telling them to f off too.

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    4. Black people are like what is up with all these rich white liberals talking on and on about race? They are like why don't they ever talk about workers? Why don't they ever talk about all these wars?

      Isn't it strange that Democrats are not even an anti-war party anymore? And workers, Democrats never even talk about workers anymore.

      It's all race, all the time and black people and Mexican people are like what is up with you weird insecure white liberals? Get over yourselves. We can handle our own problems.

      Delete
    5. They were victims of the dust bowl drought because they were bad farmers (the good ones rode it out).

      This is a tad harsh, dontchathink? The Dust Bowl (initial caps, please) was a widespread ecological disaster. Do you have any evidence that the “good” farmers “rode it out”? I’d be more inclined to believe that widespread “bad” farming methods intensified the effects of the drought that overwhelmed “good” and “bad” alike. I’d bet that the survivors were the ones who lived farthest from the epicenter that was the Oklahoma panhandle.

      Somerby thinks the stories about Charlie Pride's success are apocryphal.

      TDH doesn’t doubt Charlie Pride’s success. The apocryphal Pride stories are the autobiographical anecdotes. Did you read the blog entry?

      If Somerby wants to present country music as the music of poor working class white people, he needs to account for why there is so much more anger in hip hop culture, the music of poor working class black people….

      What does one have to do with the other?

      You claim that Charlie Pride was a “token” and ask whether TDH even understands the concept, but TDH writes,

      We like the idea that various people in the country music industry were trying to move away from Jim Crow during the 1960s. But as we watched Country Music over the past two weeks, we often got the impression that Burns was himself a bit squeamish on the subject of race.

      That is, TDH is skeptical of happy talk about the integration of country music back in the day, and he thinks Burns didn’t explore the issue enough. I’ll ask again, did you read the blog entry you’re responding to?

      Young people of every generation pick their music so they can hear their parents sputter, “That’s not music!”

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    6. "Democrats never even talk about workers anymore."

      This is true. I saw Elizabeth Warren making a speech on TV the other day, and as she spoke, I put my fingers in my ears and repeated, "Nah, nah, nah, I can't hear you" over and over again. Needless to say, I never heard her mention workers. Typical Democrat.

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    7. It rings hollow on the campaign trail. It's not the same. I know it's all tribal and this is your tribe and that is the way that you see the world though. Democrats are the party of workers! How do I know that? Because one of their candidates talked about them on the campaign trail!

      I'm sorry, that's just out of touch.

      You'll see.

      2016, America sent the Democrats a clear message. But they didn't listen. They will be told again in 2020 and it's some point it will all start to sink in. I know you disagree and feel like her win in the popular vote and Russian interference and the rest, all external forces were to blame, not the performance of Obama and the Democrats. I know you feel that way.

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  7. So, the Okies got a taste of how African Americans or Hispanic or Chinese immigrants were treated. They didn’t like it too much, did they? And so, naturally, they went on to become anti-immigrant, anti-Civil Rights conservatives. You know, the salt of the earth, learning the true lessons of hardship and deprivation.

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  8. By the way, Haggard’s “Okie” in his song isn’t the historical Okie. It’s just another word for “conservative who is outraged by the dirty liberal hippies.” Haggard wasn’t even from Oklahoma.

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  9. Somerby says that "race" now plays a leading role in tribal warfare...

    Now? It has been playing a leading role since before the Civil War. This kind of statement is why the 1619 Project is so badly needed.

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    1. Here is the Republican take on the race issue, I quote one of the most influential Republican operatives, Lee Atwater:

      "You start out in 1954 by saying, "Nigger, nigger, nigger". By 1968 you can't say "nigger"—that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now [that] you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites."

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  10. I agree with you on this. I watched the entire series and I don't believe that they dealt with the subject of race and country music at all. Charley Pride was a success, but what about other blacks? They didn't say.

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  11. "we often got the impression that Burns was himself a bit squeamish on the subject of race."

    The guy is best -known worldwide for his massive, magisterial documentary "The Civil War" that gingerly posits that the Confederacy's
    traitorous secession, declaration of war on the young United States, and vicious battles to preserve slavery was.. kind of understandable, and even noble.

    "The Civil War" remains a majestic and invaluable documentary. And there is great value to jnow the Confederate side intimately, their thinking. But the project was heavily guided by Burns's desire to not piss off half his US viewership in the South. The studied neutrality and both-siderism of the "The Civil War "has not aged well. One side attacked the US in order to continue to own other humans and work them like animals. The other side objected to that on a moral and metaphysical level. Anyone still loving the Confederates in 2019 and what they stood for is a moral degenerate.

    "Country Music" is really, really superb and fascinating. (Skip the last episode unless you want to know about Garth Brooks.) But it's no surprise that Burns glides pretty lightly over the racial attitudes of the 20th century country music world. He definitely acknowledges it and it is certainly discussed, and due credit is given to black musicians and progenitors of the form. But he really does go gently, and the racism of Nashville, and country music's audiences over the years, is given just a glancing touch.

    ReplyDelete
  12. تأسيس الشركات في دبي فريق عمل محترف على أتم الاستعداد لمساعدتك في تأسيس أعمالك التجارية بدبى وبفضل خدماتها المتكاملة، يمكنك تأسيس شركتك بكل سهولة
    للمزيد عن
    تكاليف تأسيس شركة في جبل علـي
    تكاليف تأسيس شركة في المنطقة الحرة
    تكاليف تأسيس شركة في الامارات
    انشاء شركة في المنطقة الحرة
    انشاء شركة في جبل علي
    شروط انشاء شركة في دبي
    كيفية الاستثمار في دبي

    ReplyDelete
  13. تأسيس الشركات في دبي فريق عمل محترف على أتم الاستعداد لمساعدتك في تأسيس أعمالك التجارية بدبى وبفضل خدماتها المتكاملة، يمكنك تأسيس شركتك بكل سهولة
    للمزيد عن
    تأسيس شركة في جبل علي
    تأسيس شركة في المنطقة الحرة
    خطوات الاستثمار في دبي
    خطوات الاستثمار في جبل علي
    خطوات تأسيس شركة في المنطقة الحرة
    تكاليف تأسيس شركة في دبي


    ReplyDelete