Roanoke (VA) Times
In October of 1925, The Grand Ole Opry went live on Nashville’s WSM radio, and America’s cultural fabric was changed forever. This year as The Opry celebrates its 85th birthday, country music continues to capture the American spirit and the essence of the country’s values and priorities.
Last April, no less eminent a journalistic presence than the Pulitzer Prize Board at Columbia University recognized the enduring influence of country music when it awarded a posthumous Special Citation to Hank Williams, the legendary songwriter and singer whose songs reflected the hopes and struggles of everyday Americans.
Williams, who died in 1953 at the age of 29, wrote more than a hundred songs that continue to set the standard for country music that speaks right to the heart. The Pulitzer panel hailed his “craftsmanship as a songwriter who expressed universal feelings with poignant simplicity and played a pivotal role in transforming country music into a major musical and cultural force in American life.”
The best country songs have a way of sticking in the consciousness, whether they bring a smile to our face, tap into a familiar sorrow or even inspire us. Their resonance sounds from their honest reflections of simple truths of life: home, love, child-rearing, faith and community. Education is an essential part of that value structure, and the canon of great American country songs has much to say about it.
Trisha Yearwood sang of Hard Promises to Keep (“Promises are like little diamonds/Promises are like little hearts. . . .”). The Stanley Brothers admonished with foot-stomping emphasis, Don’t Cheat in Our Hometown. Both tunes could be warnings to politicians in particular, but they have broad application.
One of the most beloved country artists, Eddy Arnold, paid a moving tribute to That Wonderful Mother of Mine. Country tunes have testified to the value of a father’s influence and wisdom as well. Keith Urban’s Song for Dad tells about coming to that awareness after reaching maturity:
There were times I thought he was bein’/Just a little bit hard one me/But now I understand he was makin’ me/Become the man he knew I could be. . . .
Country common sense teaches that nothing is more vital to the success of education than the enthusiastic engagement of folks in every community.
Schools have long been a source of pride for many Americans, as John Conlee’s Old School memorably captured. (“You say everybody does it/I don’t care if they do/I’m from the old school /Where hearts stay true. . . .”) But of course differences of opinion about the business of schooling can become emotionally and politically charged. Indeed, Mac Davis could easily have been depicting that tumult in good humor when he penned Oh Lord, It’s Hard to be Humble When You’re Perfect in Every Way.
While far more Americans graduate high school than did in the years when Hank Williams did his writing, the alarming number of those who do not, or do so only to discover themselves inadequately equipped for the challenges of college and the workplace, is well documented. This predicament is not much different than that of the poor soul in My Bucket’s Got a Hole In It, a song that showcased Williams’ gift for toeing the line between humor and despair (but can’t buy no beer).
Similarly, You’re Gonna Change (Or I’m Gonna Leave) suggests the liberating power that a family has when it can say adios to a bad school and choose a good one.
Many country songs over time have conveyed a pointed message to officials in high office — including those who seek to impose one set of standards and mandates on all schools, regardless of parental and community will. Bob Wills’ swing classic, Bring It On Down to My House, Ain’t Nobody Home But Me, reflects on the sanctity of home and the virtues of welcoming inside the goodness of others. The Statler Brothers’ The Class of ’57 Had Dreams speaks to individuality and that every kid deserves a chance.
As any fan knows, country songs are not sermonettes, and each generation of country songwriters, from Acuff-Rose to Toby Keith, has taken time to make us laugh out loud to our car radio. However, even when country music is telling us pitfalls we wish we could avoid, we find inspiration and spiritual refreshment in it. When it comes to raisin’ and educatin’, we could do worse than listen to the Opry greats. Those country roads lead to a good place.
Find Archived Articles: