Katrin Horn, The Liszt School of Music Weimar
Who Made Honky Tonk Angels?
Negotiations of Gender in 1950s Country Music
In 1952 Kitty Well’s answer-song “It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” became the first song by a female solo-artist to reach No 1. on both country and pop charts, a success which ushered in a new generation of female singers relying on the Nashville-sound for crossover appeal. As soon as the late 50s, however, rockabilly was taking country's place in the charts, and singers (male and female) who had started out in country relied on this supposedly ‘younger,‘ more urban style to secure record sales.
Yet despite (or maybe even because of) their short time in the national spotlight, the careers of these singers offer a rich source for investigating the contradictions of their time as well as that of their genre, insofar as their gender intensifies ever-present issues of authenticity and rusticity on the one, and stardom and commercialization on the other hand. This paper therefore offers a close reading of the star images of female country singers to account for their peculiar place in the pop culture of the 50s and the history of American pop more generally.
Katrin Horn, M.A., is currently a research assistant at the DFG-project “Voice and Singing in Popular Music in the U.S.A. (1900–1960).” She studied Theater- and Media studies, American and English Studies at Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen-Nuremberg. In her Ph.D. project she investigates the critical and affective potential of camp in contemporary US popular culture.