In the 1940s “Kentucky” was the greatest hit of Karl and Harty, one of radio's most popular country music duos during the heyday of live hillbilly music in Chicago. Soon after it was released in 1941, aspects of “Kentucky” were already being forgotten—indeed, were predicated on forgetting outmoded racial formations and modes of song transmission—though the song is explicitly about remembering the lost spaces of rural, southern youth. The nostalgic sentimentality of “Kentucky” occludes a secondary stratum of musical and textual qualities that evoke racialized modes of dance and entertainment. Through close analysis, interviews, and archival work, we examine the song's racial and geographical signifiers and source models to show how tensions between its dual dialectic of memory/forgetting and sentimentality/entertainment participated in the mid-twentieth-century decline of hillbilly music and rise of commercial country.
Sentimental Remembrance and the Amusements of Forgetting in Karl and Harty's “Kentucky”
SUMANTH GOPINATH is Associate Professor of Music Theory at the University of Minnesota. He is the author of The Ringtone Dialectic: Economy and Cultural Form (MIT Press, 2013) and coeditor of The Oxford Handbook of Mobile Music Studies (Oxford University Press, 2014). His current work includes ongoing projects on Steve Reich, musical minimalism, digital beeps, and James Dillon, as well as a coedited volume titled Rethinking Reich.
ANNA SCHULTZ is Assistant Professor of Music at Stanford University. Her first book, Singing a Hindu Nation, was published by Oxford University Press in 2013, while her second, Songs of Translation: Bene Israel Gender and Textual Orality, is also under contract with OUP. Her research has been supported by fellowships from Fulbright-Hays, AAUW, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Hellman Foundation, the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute, the University of Illinois, and Stanford University.
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Sumanth Gopinath, Anna Schultz; Sentimental Remembrance and the Amusements of Forgetting in Karl and Harty's “Kentucky”. Journal of the American Musicological Society 1 August 2016; 69 (2): 477–524. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/jams.2016.69.2.477
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