I’d Fight the World: A Political History of Old-Time, Hillbilly, and Country Music

Univ. of Chicago. Sept. 2019. 336p. illus. notes. index. ISBN 9780226923000. $20. HIST
In this lively and informative book, La Chapelle (history, Nevada State Coll.) offers a definition of what he calls “hillbilly politics.” The men and women running for office under this banner in the late 1930s and 1940s supported government programs for senior citizens and the rural poor, and opposed the poll tax and big city political machines. Most of these politicians campaigned with country musicians to connect with likely voters; some were even musicians themselves. La Chapelle traces the roots of the connection between country music and politics back to Bob Taylor and Tom Watson in the late 1800s. Their embrace of hillbilly music influenced succeeding generations of (mostly) Southern politicians who were primarily populists and conservative New Deal Democrats. There are revealing profiles of familiar and unfamiliar names: Paul Johnson, Hattie Caraway, Eugene Talmadge, Joseph T. Robinson, and Estes Kefauver, among others. La Chapelle moves up into more recent years, discussing attempts by Adlai Stevenson, Richard Nixon, and George H.W. Bush to court country musicians and Barack Obama’s endorsement by Ralph Stanley.
VERDICT This book will surprise those who have preconceived notions about country music and Southern politicians, and their longstanding connection.

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