Thomas Hart Benton: The Sources of Country Music

The old music cannot last much longer. I count it a great privilege to have heard it in the sad twang of mountain voices before it died.

—Thomas Hart Benton

Thomas Hart Benton conceived The Sources of Country Music, as an action-filled stage upon which the history of an important genre of American music comes to life. His painting is both controversial and personal. The controversy stems from Benton’s rejection of the trappings of the modern art world while simultaneously developing his own unique modern style. The personal is a product of his many travels and sketches of rural American life and music. In his trips down country roads, Benton documented American life and the history of its folk music. These American journeys are a focal point of Benton’s art.

By analyzing The Sources of Country Music, students will see the story of Benton’s America and discover how the processes of modernity changed American life in the early decades of the twentieth century. By listening to folk music, they will understand how advances in audio recording both captured and changed this music. Moreover, they will discover how recording technology and the movies shaped the images of country style music.

Guiding Questions

What are "The Sources of Country Music" according to Thomas Hart Benton?

How does this music reflect changes in American society in the first half the 20th century?

Learning Objectives

After completing this lesson, students will be able to: Describe Benton’s artistic techniques.

Identify the roots of country music as well as some of the early performers.

Discuss how changes in art and musical style reflect changes in society.