Entries by Brian Halpin

Sing and Swing

  The two earliest distinctly American music forms – country music and the blues – are usually presumed to be a clear evolution of “white” and “black” musical traditions. In other words, country music is presumed to find its ultimate origins in European music, while the blues are presumed to be rooted in African culture. […]

Social Media and Before We Were White

  In light of the ongoing deterioration in the corporate-owned social media landscape, Before We Were White blog and podcast has: 1)  Shut down its Twitter account altogether 2) Begun a winding-down of activity on Facebook 3) Begun adding podcast audio and bonus content to the Before We Were White YouTube channel 4) Established a […]

Lisa Marie Presley and Ghosts of the Past

  Thinking about the untimely demise of Lisa Marie Presley has brought to mind all of the speculation found online over many years regarding the ethnic origins of her famous father. Elvis has at various times been said to have had Cherokee, English, Choctaw, Jewish, German, Romani, Scottish, French, Dutch, or Danish roots. This broad […]

Music Without A Color

In the Pines, an American folk song first recorded in 1926 by Doctor Coble “Dock” Walsh, old-time banjo player from North Carolina. Most folks agree that this song (also known as Where Did You Sleep Last Night) is a mash-up of at least two or three older ballads including Black Girl and The Longest Train, […]

No One Gets Out of Here With Clean Hands

  The Cherokee of Southern Appalachia (well, some of the Cherokee), made a deal with The Devil, and lost. I have already written elsewhere that history is a dance between our unwritten stories, our handed-down folklore, and the things people actually wrote down at the time events were unfolding. The “art” of history is the […]

Surfing the Waves of Immigration

  I read it once somewhere that Steven Spielberg spent quite some time finding a suitable cast for Saving Private Ryan. Spielberg was diligent enough in his research to note that the faces of American soldiers during WWII were more clearly “ethnic” than most members of the US military at the time of filming in […]

The Silence of the Femmes

  It is often said that the USA is the land of reinvention. Identity in America has been malleable and saleable for centuries, whether it be fake preachers and prophets, or incoming congressmen claiming to be the progeny of Holocaust survivors. Yet nowhere allows, indeed encourages, self-reinvention like Hollywood. Since the earliest days of silent […]

Yes Virginia, There is an American Culture

Repeat an idea often enough within a cultural space, and people will eventually assume it must be true. In Southern Appalachia, the pre-eminence ascribed to “Scots-Irish” cultural influence – especially as regards music – has been repeated so often that people have come to take it “as Gospel”. These constantly repeated American assumptions have even […]

Where Have All the Good Girls Gone?

Hazel Dickens was a West Virginia girl, with deep roots in the mountains there. During much of the 20th century, urban and suburban America mocked the “hillbillies” of Southern Appalachia, while simultaneously benefiting from cheap Appalachian coal. And while much of the USA laughed or stared aghast at fare such as “The Beverly Hillbillies” or […]

Modern Attitudes and “Back Then”

  Ever since the advent of farming and urban civilisation around 10,000 years ago, some people have tried to make themselves the master of others. The list of reasons these people invent to justify their dominance over others could fill a library. Eventually the people who use others for self-enrichment may even come to believe […]