In the summer of 1927, nineteen bands gathered for a recording session in Bristol, on the Tennessee-Virginia border, including some of the most influential names in American music - the Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, Ernest Stoneman and more. Organized by Ralph Peer for Victor records to capitalize on the popularity of "hillbilly" music, the Bristol sessions were a key moment in country music's evolution. The musicians played a variety of styles largely endemic to the Appalachian region. Rather than attempting to record purely traditional sounds, however, Peer sought a combination of musical elements, an amalgam that would form the backbone of modern country music. The reverberations of the Bristol sessions are still felt today, yet their influence is widely misunderstood, and popular accounts of the event are more legend than history.
These 19 essays offer an examination and reevaluation of the Bristol sessions - from their germination, to the actual sessions, to their place in history and their continuing influence. The first section discusses technological advances that resulted in the unmatched quality of the Bristol recordings. The second section chronicles the people and musical acts involved in the event. The third section gives first-hand accounts of the Bristol sessions, while the fourth presents musicological studies of two of the prominent acts. The final section details subsequent recording sessions in Bristol and nearby Johnson City, and explores the lasting local musical legacy.