'Hillbilly' Music: Billboard Debuted Country Hits For The First Time

By | March 23, 2020

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Today's country and rock music owe their beginnings to "hillbilly" music. (Photo by D. Corson/ClassicStock/Getty Images)

For a long time, country music (or "hillbilly" music, as it was originally called) was stereotyped as a lower art form, but the "hillbilly" sound signified a rich culture that birthed some of the world's best songwriters and musicians. That's why, on this day in 1939, Billboard debuted its "Hillbilly Hits" chart, highlighting the smash singles of the genre. Let's look at the origins of "hillbilly" music and how it moved from the porches of Appalachia to mainstream America after it hit the Billboard charts. 

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The famous feud between the Hatfields and McCoys shined a spotlight on hillbilly culture. (history.com)

What Is A Hillbilly?

The term "hillbilly" dates back to at least 1892, originating as a derogatory word for a person from a certain region of the American South who was assumed to be impoverished and uneducated. The "hill" part of the term was a nod to the hilly regions of Appalachia and the Ozarks, while the "billy" was most likely added because it was a generic name that conveniently rhymed. According to one reference from 1900, a hillbilly was a Southerner who "had no means to speak of, dressed how he could, talked how he pleased, drank whiskey whenever he wanted, and fired his gun whenever the fancy took him." The term became widespread after the well-publicized feud between the Hatfields and McCoys in the late 1800s informed the rest of the country about the lifestyles of rural hill people.