Cowboy Music: Western music of America
Music had long been a part of the life of the cowboys who traveled the open ranges of the West. Apart from their family and loved ones, alone under the open sky, they often traveled with a portable instrument: guitar, banjo or harmonica and songs to sing or stories to tell around the campfire at night. Sometimes the songs were “borrowed” from British folksongs, as apparently was the case for the song “Streets of Laredo”, which was an Irish folk ballad in a previous life. But, like all folksongs of the 19th century, they were anonymously crafted reflections of their life and surroundings.
Songs like “Home on the Range” and “Yellow Rose of Texas” were written sometime in the mid to late 19th century by unknown cowboy musicians who freely shared them with others and took no more ownership in them than the sunset which helped to inspire them.
The wealth of cowboy songs might have gone the way of the railroad songs or civil war songs had it not been for the advent of the talking motion pictures in the early 1930’s.
The typical “good cowboy in the white hat saves the girl and the ranch from the bad villain in the black hat” plot of the silent movie era was only mildly recycled in the ’30s and ’40s. With the ability to add sound to the experience, movie makers soon convinced the audiences that not only could their cowboy heroes shoot, rope and ride, but could also sing.
While the singing cowboy role eliminated the western monotones from movies, other singers were quickly transformed by movie studios into instant cowboys. It was easier, it seemed, to teach a singer to ride than to teach a cowboy to sing.