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Hillbilly
Hillbilly

Hillbilly is a term referring to people who dwell in rural, mountainous areas of the United States, primarily Appalachia and the Ozarks. Due to its strongly stereotypical connotations, the term is frequently considered derogatory, and so is usually offensive to those Americans of Ozarkan and Appalachian heritage. However, the term is also used in celebration of their culture by mountain people themselves. Such co-opting and neutralizing use is almost exclusively reserved for Appalachian people themselves. Such people consider the term Hillbilly to be a descriptive term lumping all such inhabitants together in a single ethnic group similar to the term
Cajun as a description of a uniquely American ethnic group.

The origins of the term "hillbilly" are obscure. According to Anthony Harkins in Hillbilly: A Cultural History of an American Icon, the term first appeared in print in a 1900 New York Journal article, with the definition: "a Hill-Billie is a free and untrammeled white citizen of Alabama, who lives in the hills, has no means to speak of, dresses as he can, talks as he pleases, drinks whiskey when he gets it, and fires off his revolver as the fancy takes him."

The Appalachian region was largely settled in the 1700s by the Scotch-Irish, the majority of whom originated in the lowlands of Scotland. Harkins believes the most credible theory of the term's origin is that it derives from the linkage of two older Scottish expressions, "hill-folk" and "billie" which was a synonym for "fellow", similar to "guy" or "bloke". 

Although the term is not documented until 1900, there have been many conjectural etymologies for the term, including:

* The term originated in 17th century Ireland for Protestant supporters of King William of Orange.
Roman Catholic King James II landed at Kinsale in Ireland in 1689 and began to raise a Catholic army in an attempt to regain the British throne. Protestant King William III, Prince of Orange, led an English counterforce into Ireland and defeated James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. A significant portion of William III's army was composed of Protestants of Scottish descent (Planters) who had been settled on land confiscated from Catholics in Ulster, the northernmost of the four provinces of Ireland. The southern Irish Catholic supporters of James II referred to these northern Protestant supporters of King William as Billy Boys, Billy being an abbreviation of William. However, Michael Montgomery, in From Ulster to America: The Scotch-Irish Heritage of American English, states "In Ulster in recent years it has sometimes been supposed that it was coined to refer to followers of King William III and brought to America by early Ulster emigrants…, but this derivation is almost certainly incorrect… In America hillbilly was first attested only in 1898, which suggests a later, independent development."

* The term in the United States was conferred during the early 18th century by the occupying British soldiers as a carry over from the Irish term, in referring to Scots-Irish immigrants of mainly Presbyterian origin, dwelling in the frontier areas of the Appalachian Mountains.
These Protestant Irish colonists brought their cultural traditions with them when they immigrated. Many of their stories, songs, and ballads dealt with the history of their Ulster and Lowland Scot homelands, especially relating the tale of the Protestant King William III, Prince of Orange.

* Many of the settlers in the Appalachian mountains were of German origin and were named Wilhelm with the short form Willy, a common German name during that time. Those Wilhelms, who went by Bill or Billy, living in the Appalachian Mountains became known as hillbillies, that is Bills who lived in the hills.

* The term emerged as a derogatory nickname given by the coastal plain-dwelling Southerners to the hill-dwelling settlers of Eastern Tennessee, Western Virginia (including modern West Virginia), and Eastern Kentucky, many of whom were ambivalent to the Confederacy during the American Civil War.

Harkins theorizes that use of the term outside the Appalachians arose in the years after the American Civil War, when the Appalachian region became increasingly bypassed by technological and social changes taking place in the rest of the country. Until the Civil War, the Appalachians were not significantly different from other rural areas of the country. After the war, as the frontier pushed further west, the Appalachian country retained its frontier character, and the people themselves came to be seen as backward, quick to violence, and inbred in their isolation. Fueled by news stories of mountain feuds, such as that in the 1880s between the Hatfields and McCoys, the hillbilly stereotype developed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The "classic" hillbilly stereotype - the poor, ignorant, feuding family with a huge brood of children tending the family moonshine still - reached its current characterization during the years of the Great Depression, when many mountaineers left their homes to find work in other areas of the country. It was during these years that comic strips such as Lil' Abner and films such as The Grapes of Wrath made the "hillbilly" a common American stereotype.

The period of Appalachian out-migration, roughly from the 1930s through the 1950s, saw many mountain residents moving north to the midwestern industrial cities of Chicago, Cleveland, and particularly Detroit, where jobs in the automotive industry were plentiful. This movement north became known as the "Hillbilly Highway".

The advent of the interstate highway system and television brought many previously isolated communities into mainstream United States culture in the 1950s and 1960s. The Internet continues this integration, but many communities with relatively traditional lifestyles remain throughout the Appalachian region.

The term hillbilly is commonly used in non-Appalachian areas as a reference in describing socially backward people that fit certain "hillbilly" characteristics. In this context, it is often (though not always) derogatory. Although the described person may not reside in a region that has hills of any kind, it is substituted in place of more disparaging terms like white trash. In urban usage, it is sometimes used interchangeably for terms like redneck or hick.

Hillbilly music was at one time considered an acceptable label for what is now known as country music. However, some artists and fans, notably Hank Williams Sr., found the term offensive even in its heyday. The label, coined in 1925 by country pianist Al Hopkins, persisted until the 1950s.

Now, the older name is widely deemed offensive (and inappropriate). However, the term hillbilly music is now sometimes used to describe old-time music. An early tune that contained the word hillbilly was "Hillbilly Boogie" by the Delmore Brothers in 1946. Earlier, in the 1920s, there were records by a band called the Beverly Hillbillies. In 1927, the Gennett studios in Richmond, Indiana, made a recording of black fiddler Jim Booker with other instrumentalists; their recordings were labeled "made for Hillbilly" in the Gennett files, and were marketed to a white audience. Also during the 1920s, an old-time music band known as the Hill Billies featuring Al Hopkins and Fiddlin' Charlie Bowman, achieved acclaim as recording artists for Columbia Records. By the late forties, radio stations broadcast music described as "hillbilly," originally to describe fiddlers and string bands, but was then used to describe the traditional music of the people of the Appalachian Mountains. The people who actually sang these songs and lived in the Appalachian Mountains never used these terms to describe their own music.

Popular songs whose style bore characteristics of both hillbilly and African American music were referred to, in the late 1940s and early 1950s as hillbilly boogie, and in the mid-1950s as rockabilly. Elvis Presley was a prominent player of the latter genre. When the Country Music Association was founded in 1958, the term hillbilly music gradually fell out of use. However, the term rockabilly is still in common use.

Later, the music industry merged hillbilly music, Western Swing, and Cowboy music, to form the current category C&W, Country and Western.

The stereotype of hillbillies adds another element to the hillbilly music conundrun: That most, if not all, hillbillies can play the banjo. Male hillbillies are usually depicted in sloppy jeans and a dirty vest, usually in mud-covered boots, and the females in knotted check blouses, hotpants, and bare feet.

Info -save for the last paragraph, which is mine- from wikipedia, image from Deviantart.



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