Our Musical Genealogy:

Country Music and the American Experience

Oct. 17-18, 2019

The Johnny Cash Heritage Festival invites proposals for presentations that focus on the ways that country music reflects the American experience (especially the experience of rural Americans in places such as Dyess) and the ways that the American experience is enriched by country music.

Possible topics include:

  • Country music as a reflection of American culture.
  • Generational legacies, especially the legacy of Johnny Cash and his family.
  • Family and community in country music.  Presentations about the influence of the Dyess community are especially invited.
  • The interconnection between country music and other genres (rockabilly, folk, rock ‘n’ roll, gospel, blues, etc.)
  • How Johnny Cash was shaped by, and helped shape, a range of country music genres.

This theme was born from the liner notes in the 2009 album The List by Rosanne Cash in which she writes about the list of songs her father made for her in the summer of 1973 “to educate me, to tell me about my Southern roots and my American history, about my legacy.

“He called the List ‘100 Essential Country Songs’ but he could have called it ‘100 Essential American Songs,’ because he included history songs, protest songs, early folk songs, Delta Blues, gospel, Texas swing and standards that simply defy genre,” she wrote.

Because it contains numerous styles (and an equally wide range of themes), country music is difficult to define.  But, it is this complexity that has made country music worthy of academic study – the complexity of the music echoes the complexity of the American experience.  Just as The List represents Rosanne Cash’s specific “musical genealogy,” country music represents America’s collective “musical genealogy.”

Along with being the 10th anniversary of The List, this year marks the debut of another project that seeks to distill the essence of country music. Award-winning documentary producer Ken Burns’ eight-part, 16 ½-hour series Country Music premieres Sept. 15 on the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS).  Burns describes the project as an effort “to tear away the undergrowth and look at this magnificent stuff as a new way of focusing on America, seeing race, seeing people who think their stories aren’t being told.”

Proposals for presentations that break away from the standard format of reading research papers, appealing to specialists and non-specialists alike, are especially welcome.  Research and artistic presentations that incorporate music, images, film, computer graphics, and other interactive elements will be given first preference.

The deadline for application is May 31, 2019.  Presenters need to submit an abstract of no more than 150 words, as well as a brief bio and two-page CV, to, and also make note of any technology needs.


Each entry should consist of:

  • Presenter’s name and affiliation
  • Abstract of the presentation (150 words or less)
  • Current vita (2 pages max)
  • Contact information including your address, phone number, and email address
  • The technical needs for your presentation


JCHF Symposium Committee
c/o Dr. Adam Long, Chair
Arkansas State University
P.O. Box 2050
State University, AR 72467
Phone: 870-972-2803