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Country Music in Washington Timeline

Country Music in Washington Timeline


  • 1931

    The Stoneman Family Moves to Washington

    Wiped out by the Great Depression, Ernest V. "Pop" Stoneman, a pioneer of Appalachian music, moves his large family to the Washington area in search of work. The Stoneman family would go on to dominate the D.C. honky-tonk circuit in the decades following WWII.

    The Stoneman Sisters
  • 1946

    Connie B. Gay Makes Washington "Nashville North"

    Calling D.C. "the biggest city in North Carolina," music promoter Connie B. Gay helped transform the nation's capital into a country music hotbed in the 1950s and '60s.

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    Connie B. Gay hosts an afternoon country music show on WARL in Arlington, Virginia, launching his career as a promoter who helped transform country music into a nationwide phenomenon.

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  • August 1954

    Patsy Cline Gets Her First Big Break

    Patsy Cline in a hand-embroidered cowgirl dress made by her mother, 1961. (Credit: Courtesy of Les Leverett photograph, Grand Ole Opry Archives)

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    Patsy Cline wins the $100 prize as best female vocalist in a talent contest sponsored by D.C.-based country music promoter Connie B. Gay in Warrenton, VA. Soon after she lands a regular spot on WARL in Arlington — performing jingles and singing on Gay's "Town and Country Time" radio program.

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  • July 4, 1957

    The Country Gentlemen Are Formed

    Originally released in 1961, "Folk Songs and Bluegrass" was the first album by The Country Gentlemen. (Source: Smithsonian Folkways Recordings)

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    When members of the Bayou Boys were injured in a car crash, Charlie Waller and Bill Emerson put together a group to fulfill the band's regular spot at a Virginia venue. That replacement band evolved into The County Gentlemen, perhaps the most significant bluegrass band to come out of the D.C. area.

  • April 4, 1966

    The Birchmere Opens

    Gary Oelze opened the first Birchmere location in South Arlington in 1966. (Photo courtesy Gary Oelze)

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    Gary Oelze purchases a Shirlington restaurant called the Birchmere in the mid 1960s. At the time, he wasn't planning to get into the music business. But soon, the Birchmere becomes a hub for bluegrass music in the nation's capital. Today, it is an internationally renowned music hall that draws fans of every musical genre.

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  • July 2, 1967

    "Bluegrass Unlimited" Debuts on WAMU

    A new half-hour program named “Bluegrass Unlimited,” premieres on local public radio station WAMU. The extensive bluegrass programming on WAMU, as well as several nationally known groups such as The Seldom Scene, helped make Washington, D.C., an unlikely epicenter for bluegrass music.

    Several nationally known groups such as The Seldom Scene, helped make Washington an unlikely epicenter for bluegrass music, especially the "progressive" style.
  • April 17, 1970

    Johnny Cash Performs at the White House

    President Richard Nixon, First Lady Patricia Nixon, June Carter Cash, and Johnny Cash on stage after the Cashs' "Evening at the White House" Concert Performance in the East Room, April 17, 1970. (Credit: Richard Nixon Presidential Library/NARA)

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    Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash perform a legendary — and politically controversial — concert at the White House for President Richard M. Nixon.

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  • December 30, 1970

    John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads"

    The height of John Denver's fame came after his songwriting collaboration with D.C.-based musicians Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert on "Take Me Home, Country Roads." The song rose to No. 2 on the Billboard "Hot 100" chart in 1971. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

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    John Denver performs "Take Me Home, Country Roads" for the first time at the Cellar Door in Georgetown. The song was co-written by Denver and local musicians Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert, who based the lyric on Clopper Road in Montgomery County, Maryland (not West Virginia).

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  • January 1974

    First Lucketts Bluegrass Concert

    A group of volunteers led by local bluegrass musician E.J. Spence launches the Lucketts Bluegrass concert series in the Old Lucketts School, which had closed several years earlier. Today the Lucketts Schoolhouse stage has a special place in bluegrass lore and has been called the “Grand Old Opry of Bluegrass."

    The Price Sisters perform at Lucketts Bluegrass in Lucketts, Virginia, on May 4, 2019.
  • March 1992

    Cleve Francis Makes His Major-Label Debut

    Dr. Cleveland Francis, an African American cardiologist from Alexandria, Virginia, who left his practice to pursue a country music career, releases "Tourist in Paradise" on Capitol Nashville. Though Francis returned to medicine a few years later, he still performs his music locally.

    Cleve Francis