Why Do Country Singers Sing with an Accent?


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One of the most common criticisms that country musicians sometimes face is their thick southern accents. While there are many artists who don’t follow this trend and notably sing in a “regular” voice, most do have an accent. But why do country singers sing with an accent?

Country singers sing with an accent to give their song a sense of rural or traditional identity that is associated with the southern regions. But some artists overdo it in an attempt to sound native, which only diminishes their integrity if it doesn’t match their speaking voice.

The issue is, when they speak, they don’t necessarily have this twang.

According to an associate professor of linguistics and anthropology at the University of Utah, “a country singer’s adoption of an accent at the mic is not always something they are aware of.”

This concept, along with an overall pandering to the audience is the main subject of musician/comedian Bo Burnham’s song “Pandering”.

But are there any singers who put up fake accents deliberately? And is it necessary to have an accent when you are singing country songs?

Let’s find out more in detail!

Do you need an accent to sing country?

It is really a matter of choice. It is not mandatory to have an accent to sing country songs. But there are artists who cannot sing without the twang.

I recently came across an article about Lethbridge-based country singer Shaela Miller. At one of her concerts, a fan requested Shaela to sing one of her songs without her southern U.S. twang.

As Miller began singing the lines of her track unaccompanied by the lilt in her voice, she burst out laughing. Shaela Miller had to stop singing midway and explained:

“I can’t do it. It’s just-I couldn’t even sing it. I would have to sit down and really think about this song in a different style of music.”

Miller also said that her twang is a result of the influence of singers like Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, and Patsy Cline.

But when you hear musicians like Chris Acker, Sons of Rainier, Parker McCollum, Red Shahan, Read Southall, Zac Brown, and Colter Wall, you will notice that these artists use the accent to some extent, but they don’t have a very heavy southern country-sounding style.

So, it’s really not a thumb rule to have an accent if you want to be a country singer.

It’s more about the song’s requirements. If the artist sang in a normal singing voice, people in the countryside would know “that’s not country”.

So, for the same reason, country singers have to include this effect to sound raw.

Which country singers have fake accents?

Although a heavy southern accent is natural for many country artists, some singers who use fake accents include Tyler Hubbard, Gary Allen, Drew Gregory, Keith Urban, and Garth Brooks.

People who sing along to ethnic music nearly always do it with an accent to match their style.

So, if I were to ask why Keith Urban sings with a western American accent, I might also question why Mick Jagger, although from England, sometimes sounds like he is from Mississippi or why most rock performers sound southern to some degree.

Singers in certain genres are required to portray a character and thus adopt an accent, just like an actor portraying a Texan is required to adopt an English accent, which is most likely appropriate to make their role more convincing to the audience.

The tendency to adopt an accent that corresponds to a song’s origin or genre is not exclusive to the artists of the 80s and 90s.

But in recent times, one clear example is Taylor Swift.

When Taylor started singing, she had a touch of Nashville, but with a gradual shift to pop, Taylor began to wave her country accent. She is proving her finesse in both accents.

But is Taylor a good songwriter too?

Luckily, I made sure to talk about it in a recent article. I also discussed Swift’s songwriting process. Just click that link to read it on my website.

Which top country singers aren’t from the south?

Country music singers who were not born and raised in the southern United States include Brett Eldredge, Shania Twain, Keith Urban, Jewel, Dierks Bentley, Jo Dee Messina, and many more.

Despite the popularity of country singers, it might come as a surprise to you that most of the country singers in the music industry do not necessarily hail from the South. In fact, some aren’t even American. And yet they have managed to enchant their audience with their talent.

Here are top country singers who aren’t from the South:

  • Shania Twain: A Canadian by birth, Shania is nowhere near the South. Yet, she has produced some of the best songs, which is pretty impressive.
  • Keith Urban: The Australian-American musician was born in New Zealand. It is pretty far away from the Southern United States. He later moved to Australia, where he lived with his family and received his musical training.
  • Sara Evans: The American country music star was born in Booneville, Missouri. She started her career in her 20s and started a family once she moved to Alabama. Evans soon started putting out her records in the South and now probably feels more at home here.
  • Melvin Lee Greenwood: An American country musician who has released 20 major albums to date. Greenwood is best known for his signature song, “God Bless the U.S.A.”, released in 1984. Originally, Lee was born in Los Angeles and grew up far away from the South. However, the distance didn’t stop him from his southern inborn capabilities.

Some other artists that were not born in the South are:

  • Hank Snow (Nova Scotia, Canada)
  • Olivia Newton-John (Cambridge, England)
  • Terri Clark (Ontario, Canada)
  • Paul Brandt (Calgary, Canada)
  • Catherine Britt (Newcastle, Australia)
  • Adam Gregory (Alberta, Canada)
  • Ronan Keating (Dublin, Ireland)

Yet, all these artists are earning fortunes. They enjoy as much public admiration in other countries as they do when they are at home, especially when you talk about artists like Zac Brown.

Wondering how much money Zac Brown makes per concert?

Luckily, I discussed it in a recent article. But aside from the overall earnings, does he split the money evenly with his bandmates?

Just click that link to check it out on my website.

How did the southern accent develop in country music?

Southern accents developed in country music as regional dialects of spoken American English from rural areas primarily by white southerners.

Since this question required fundamental research, I looked up credible sources online and found that, in terms of accent, spoken American English included a wide variety of strong forms, including Appalachian English and Texan English.

These accents are what became popular as “Southern accents” in the United States. Formally, as per Wikipedia, “much of the Southern accent includes Southern Vernacular English and Rural White Southern English”.

In the past years, the Southern accent began to fade in popularity and was perceived as less prominent by an industry attempting to soften its image and appeal to a more pop-oriented audience. But recently, the southern twang is making a comeback.

There are several artists, such as Miranda Lambert, Tylar Hubbard, Monroe, Justin Moore, etc., dominating the format and turning up the competition.

These artists are finding their roots in the old school musicians like Johnny Cash. Speaking of, I wanted to learn about Johnny Cash’s guitar skills.

Luckily, I discussed it in a recent article. Of course, Cash always used another guitar player with him. But was that because he couldn’t play? And did he actually play on his records?

Just click that link to read it on my site.

Does Tim McGraw have a fake accent?

Louisiana-born American country music singer and actor Tim McGraw does fake his accent. He is among the majority of musicians who exaggerate their accents. 

A fan from an online discussion thread wrote:

“Listen to Tim McGraw. He’s never had that thick of an accent when speaking but does in any of his songs. Then there are other artists like Faith Hill, who sound very natural.”

Another fan wrote about his experience when he met Tim McGraw. He mentions, “Modern country has been influenced by classic rock to the point where it’s hard to draw a line between them.

I spoke to Tim McGraw after the show.

They grew up listening to Led Zeppelin and Steppenwolf. Considering that, I’m not surprised that it’s something aside from the music that bothers you.”

Conclusion

When you hear country singers, their thick accents are considered part and parcel of country music. But more often than not, country singers face strong criticism for their strange pronunciation.

Especially when mainstream country artists tend to exaggerate their accents to sound like native Southerners.

For example, artists like Tyler Hubbard, Gary Allen, Drew Gregory, Keith Urban, and Garth Brooks. They don’t sound like southerners when they are speaking, but they pick up an accent suddenly as they start singing.

For some, singing with the accent may come naturally, while others deliberately try to pick it up. So, it is all just a matter of choice and the requirements of the song and the audience.


Image by andreas160578 from Pixabay

Jeff Campbell

Hi, I'm Jeff Campbell, a former DJ, music journalist, musician, and music lover. I'm old enough to have seen all the cool bands and young enough to still remember them.

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