Cold War Country

How Nashville's Music Row and the Pentagon Created the Sound of American Patriotism

By Joseph M. Thompson

344 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 23 halftones, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-7836-8
    Published: April 2024
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-7837-5
    Published: March 2024
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-7835-1
    Published: April 2024

Studies in United States Culture

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Country music maintains a special, decades-long relationship to American military life, but these ties didn't just happen. This readable history reveals how country music's Nashville-based business leaders on Music Row created partnerships with the Pentagon to sell their audiences on military service while selling the music to servicemembers. Beginning in the 1950s, the military flooded armed forces airwaves with the music, hosted tour dates at bases around the world, and drew on artists from Johnny Cash to Lee Greenwood to support recruitment programs. Over the last half of the twentieth century, the close connections between the Defense Department and Music Row gave an economic boost to the white-dominated sounds of country while marginalizing Black artists and fueling divisions over the meaning of patriotism.

This story is filled with familiar stars like Roy Acuff, Elvis Presley, and George Strait, as well as lesser-known figures: industry executives who worked the halls of Congress, country artists who dissented from the stereotypically patriotic trappings of the genre, and more. Joseph M. Thompson argues convincingly that the relationship between Music Row and the Pentagon helped shape not only the evolution of popular music but also race relations, partisanship, and images of the United States abroad.

About the Author

Joseph M. Thompson is assistant professor of history at Mississippi State University.
For more information about Joseph M. Thompson, visit the Author Page.


"Thompson's Cold War Country will not only transform scholarly discussions around country music, but it will make a crucial contribution to larger conversations about popular culture, the political history of the South, and the United States in the twentieth century. It is a model for the kind of scholarship that anyone who wants to work on music or pop culture can benefit from."—Charles Hughes, author of Country Soul: Making Music and Race in the American South

"Cold War Country follows the money to explain in rich, shocking detail the genesis of a phenomenon—the marriage of country music and the military—that even experts usually take for granted." —Natalie Weiner, writer and cofounder of Don't Rock the Inbox