During the 19th century, an area of the United States that ran from southern New York state to the northern parts of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi in the United States became known as Appalachia. It was a rugged and hilly region settled primarily by the Scots-Irish as well as other European settlers. Inhabitants of this region took elements of their European culture and combined it with new aspects of the Appalachian region to develop traditional music, which had elements of English and Irish ballads, African-American blues music, and other elements to create a distinct sound that became known as Appalachian music.
Appalachian music provided a beginning for what would eventually become bluegrass music, country music, and old-time music, and elements of Appalachian music can be heard in all those genres. The Appalachian style combined several different genres and instruments to create a distinctly different sound; for example, the fiddle, which came from the Scottish tradition, eventually combined with instruments such as the banjo, which was common in African-American songs. Soon, instruments such as the mountain dulcimer, which is also known as the Appalachian dulcimer, and mandolin began to become prominent in the region. Once combined with traditional instruments and the banjo, Appalachian music began to take shape as a distinct musical genre.
Appalachian music is markedly influenced by religious themes and hymns, since religion was such a strong influence on the daily lives of Appalachian inhabitants. Many Appalachian songs were traditional English, Welsh, or Scottish ballads that simply became prominent in the Appalachians. However, New World ballads — that is, ballads written in North America — became just as influential as Old World ones. New World ballads were often written about prominent issues of the day or news in the region. Protest music crept into the Appalachian style as workers struggled for higher wages and better working and living conditions, and ballads began popping up that dealt with mine disasters and workers' strikes.
Appalachian music gained more popularity and notoriety in the 1920s when the first recordings began to appear. Recorded Appalachian artists found moderate success, but the onset of the Great Depression largely sent these musicians back into obscurity. Not long after that, however, country music cropped up, influenced directly from the Appalachian style. The recordings of the mid to late 1920s are often considered the beginnings of the country music genre. By the 1940s, bluegrass was becoming popular; this genre combined elements of both traditional Appalachian music and the emergent country music.