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SoLost: Bill C. Malone: Scholarly Hero of Country Music

As lonely Maude Owens Malone toiled away on the North Texas tenant farm she shared with her husband and three boys in the 1930s, little did she know that the sorrowful song fragments of old hillbilly and gospel songs she sang to comfort herself would inspire and lead her youngest child to the pinnacle of country music scholarship many decades later.

The first member of his family to attend college, Bill C. Malone quickly became known as a local authority on hillbilly music while attending the University of Texas in the early 1960s. As an amateur performer around Austin, Malone began sharing local stages with a number of soon-to-be musical luminaries, including a young Janice Joplin. Malone, an aspiring historian, was soon encouraged to pursue his own musical scholarship of country music—a subject that had never been given serious attention in the world of academics.

His dissertation on the subject became the basis for his first book, Country Music, U.S.A. (University of Texas Press, 1968), and made him something of a household name in country music circles. Now, fifty years and many books on, Malone's body of scholarly work has earned him a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of American Music, among other commendations. No less than Larry McMurtry has said of Malone, "If anyone knows more about the subject than [Malone] does, God help them."

In a less-than-predictable outcome, Malone has ended up in Madison, Wisconsin, with a radio show of old-time country music that has made him something of a local cult hero. SoLost headed up to Madison to see what the fuss was about….

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