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Tyler Childers became a voice of Appalachia partly because of his reaction to a 2009 documentary

By Heather Chapman
The Rural Blog

This article is a few months old, but provides a great in-depth portrait of singer and songwriter Tyler Childers, an Eastern Kentucky native who has “earned praise from, and comparisons to, John Prine.”

Tyler Childers (Photo by David McClister)

Childers, 27, was in high school when ABC News’s “20/20” came to town for a report on children in Appalachia. He and many others disliked it for what they considered its use of stereotypes, especially after Diane Sawyer’s crew gave out Mountain Dew and encouraged locals to drink it while they filmed, then reported on the prevalence of tooth decay because of drinking the sugary soda.

“This split reality — the way the media and the rest of the world, outside of his community, portrayed Appalachia and blue-collar America, and the way he saw it day to day — clearly left an impression,” Marissa Moss writes for Rolling Stone. 

“Childers started writing songs about what life was really like up in those hills — on 2011’s Bottles and Bibles, recorded in a friend’s backyard studio, he sings about the struggle to raise a family and put food on the table with one foot in the coal mine and one in the grave (‘Hell’s probably better than trying to get by,’ he laments in the song ‘Hard Times.’) Childers was a teenager, but he wanted to tell the world what existed beneath the ‘Mountain Dew Mouth’ narrative, and he wanted to tell the people who lived there that he understood their plight. And that he would tell their truth. . . . Childers was a red-haired kid who wanted to be a journalist or an English teacher, but that changed once he started playing the guitar.”

Moss writes, “Childers’ sound — a fusion of folk, bluegrass, and country with a raw, emotionally gripping tinge that’s halfway between a confession and a holler — is born of his life growing up in East Kentucky, a place rich with forgotten stories and people just trying to do the best they can.”

Here’s our favorite, “Universal Sound,” full of Appalachian geography and culture:

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