Vanderbilt University professor Richard “Pete” Peterson—one of the first sociologists to seriously study country music—has died at age 77.
During his career, Peterson studied the Nashville music industry, popular culture, the definition of musical genres, the aging of the fine-arts audience and the impact of digital technology on music. In addition, he was a former consultant to National Public Radio.
When he arrived at Vanderbilt in 1965, he realized that the campus was just a few blocks away from the center of Nashville’s music business. So he began a scholarly quest to explore the development of country music.
He befriended artists such as Chet Atkins, Waylon Jennings, Hank Snow and Charley Pride and went on the road with The Oak Ridge Boys when they were still a gospel act.
One of his first studies was of Fan Fair (now known as the CMA Music Festival). After many years of further study and numerous articles and scholarly convention presentations, in 1997 he published Creating Country Music: Fabricating Authenticity (University of Chicago Press). At the time, the late Eddy Arnold said that Peterson, “appreciates the importance of country music and respects how it achieves that importance.”
Peterson passed away on Thursday, February 4. He is survived by his wife, Claire Clark, and three children, Michael, David and Ruth. A campus memorial service is being planned.