When people think of East Tennessee, what comes most strongly to mind is mountains and country music--and though that impression is not far wrong, there is much more to the region. The area is home to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, America's most visited national park; but it's the thriving cities of Knoxville and Chattanooga that anchor the region economically, along with the "Tri-Cities" of Bristol, Kingsport, and Johnson City. Oak Ridge Laboratory, the location of the world's first production nuclear reactor, is only one of the historic sites in this region, which is also known for such figures as Andrew Johnson, Davy Crockett...and Dolly Parton.
The people of the region have always had a strong sense of local identity, and the area is known as the birthplace of modern country music--a title it claims due to the historic 1927 recording sessions in Bristol which resulted in the debuts of Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family. A total of nineteen performers recorded seventy-six songs at the Bristol Sessions, and country music overnight became a cultural phenomenon.
It was also very nearly a state of its own: the "State of Franklin," organized in 1784, had its own constitution and governor, and petitioned the Continental Congress for admission to the Union. It failed to generate enough support, however, and was instead later admitted as part of Tennessee. The strongly pro-Union people of the region tried again to create a new state when Tennessee seceded in 1861; they were rewarded with Confederate occupation for much of the Civil War.
East Tennessee is one of the few informal regional designations of the United States that also has legal significance: it is one the three "Grand Divisions" of Tennessee, created to limit the political influence of any single region of that diverse state.