Music of the United States

The music of the United States includes a number of kinds of distinct folk and popular music, including some of the most widely-recognized styles in the world. The original inhabitants of the United States included hundreds of Native American tribes, who played the first music in the area. Beginning in the 15th century, immigrants from England, Spain and France began arriving in large numbers, bringing with them new styles and instruments. Africans imported as slaves provided the musical underpinnings of much of modern American music, including blues, jazz, country, rock and roll and hip hop. Other styles of music were brought by Hispanics from Mexico, Cuba and Puerto Rico, the Cajun descendants of French-Canadians, Jews, Eastern Europeans and Irish, Scottish and Italian immigrants.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, popular recorded music from the United States has become increasingly known across the world, to the point where some form of American popular music is listened to almost everywhere Template:Ref. Most of this popular music ultimately stems from African American music, especially the blues. African American folk music is a part of the Afro-American tradition, which extends across most of the Western Hemisphere, where elements of African, European and indigenous music mixed in varying amounts to form a wide array of diverse styles. Celtic music, especially Irish and Scottish, also played an integral role in shaping modern American music, through massive immigration of Irish and Scottish people, brining with them folk music. Long a land of immigrants, the United States has also seen documented folk music and recorded popular music produced in the ethnic styles of Ukrainian, Polish, Mexican, Cuban, Spanish and Jewish communities.

The modern United States is divided into fifty states and the inhabited non-state territories of Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, American Samoa, U.S. Virgin Islands, Northern Mariana Islands and Guam Template:Ref. Most cities, and even many smaller towns, have local music scenes, ranging from casual opportunities for amateur performers at bars and other establishments to large-scale orchestras, local indie record labels and community performing venues, all supporting a number of vibrant regional traditions in various styles. Though none doubt the importance of a handful of major cities, like New York, Nashville and Los Angeles, many smaller cities and regions have produced memorable and distinctive styles of music. The Cajun and Creole traditions in Louisianan music and the unique folk and popular styles of Hawaiian music are two notable exceptions, though other styles of distinct regional music range from the colonial First New England School to modern scenes like Memphis rap and the Omaha sound.

American art
Architecture - Comics - Cuisine - Dance - Folklore - Literature - Movies - Painting - Poetry - Sculpture - Television - Theater - Visual arts
Music of the United States
History (Timeline) Ethnicities
to 1900 African American
1900-1940 Native American: Inuit and Hawaiian
40s and 50s Latin: Tejano and Puerto Rican
60s and 70s Cajun and Creole
80s to the present Other immigrants: Irish and Scottish
Genres (Samples): Classical - Hip hop - Rock - Pop - Folk
Awards Grammy Awards, Country Music Awards
Charts Billboard Music Chart
Festivals New Orleans Jazz Festival, Lollapalooza, Lilith Fair, Ozzfest, Woodstock Festival, Monterey Jazz Festival
Media Spin, Rolling Stone, Vibe, Downbeat, Source, MTV, VH1
National anthem "The Star-Spangled Banner" and forty-nine state songs
Local music
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The music of the United States can be characterized by the use of syncopation and asymmetrical rhythms, long, irregular melodies, which are said to "reflect the wide open geography of (the American landscape)" and the "sense of personal freedom characteristic of American life", and elements of distinctively American jazz, blues and Native American music Template:Ref. The influence of African American music is important; the United States can be viewed as an Afro-American musical country, in that its music is a fusion of African, European and Native American styles. The African part of this fusion manifests in elements like the use of a call-and-response format, derived from African music but "not found too frequently in (African American folk music); but the original importance of this form... seems possibly to have led to the alternation of the various instruments for the 'choruses' in jazz", noted Bruno Nettl in 1965, predating the more widespread use of call-and-response form in popular funk and hip hop Template:Ref.

John Warthen Struble contrasted American music with other countries, especially European lands, concluding that the United States has not had centuries of cultural evolution, producing a distinctive field of American music. Instead, the music of the United States is that of dozens or hundreds of indigenous and immigrant groups, all of which developed largely in regional isolation until the American Civil War, when people from across the country were brought together in army units, trading musical styles and practices. Indeed, with a few limited exceptions, such as New England hymns, the ballads of the Civil War were "the first American folk music with discernible features that can be considered uniqe to America: the first 'American' sounding music, as distinct from any regional style derived from another country" Template:Ref.

The Civil War, and the period following it, saw a general flowering of American art, literature and music. Amateur musical ensembles of this era can be seen as the birth of American popular music. "(these early amateur bands) combined the depth and drama of the classics with undemanding technique, eschewing complexity in favor of direct expression. If it was vocal music, the words would be in English, despite the snobs who declared English an unsingable language. In a way, it was part of the entire awakening of America that happened after the Civil War, a time in which American painters, writers and 'serious' composers addressed specifically American themes" Template:Ref.

Folk music

Main article: American roots music

Folk music in the United States is varied across the country's numerous ethnic groups. The Native American tribes each play their own varieties of folk music, most of it spiritual in nature. African American music includes blues and gospel, descendents of West African music brought to the Americas by slaves and mixed with Western European music. During the colonial era, English, French and Spanish styles and instruments were brought to the Americas. By the early 20th century, the United States had become a major center for folk music from around the world, including polka, Ukrainian and Polish fiddling, Ashkenazi Jewish klezmer and several kinds of Latin music.

Native American music

Main article: Native American music

The Native Americans played the first folk music in what is now the United States, using a wide variety of styles and techniques. Some commonalities are near universal among Native American traditional music, however, including the lack of harmony and polyphony, the presence of choiral vocals, the use of vocables and the descending melodic figures. Traditional instruments include the flute and many kinds of percussion instruments like drums, rattles and shakers Template:Ref.

Since European and African contact was established, Native American folk music has grown in new directions. Waila, or chicken-scratch music, is a fusion of Mexican-Texan norteño and European dance music like the polka and mazurka. Modern Native American music may be best-known for powwow gatherings, pan-tribal gatherings at which traditionally-styled dances and music are performed; despite the traditional appearance of this music, powwows are a modern, syncretic invention, dating back to the early 20th century, though there are those who claim that the tradition goes back hundreds or thousands of years "in essence" Template:Ref. Template:Listen

Hawaiian music

Main article: Music of Hawaii

The earliest known music of Hawaii was the hula, which featured a chant (mele) accompanied by ipu (a gourd) and 'ili'ili (stones used as clappers). Listeners danced in a highly ritualized manner. The older, formal kind of hula is called kahiko, while the modern version is auana. There are also religious chants called mele, which may be addressed to families or gods or chiefs. When a mele chant is accompanied by dancing and drums, it is called mele hula pahu. Template:Ref.

African American music

Main article: African American music

A , a string instrument that is an important part of African American music and can be directly traced back to the West African
A banjo, a string instrument that is an important part of African American music and can be directly traced back to the West African kora

The ancestors of today's African American population were brought to the United States as slaves, working primarily in the cotton plantations of the South. They were from hundreds of tribes across West Africa, and they brought with them certain traits of West African music including call and response vocals and complexly rhythmic music Template:Ref, as well as syncopated beats and shifting accents Template:Ref. The African musical focus on rhythmic singing and dancing was brought to the New World, and where it became part of a distinct folk music culture that helped Africans "retain continuity with their past through music"; these polyrhythmic percussive practices using clapping, foot-stamping and other techniques (this was called patting juba), spread because drums were outlawed by slaveowners who feared they would be used in slave rebellions Template:Ref.

The first slaves in the United States sang work songs, field hollers Template:Ref and, following Christianization, hymns. In the 19th century, a Great Awakening of religious fervor gripped both blacks and whites across much of the country, especially in the South. Protestant hymns written mostly by New England preachers became a feature of camp meetings held among devout Christians across the south. When blacks began singing sometimes adapted versions of these hymns, they were called Negro spirituals. It was from these roots, of spiritual songs, work songs and field hollers, that blues and gospel developed.



Main article: Spirituals

Originally monophonic and a cappella, spirituals are antecedents of the blues. Spirituals were often improvised and used call-and-response vocals, in which a leader and a chorus alternated lines and refrain responses Template:Ref. David Ewen characterizes spirituals using "mobile changes from major to minor without the benefit of formal modulations; by the freedom of its rhythm and intonation; by its plangent moods; by the injection of notes, like the flatted third or seventh, foreign to the formal scale; by the variation of the rhythmic patterns" Template:Ref.

Spirituals were primarily expressions of religious faith, sung by slaves on southern plantations. Secular songs that also fall within the genre sometimes contained hidden messages of a slaveowner’s unexpected return, or of rebellion or escape. "Follow the Drinking Gourd," for example, contained a coded map to the Underground Railroad, instructing escapees to follow the Big Dipper (the "drinking gourd.") "Wade in the Water" was another such song that combined religious imagery and codified instructions for potential runaways Template:Ref.

The first printed spiritual was "Roll, Jordan Roll", published in Philadelphia in 1862. It was followed by a few other publications, and the first spiritual collection, Slave Songs of the United States (1867) Template:Ref. Spirituals had already spread out of the US South, however, with the travel of both blacks and whites, especially abolitionists. In 1871, Fisk University became home to the Jubilee Singers, a pioneering group that popularized spirituals across the country. In imitation of this group, gospel quartets arose, followed by increasing diversification with the early 20th century rise of jackleg and singing preachers, from whence came the popular style of gospel music.



Main article: Blues

Blues is a combination of African work songs, field hollers and shouts, chants and hymns and spirituals. It developed in the rural south in the first decade of the 20th century. The most important characteristics of the blues is its use of the blue scale, with a flatted or indeterminate third, as well as the typically lamenting lyrics; though both of these elements had existed in African American folk music prior to the 20th century, the codified form of modern blues (such as with the AAB structure) did not exist until the early 20th century Template:Ref. Donald Clarke has claimed that, in the blues, the "verses and musical accompaniment are like two voices: the accompaniment is a commentary on the story being told, and the result is a polyrhythmic, almost poly-emotional music. The blues is... a passionate, intensely rhythmic way of keeping the spirit up, by commenting on problems of life and love with lyrics full of irony and earthy imagery" Template:Ref. Template:Listen

Anglo-American music

Main article: Anglo-American music

The Thirteen Colonies of the original United States were all former English possessions, and Anglo culture became a major foundation for American folk and popular music.

Many American folk songs use the same music, but with new lyrics, often as parodies of the original material. American Anglo songs can also be distinguished from British songs by having fewer pentatonic tunes, less prominent accompaniment (but with heavier use of drones) and more melodies in major Template:Ref.

Anglo-American traditional music, dating back to colonial times, includes a variety of broadside ballads, humorous stories and tall tales, and disaster songs regarding mining, shipwrecks (especially in New England) and murder. Folk heroes like John Magarac, John Henry and Jesse James are also part of many songs. Folk dance of Anglo origin include the square dance, descended from the European high society quadrille, combined with the American innovation of a caller instructing the dancers. Template:Ref

Folklorist Alan Lomax described regional differences among rural Anglo musicians as included the relaxed and open-voiced northern vocal style and the pinched and nasal southern style, with the west exhibiting a mix of the two. He attributed these differences to sexual relations, the presence of minorities and frontier life Template:Ref.


Old-time music

Main article: Old-time music

Old-time music, a traditional style of American music, has roots in Irish, Scottish and African folk music. During the late 19th and early 20th century, minstrel, tin pan alley and other popular music also entered the genre. Practitioners play it with stringed instruments such as the fiddle, banjo, guitar, mandolin and bass.

Protestant Christian music was an important influence on old-time music, which was originally derisively labelled hillbilly music. The hillbillies who innovated old-time music were deeply religious, though not by and large devoted churchgoing people; they belonged to churches like the Holiness Pentecostal church, known for guitar and banjo-led happy clappy services, and the Old Regular Baptist church, which disapproved of instrumentation and allowed only a cappella and unharmonized singing Template:Ref.



Main article: Bluegrass music

Bluegrass developed in the 1930s, a fusion of old-time Appalachian folk music with blues, jazz and other styles. Bill Monroe is the most well-remembered pioneer of bluegrass' early days. At its root, bluegrass was originally acoustic country music played using a banjo, and drew on earlier country string band traditions; soon, Monroe began working with Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. It was Scrugg's "unusual three-finger banjo-picking style" that fueld the development of modern bluegrass Template:Ref.

Bluegrass relies on acoustic stringed instruments; the fiddle, banjo, acoustic guitar, mandolin, and upright bass are sometimes joined by the dobro (also known as a resophonic guitar or steel guitar), and a bass guitar, which is occasionally substituted for the upright bass. This instrumentation originated in rural black dance bands and was being abandonded by those groups (in favor of blues and jazz ensembles) when picked up by white musicians Template:Ref.

Besides instrumentation, the distinguishing characteristics of bluegrass include vocal harmonies featuring two, three, or four parts, often featuring a dissonant or modal sound in the highest voice (see modal frame); an emphasis on traditional songs, often with sentimental or religious themes; and improvised instrumental solos.

Other immigrant communities

Main article Music of immigrant communities in the United States

The United States is a melting pot consisting of numerous ethnic groups. Many of these peoples have kept alive the folk traditions of their homeland, often producing distinctively American styles of foreign music.

Some nationalities have produced local scenes in regions of the country where they have clustered, including Cape Verdean music in Rhode Island, Armenian music in Fresno, California, Norwegian music in Minnesota and Italian music in New York City. Some of these local scenes have produced performers with some mainstream appeal, such as Pawlo Humeniuk, a star of the Ukrainian fiddling scene Template:Ref.


Cajun and Creole

Main article: Cajun and Creole music

The Cajuns are a group of Francophones who arrived in Louisiana after leaving Acadia in Canada Template:Ref. The Creoles are African Americans who combine elements of Cajun culture with their own. The city of New Orleans, Louisiana, being a major port, has acted as a melting pot for people from all over the Caribbean basin. Thus, many Caribbean music styles have left their mark on Cajun and Creole music, which has evolved into a popular style called zydeco, best-exemplified by the 1950s pop star Clifton Chenier.

In southwestern Louisiana in the 1800s, the fiddle was the most popular Cajun instrument and the music still carried clear influences from the Poiteu region of France and the Scottish/Canadian influences of their earlier homeland. In the late 19th century German immigrants spreading outward from central and eastern Texas and New Orleans soon brought the accordion as well. African American farmhands at the time sang a rhythmic type of work song called juré, which mixed with Cajun folk music to form la la, a central component of Creole music. La la was primarily rural, played at parties also known as la las.

Tex-Mex and Tejano

Main article: Tex-Mex and Tejano

Mexico controlled much of what is now the western United States until the Mexican War, including the entire state of Texas. After Texas joined the United States, the Mexicans living in the state (Tejanos) began culturally developing somewhat separately from their neighbors to the south, and also remained culturally distinct from other Texans.

Central to the evolution of early Tejano music was the blend of traditional Mexican forms such as the corrido, and Continental European styles introduced by German and Czech settlers in the late 19th century Template:Ref. In particular, the accordion was adopted by Tejano folk musicians at the turn of the 20th century, and it became a popular instrument for amateur musicians in Texas and Northern Mexico. Small bands known as orquestas, featuring amateur musicians, became a staple at community dances.



Main article: Klezmer

Klezmer is a style of Jewish music that came to the United States through Ashkenazi Jews immigrating from Eastern Europe. The United States soon became a major center for klezmer development. Klezmer remains rooted in the music of Eastern Europe, especially the Yiddish-speaking peoples of Romania, Ukraine, Poland and Russia.

The klezmorim were travelling musicians who played for weddings and other events in Eastern Europe. Their ensembles (kapelyes) were often based around families, and were usually based on string instruments, led by a violin. In the 19th century, the clarinet replaced the violin as the lead instrument, creating an important element of modern klezmer.

By the middle of the 1920s, more than three million Eastern European Jews arrived in New York City through Ellis Island. These included such legends as Dave Tarras. In 1917, Abe Schwartz signed to Columbia Records and Harry Kandel signed to Victor Records; this was the beginning of modern popular klezmer Template:Ref.


Main article: Polka


Classical music

Main article: American classical music

The European classical music tradition was brought to the United States with some of the first colonists. European classical music is rooted in the traditions of European art, ecclesiastical and concert music. The central norms of this tradition developed between 1550 and 1825, centering on what is known as the common practice period. At the time the first Europeans arrived in North America, the prevailing view was that the only serious music worth considering was the European classical tradition; styles of folk music were denigrated as repulsive and proper only for the lower classes.

John Warthen Struble notes that early American music historians felt that the United States was "in effect, another European nation partaking of the same cultural values, traditions and artistic objectives" as European nations, ignoring the "vital traditions of rural folk music and the important musical subculture of African Americans". Indeed, American classical composers, until the 19th century, attempted to work within European models; Struble contends that these attempts were a "blind alley, a necessary period of experimentation, the result of which was to demonstrate that American classical music would never find itself by imitating European models" (emphasis in original). Antonin Dvorak, a prominent Czech composer, iterated this idea, that American classical music needed its own models instead of imitating European composers, when he visited the United States from 1892 to 1895 -- Struble also points out that Dvorak's visit predates "one of the first pieces of characteristically American-sounding classical music, music that could not have been written by any European composer (namely) Edward MacDowell's Woodland Sketches" Template:Ref. By the beginning of 20th century, many American composers were incorporated national elements into their works; soon after, old-time music, jazz, blues and Native American music were used in classical compositions.

Colonial music

During the colonial era, there were two distinct fields of what are now considered classical music. The First New England School was inarguably the more influential in the long-term, and was based around simple hymns that were performed with increasingly sophistication over time. The other colonial classical tradition was that of the mid-Atlantic cities like Philadelphia and Baltimore, which produced a number of prominent composers who worked almost entirely within the European model, and are little appreciated today; these composers were mostly English in origin, and worked specifically in the style of prominent English composers of the day, like Samuel Arnold and George Frideric Handel Template:Ref.

First New England School

Main article: First New England School

European classical music was brought to the United States during the colonial era. Many American composers of this period worked exclusively with European models, while others, such as William Billings, Supply Belcher, Daniel Read, Oliver Holden, and Justin Morgan, also known as the First New England School, developed a native style almost entirely independently of European models Template:Ref. Of these, Billings is by far the most well-remembered of these composers; he formed the basis of the first major musical organization in the country, the Stoughton Musical Society, and was also influential "as the founder of the American church choir, as the first musician to use a pitch-pipe, and as the first to introduce a violoncello into church service" Template:Ref.

Many of these composers were amateurs, and many were singers: they developed new forms of sacred music, such as the fuging tune, suitable for performance by amateurs, and often using harmonic methods which would have been considered bizarre by contemporary European standards Template:Ref. Many writers have criticized the First New England School for what they consider a "faulty technique", but Struble points out that this criticism is "valid (only) if one assumes that the choral models developed between the 12th and 18th enturies in France, Germany, England, Italy and the Netherlands are the only appropriate ones" and that the supposedly faulty techniques, including the "presence of parallel fifths, octaves and unisons, the crossing of voices and false relations between them are (also found in European classical fields like the) Notre Dame school of Perotin or other examples of early polyphony, where such phenomena are accepted as legitimate elements of the style" Template:Ref. Jean Ferris, another music historian, called these composers "Yankee pioneers (who were) untouched by the influence of their sophisticated European contemporaries" and who were not entirely aware of the development of "tonality (as) the major harmonic system" of European classical music. Ferris also notes that the First New England School based "their melodies upon modal or pentatonic scales" instead of using the European model, and that the "European rules harmony, that governed relationships between 'tense' and 'relaxed' (or dissonant and consonant) sounds were quite unfamiliar to the American pioneers Template:Ref.

19th century

Second New England School

Main article: Second New England School

During the mid to late 19th century, a vigorous tradition of home-grown classical music developed, especially in New England. The composers of the Second New England School included such figures as George Whitefield Chadwick, Amy Beach, Edward MacDowell, and Horatio Parker Template:Ref.

20th century

Missing image
George Gershwin

In the early 20th century, George Gershwin was greatly influenced by African American music; however, this was during an era of legally enforced "Jim Crow" segregation during which his music perhaps enjoyed undue fame owing to the refusal of white listeners to listen to music that formed Gershwin's sources. On the other hand, he created a convincing synthesis of music from several traditions once considered to be irreconcilable, and which continues to enjoy enormous popularity.

Many of the major classical composers of the 20th century were influenced by folk traditions, none more quintessentially, perhaps, than Aaron Copland. Other composers adopted features of folk music, from the Appalachians, the plains and elsewhere, including Roy Harris, William Schuman, David Diamond, and others. Yet other early to mid-20th century composers continued in the more experimental traditions, including such figures as Charles Ives, George Antheil, and Henry Cowell.

Popular music

Main article: American popular music

The United States has produced many of the most popular musicians and composers in the modern world. Beginning with the birth of recorded music, American performers have continued to lead the field of popular music, which, out of "all the contributions made by Americans to world culture... has been taken to heart by the entire world" Template:Ref. The country has seen the rise of many popular styles, including ragtime, the blues, jazz, rock, R&B, doo wop, gospel, soul, funk, heavy metal, punk rock, disco, salsa, grunge and hip hop.

American popular music, being well-known across the world, has had many milestones. Most histories of popular music start with American ragtime or Tin Pan Alley; David Clarke, however, in The Rise and Fall of Popular Music, traces popular music back to the European Renaissance and through broadsheet ballads and other popular traditions Template:Ref. Other authors typically look at popular sheet music, tracing American popular music to spirituals, minstrel shows and vaudeville, or the patriotic songs of the American Civil War.

Of especial importance are a handful of performers who did more than anyone to create American popular music. Louis Armstrong's "virtuosity (which) inspired awe among his followers" helped make him a "giant figure" in the world of jazz, and a major foundation for later popular styles Template:Ref. Later, following the white teen swing phase, a number of vocalists like Ella Fitzgerald and the Ink Spots became very popular, especially among the youth. A number of Italian-American crooners also found a major youth audience, including Dean Martin, Tony Bennett, Perry Como, Frankie Laine and, most famously, the "first pop vocalist to engender hysteria among his fans" Template:Ref. Elvis Presley and Bill Haley, responsible for popularizing rock and roll, also deserve special note for changing the whole of popular music, both within and without the United States.

The era of the modern teen pop star, however, began in the 1960s. Bubblegum pop groups like The Monkees were chosen entirely for their appearance and ability to sell records, with no regard to musical ability. Pop groups like these remained popular into the 1970s, producing such acts as the Partridge Family and The Osmonds. By the 1990s, there were numerous varieties of teen pop, including boy bands like NSYNC and the Backstreet Boys, while female diva vocalists like Christinia Aguilera and Britney Spears also dominated the charts.

Early popular song

The first popular form of distinctively American music was the First New England School of classical choral singing, but it was the lay songs of the American Revolution that first arose as a mainstream kind of popular music, some few years after those New England composers. These songs were the first patriotic songs devoted to the fledgling nation, and included songs like "The Liberty Tree", written by Thomas Paine, and "The Liberty Song". Cheaply-printed as broadsheets, these songs were spread across the colonies and were performed at home and at public meetings Template:Ref.

Fife songs were especially celebrated, and performed commonly on fields of battle during the American Revolution. The longest-lasting of these fife songs is clearly "Yankee Doodle", which is still well-known today. The melody for "Yankee Doodle" dates back to 1755, and was sung by both American and British troops Template:Ref.

Patriotic songs were mostly based on English melodies, with new lyrics added to denounce British colonialism; others, however, used tunes from Ireland, Scotland or elsewhere. Some, however, did not utilize a familiar melody, such as "The American Hero", with words set to the melody of Andrew Law's "Bunker Hill". The song "Hail Columbia" was a major work, written by Joseph Hopkinson, and was set to the tune of "The President's March", composed by Philip Phile and published in Philadelphia in 1793 Template:Ref; it remained an unofficial national anthem until the adoption of "The Star-Spangled Banner".

Many songs from the early 19th century were sentimental ballads, like "Woodman Spare That Tree" and "Home, Sweet Home", the latter of which became an internationally famous song Template:Ref.

Civil War ballads

During the Civil War, when soldiers from across the country commingled, the multifarious strands of American music began to crossfertilize each other, a process that was aided by the burgeoning railroad industry and other technological developments that made travel and communication easier. Army units include individuals from across the country, and they rapidly traded tunes, instruments and techniques. The songs that arose from this fusion were "the first American folk music with discernible features that can be considered uniqe to America" Template:Ref. The war was an impetus for the creation of many songs that became and remained wildly popular; the songs were aroused by "all the varied passions (that the Civil War inspired)" and "echoed and re-echoed" every aspect of the war. John Tasker Howard has claimed that the songs from this era "could be arranged in proper sequence to form an actual history of the conflicts; its events, its principal characters, and the ideals and principles of the opposing sides" Template:Ref.

The most popular songs included "Dixie", written by Daniel Decatur Emmett, who went on to become one of the most famous American composers of the 19th century. The song, originally titled "Dixie's Land", was made for a minstrel show, and specifically for the closing; it spread to New Orleans, first, where it was published and became "one of the great song successes of the pre-Civil War period" Template:Ref. Other popular songs from this era include "The Battle Hymn of the Republic", "Tenting on the Old Camp Ground" and "When Johnny Comes Marching Home", which is now more closely associated with the Spanish-American War. "Tenting on the Old Camp Ground" was one of many songs popularized by a concert group called the Hutchinson Family, and was written by George F. Root; Root was, along with Henry Clay Work, the "most prolific composers in writing Civil War songs" Template:Ref.

In addition to, and in conjunction with, popular songs with patriotic fervor, the Civil War era also produced a great body of brass band pieces, from both the North and the South Template:Ref, as well as other military musical traditions like the bugle call "Taps".


Main article: Minstrel show

Stephen Foster
Stephen Foster

The minstrel show was an indigenous form of American entertainment consisting of comic skits, variety acts, dancing, and music, usually performed by white people in blackface. The practice dates back to about 1843, when the full-fledged minstrel show was invented by the Dan Emmett and the Virginia Minstrels. Minstrel shows used African American elements in musical performances, but only in simplified ways; storylines in the shows depicted blacks as natural-born slaves and fools, before eventually becoming associated with abolitionism.

Minstrel shows produced the first well-remembered songwriters in American music history: Thomas Rice, Dan Emmett and, most famously, Stephen Foster.

Late 19th century music

Main articles: Military march and the cakewalk

The composer John Philips Sousa is closely associated with the most popular trend in American popular music just before the turn of the century. Formerly the bandmaster of the United States Marine Corps Band, Sousa wrote military marches like "The Stars and Stripes Forever" which reflected his "nostalgia for (his) home and country", giving the melody a "stirring virile character". His complete body of work, which includes "King Cotton", "Semper Fideles" and "Hands Across the Sea", are "an impressive library of marches without equal in American music", as well as ten serious and comic operas Template:Ref.


Main article: Ragtime

Tin Pan Alley

Main article: Tin Pan Alley

Musical theater

Main article: Theater of the United States


Main article: Blues

Robert Johnson
Robert Johnson

Blues had been around a long time before it became a part of the first explosion of recorded popular music in American history. This came in the 1920s, when classic female blues singers like Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Victoria Spivey and Mamie Smith grew very popular; the first hit of this field was Mamie Smith's "Crazy Blues". At the same time, record companies like Paramount Records and OKeh Records launched the field of race music, which was mostly blues targeted at African American audiences. The most famous of these acts went on to inspire much of the later popular development of the blues and blues-derived genres, including Charley Patton, Blind Lemmon Jefferson, Son House, Mississippi John Hurt, Lonnie Johnson, Blind Blake and the legendary Robert Johnson.

Country music

Main article: Country music

Country music is primarily a fusion of African American blues and spirituals with Appalachian folk music, adapted for pop audiences and popularized beginning in the 1920s. Rebee Garofalo cited country music historian Bill C. Malone as tracing the origins of country to rural Southern folk music, which "was a blending of cultural strains, British at its core, but overlain and intermingled with the (music of the) Germans of the Great Valley of Virginia, the Indians of the backcountry; Spanish, French and mixed-breed elements in the Mississippi Valley; the Mexicans of South Texas, and, of course, blacks everywhere" Template:Ref; Garofalo then goes on to add later influences on commercial country as including "German and Swiss yodelers, Italian mandolin players, and Hawaiian string bands" Template:Ref. June Skinner Sawyers stresses the importance of the "balladry and tunes brought to the United States by Anglo-Celtic immigrants" and notes the influence of Irish dance music on Appalachian folk music, concluding that early hillbilly music was "primarily... Americanized interpretations of English, Irish, Scots, and Scots-Irish traditional music, shaped by African-American rhythms, and containing vestiges of nineteenth-century popular song, especially those of the minstrel tradition" Template:Ref. Sawyers also notes the prevalence of a kind of high-pitched, nasal singing style, the result of fusing arrangements and material from both rural whites and blacks; this bears more than casual similarities to the similarly often unaccompanied and highly-ornamented melodies of traditional Irish sean-nós singing Template:Ref.

The instrumentation of the earliest country revolved around the European-derived fiddle and the African-derived banjo, with the guitar being later added Template:Ref. Though the fiddle was imported from Europe, country music fiddling styles used African elements like a call-and-response format, improvised music and syncopated rhythms. According to Reebee Garofalo, the guitar entered country bands' repertoire through the interest of many white musicians in the fingerpicking style of African American playing, which was in turned based on West African techniques; Rolling Stone's Rock of Ages, however, attributes the guitar's rise entirely to its cheap availability, a factor that Garofalo considers as well, which facilitated the spread among the peoples of Appalachia, who adapted "their traditional melodies to fit the intonation of the readily available guitar, with its fixed frets" Template:Ref. Later still, specialized string instruments like the ukulele and steel guitar became commonplace due to the popularity of Hawaiian musical groups in the early 20th century Template:Ref.

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The Carter Family, "Can the Circle Be Unbroken" album cover

The roots of country music are generally traced to August 1, 1927, when music talent scout Ralph Peer recorded Jimmie Rodgers and The Carter Family, both very different performers in style, though both are also considered the foundation of country. There had been popular music prior to 1927 that could be considered country, but, as Ace Collins points out, these recordings had "only marginal and very inconsistent" effects on the national music markets. In addition, "those like Vernon Dalhart who had made their name recording 'country music songs' were not from the hills and hollows or plains and valleys. These recording stars sang both rural music and city music, and most knew more about Broadway than they did about hillbillies. Their rural image was often manufactured for the moment and the dollar". In contrast, Collins later explains, both the Carter Family and Rodgers had rural folk credibility that helped make Peer's recording session such an influential success; "it was the Carter Family that was Ralk Peer's tie to the hills and hollows, to lost loves and found faith, but it took Jimmie Rodgers to connect the publisher with some of country music's other beloved symbols -- trains and saloons, jail and the blues" Template:Ref.

Country music: 1940s

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Hank Williams

During World War 2, the materials used to produce records were scarce, and the record companies responding by cutting production to focus entirely on mainstream music, and thus country remained little recorded and even less promoted. After the war, however, there was increased interest in specialty styles, including what had been known as race and hillbilly music; these styles were renamed to rhythm and blues and country and western, respectively Template:Ref. Major labels had had some success promoting two kinds of country acts: Southern novelty acts like Tex Williams and performers like Frankie Laine, who mixed pop and country in the "melodramatic or sentimental modes of conventional popular" music Template:Ref. This period also saw the rise of two new major labels, Mercury Records, home of Frankie Laine, and MGM, which signed Hank Williams, a pioneering white country singer who had learned the blues from a black street musician named Tee-Tot, in northwest Alabama Template:Ref.

Hank Williams recorded for MGM between until 1953, when he died; by that time, he had produced eleven singles that sold at least a million copies each. He remains renowned as one of country music's greatest songwriters, and a "folk poet", known for his "honest, straightforward lyrics, and catchy, well-crafted tunes" as well as a "honky-tonk swagger, working-class sympathies, use of (the) 'backbeat', (making) him one link in the music chain that joins Jimmie Rodgers, Texas hillbillies like Bob Wills and Ernest Tubb, and Elvis Presley" Template:Ref.


Nashville sound

Main article: Nashville sound

The Nashville sound was a popular kind of country music that arose in the 1950s, a fusion of popular big band jazz and swing with the lyricism of honky tonk country Template:Ref. Throughout the decade, the roughness of honky tonk was gradually eroded as the Nashville sound grew more pop-oriented, eventually becoming known as countrypolitan.

The popular success of Hank Williams' recordings (and those of the performers that covered his songs) had convinced record labels that country music could find mainstream audiences. Record companies then tried to strip the rough, honky-tonk elements from country music; "just a few years after his death... (a musician) as unapologetically rural as Hank Williams would have been shown the door... Nashville's response to (the rise of Elvis Presley's rockabilly fusion of country and R&B) was to nurture artists who could cross between country and pop, leading to the birth of the Nashville sound" Template:Ref.

It was Chet Atkins, head of RCA's country music division, that did the most to innovate the Nashville sound. He "relied on country song structures but abandoned all of the hillbilly and honky tonk instrumentation... Similarly, Owen Bradley created productions ... that featured sophisticated productions and smooth, textured instrumentation. Eventually, most records from Nashville featured this style of production and the Nashville sound began to incorporate strings and vocal choirs" Template:Ref. By the early part of the 1960s, however, the Nashville sound had become perceived as too watered-down by many more traditionalist performers and fans, resulting in a number of local scenes like the Lubbock sound and, most influentially, the Bakersfield sound.

Country music: 1960s and 70s

Main articles: Bakersfield sound, Lubbock sound and outlaw country

Country music: 1980s and 90s

Main articles: Alternative country and Urban Cowboy



Main article: Jazz

Jazz is a kind of music characterized by blue notes, syncopation, swing, call and response, polyrhythms, and improvisation. Though originally a kind of dance music, jazz has now been "long considered a kind of popular or vernacular music (and has also) become a sophisticated art form that has interacted in significant ways with the music of the concert hall" Template:Ref.

Jazz's development occurred at around the same time as modern ragtime, blues, gospel and country music, all of which can be seen as part of a continuum with no clear demarcation between them; jazz specifically was most closely related to ragtime, with which it could be distinguished by the use of more intricate rhythmic improvisation, often placing notes far from the implied beat, while ragtime musicians would "rag" a tune by giving a syncopated rhythm and playing a note twice (at half the time value). The earliest jazz bands adopted much of the vocabulary of the blues, including bent and blue notes and instrumental "growls" and smears otherwise not used on European instruments.

Jazz has roots in West African cultural and musical expression, and in African American music traditions including blues and ragtime, as well as European military band music; Jean Ferris notes the influences from the "steady beat and stirring tempo of European march and dance tunes (to the) subtle and complex syncopations of black African and Caribbean (styles)" Template:Ref. After originating in African American communities near the beginning of the 20th century, jazz gained international popularity by the 1920s.

Jazz's roots come from the city of New Orleans, Louisiana, population by Cajuns and black Creoles, who combined the French-Canadian culture of the Cajuns with their own styles of music in the 19th century. Black musicians took advantage of the cheap instruments available due to generally decreasing prices on such products as well as the end of the American Civil War and the subsequent availability of surplus instruments from military bands Template:Ref; with these instruments, they formed bands that played for funerals, parades and other celebrations. The key figures in the development of the new style were flamboyant trumpeter Buddy Bolden and the members of his band. Bolden is remembered as the first to take the blues — hitherto a folk music sung and self-accompanied on string instruments or blues harp (harmonica) — and arrange it for brass instruments. From New Orleans, jazz travelled first to Chicago, and then around the country.

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Louis Armstrong

Though jazz had long since achieved some limited popularity, it was Louis Armstrong, who became one of the first popular stars and major forces in the development of jazz. Armstrong was an extraordinary improviser, capable of creating endless variations on a single melody; he also popularized scat singing, an improvisational vocal technique in which nonsensical syllables or words are sung or otherwise vocalized, often as part of a call-and-response interaction with other musicians onstage. Both scat singing and musical variation remain an important part of jazz, with the improvised repetition of musical phrases possibly the most important, defining characteristic of the genre.


Main article: Swing

Swing is characterized by a strong rhythm section, usually consisting of double bass and drums, medium to fast tempo, and the distinctive swing common to all forms of jazz. Swing is primarily a kind of 1930s jazz fused with elements of the blues and the pop sensibility of Tin Pan Alley Template:Ref. Swing used bigger bands than other kinds of jazz had, which led to the use of bandleaders that tightly arranged the material, discouraging improvisation, which had previously been an integral part of jazz.

A typical swing song featured a strong, anchoring rhythm section in support of more loosely tied wind, brass, string, and vocal sections. The level of improvisation varied depending on the arrangement, the band, the song, and the band-leader. The most common style consisted of having one soloist at a time taking center stage, and take up an improvised routine, with bandmates playing support. As a song progressed, multiple soloists might play for periods of various lengths; it was far from uncommon to have two or three band members improvising at any one time.

Swing became a major part of African American dance, and came to be accompanied by a popular dance called the swing dance. Swing, both the music and the dance, became very popular across the United States, among both white and black audiences. David Clarke called swing the first "jazz-oriented style (to be) at the centre of popular music... as opposed to merely giving it backbone" Template:Ref. By the end of the 1930s, vocalists became more and more prominent, eventually taking center stage, especially following the American Federation of Musicians strike, which made recording with a large band prohibitively expensive Template:Ref.



Main article: Bebop

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Charlie Parker

Bebop (or bop) is a form of jazz characterized by fast tempos, improvisation based on harmonic structure rather than melody and use of the flatted fifth, a technique long a part of the blues though not common elsewhere. Instead of using improvised solos over chord change, bebop compositions were based on existing chord progression from popular songs, requiring performers to "chart new harmonic paths and make them work" Template:Ref. Bebop composers and improvisers, particularly Charlie Parker, stylistically employed frequent use of upper chord tones, i.e., ninths, elevenths, and thirteenths, creating a more colorful and rich harmonic sound than past jazz styles. As the bebop language developed, these "altered chords" were used less for coloration than as fundamental building blocks of new harmonic "spaces." The soloist's implied switch from an original to a reconstructed space created a narrative of "liberation."

Bebop was developed in the early and mid-1940s, later evolving into styles like hard bop and free jazz. Thelonius Monk, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie are generally considered the primary innovators of the style, which arose in small jazz clubs in New York City Template:Ref. Hard bop is characterized by each altered chord implying a scale or mode. The capacity to improvise over a complex sequence of altered chords using only the implied scales requires a mental agility of a mathematical, problem-solving kind that is another hallmark of bebop.



Main article: Gospel

Christian spirituals and the rural blues music were the origin of what is now known as gospel. Beginning in about the 1920s, African American churches began to feature early gospel in the form of worshipers "testifyin'", or proclaiming one's religious devotion in an improvised, often musical or semi-musical manner. Modern gospel began with the work of composers, most importantly Thomas A. Dorsey, who "(composed) songs based on familiar spirituals and hrmns, fused to blues and jazz rhythms" Template:Ref.

From these early 20th century churches, gospel music spread across the country. It remained associated almost entirely with African American churches, and usually featured a choir along with one or more virtuoso soloists.

By the 1950s, it had become popular in mainstream America. Its top star was Mahalia Jackson, a singer whose fame rivalled any other African American to that date. She was perhaps the first black musician to make black music that all kinds of Americans listened to. She also became associated with the Civil Rights Movement, meeting with Martin Luther King Jr. and Ralph Abernathy in 1955, then participating in the Montgomery bus boycott Template:Ref.

Later in the 1950s and the early part of 60s, gospel was secularized in tone by performers like Sam Cooke. The result was called soul music. The secularization caused some protest among the gospel community, who viewed it as an appropriation of religion for personal profit and, in many minds, glorifying immoral behavior. Elements of gospel appropriated for rock included various "rhythms (and) vocal styles, from dance steps to stage-diving, were first conceived on the gospel circuit... Elvis Presley, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis -- among many other American singers -- (learned) at the feet of gospel's own legends" Template:Ref


Main article: R&B

R&B, an abbreviation for rhythm and blues, is a style of music that arose in the 1930s and 40s, which was, at the time, "huge rhythm units smashing away behind screaming blues singers", according to Amiri Baraka, who "had to shout to be heard above the clanging and strumming of the various electrified instruments and the churning rhythm sections Template:Ref. R&B was recorded during this period, but not extensively and was not widely promoted by record companies, who felt it "unsuitable for the mainstream because of its insistent rhythms and suggestive content" Template:Ref. Without label support, independent record labels like Modern Records, Atlantic Records and Aladdin Records.

It was the bandleader Louis Jordan who did more than anyone to innovate the sound of early rhythm and blues. His band featured a small horn section and prominent rhythm instrumentation and used songs with bluesy lyrical themes. By the end of the 1940s, he had produced nineteen major hits, and helped pave the way for contemporaries like Wynonie Harris, John Lee Hooker and Roy Milton.

Many of the most popular R&B songs were not, however, performed in the rollicking style of Jordan and his contemporaries. They were instead performed by white musicians, in a more palatable, mainstream style, and turned into pop hits Template:Ref. By the end of the 1950s, however, there was a wave of popular black blues-rock and country-influenced R&B performers gaining unprecedented fame among white listeners; these included Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry Template:Ref. Over time, producers in the R&B field turned to gradually more rock-based acts like Little Richard and Fats Domino.

Rock and roll

Main article: Rock and roll

Rock and roll is a kind of popular music, developed primarily out of country, blues and R&B. Easily the single most popular style of music, rock's exact origins and early development have been hotly debated. Rock historian Reebee Garofalo cites Robert Palmer as noting that the style's influences are quite diverse, and include the Afro-Caribbean "Bo Diddley beat", elements of "big band swing" and Latin music like the Cuban son and "Mexican rhythms" Template:Ref; she also discusses George Lipsitz, who claims that America's urban areas formed a "polyglot, working-class culture (where the) social meanings previously conveyed in isolation by blues, country, polka, zydeco and Latin musics found new expression as they blended in an urban environment" Template:Ref.


Main article: Rockabilly

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Elvis Presley

Rock and roll first entered popular music through a style called rockabilly, which fused the nascent rock sound with elements of country music. Black-performed rock and roll had previously had limited mainstream success, and some observers at the time were aware that a white performer who could credibly sing in an R&B and country style would be a success. Sam Phillips, of Memphis, Tennessee's Sun Records, was the one who found such a performer, in Elvis Presley, who became one of the best-selling musicians in history, and brought rock and roll to audiences across the world Template:Ref.

Presley's success was preceded by Bill Haley, a white performer whose "Rock Around the Clock" is sometimes pointed to as the start of the rock era. However, Haley's music was "more arranged" and "more calculated" than the "looser rhythms" of rockabilly, which also, unlike Haley, did not use saxophones or chorus singing Template:Ref.


Doo wop

Main article: Doo wop

Doo wop is a kind of vocal harmony music performed by groups who became wildly popular in the 1950s. The earliest hits during this decade were songs like "Earth Angel" by The Penguins and "Crying in the Chapel" by The Orioles, though there are examples in a similar style dating back to the late 1930s, including The Ink Spots and the Mills Brothers Template:Ref. Though usually considered a kind of rock, doo wop is more precisely a fusion of vocal gospel and jazz with the blues and pop music Template:Ref, and it became "the first form of rock & roll to take shape, to define itself as something people recognized as new, different, strange, theirs" (emphasis in original) Template:Ref.

As doo wop grew more popular, more innovations were added, including the use of a bass lead vocalist, a practice which began with Jimmy Ricks of The Ravens Template:Ref. Doo wop performers were originally almost all black, but a few white or integrated groups soon became popular. These included a number of Italian-American groups like Dion & the Belmonts and Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons, while others added female vocalists and even formed all-female groups in the nearly-universally male field; these included The Queens and The Chantels Template:Ref.


Rock music: 1960s

Main articles: Surf, psychedelia and folk-rock

The 1960s saw a tremendous change in rock music, as well as in popular music in general, both in the United States and in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in the world Template:Ref. Perhaps the most important change was the shift from professionally-composed songs to the era of the "singer-songwriter", as well as an understanding of the opular musician as an artist. These changes led to the rise of musical movements that were connected to politically activist goals, such as Civil Rights and the opposition to the Vietnam War. At the same time, rock music began diversifying greatly, spreading across the globe and mutating into numerous subgenres in the United States.

The first of the major new rock genres of the 1960s was surf, pioneered by Californian Dick Dale. Surf was largely instrumental and guitar-based rockwith a distorted and twanging sound, and was associated with the Southern California surfing-based youth culture. Dale had worked with Leo Fender, developing the "Showman amplifier and... the reverberation unit that would give surf music its distinctively fuzzy sound" Template:Ref.

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The Beach Boys

Inspired by the lyrical focus of surf, if not the musical basis, The Beach Boys began their career in 1961, soon launching a string of hits like "Surfin' USA". Their sound was not instrumental, nor guitar-based, but was full of "rich, dense and unquestionably special" "floating vocals (with) Four Freshman-ish harmonies riding over a droned, propulsive burden" Template:Ref. The Beach Boys' songwriter Brian Wilson grew gradually more eccentric, experimenting with new studio techniques as he became associated with the burgeoning counterculture.

The counterculture was a youth movement that included political activism, especially in opposition to the Vietnam War, and the promotion of various hippie ideals. The hippies were associated primarily with two kinds of music: the folk-rock and country rock of people like Bob Dylan and Gram Parsons, and the psychedelic rock of bands like Jefferson Airplane and The Doors. This movement was very closely connected to the British Invasion, a wave of bands from the United Kingdom who became very popular throughout much of the 1960s. The first wave of the British Invasion included bands like The Zombies and the Moody Blues, followed by the legendary hard-driving rock bands like the Rolling Stones, The Who and, most famously, The Beatles. The sound of these bands was "hard-driving rock and roll", with The Beatles' came coming from songs that were "essentially note-for-note reproductions of... African American rock 'n' roll classics" by Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Smokey Robinson, The Shirelles and the Isley Brothers Template:Ref.

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Woodie Guthrie

Folk-rock drew on the sporadic mainstream success of groups like the Kingston Trio and the Almanac Singers, while Woodie Guthrie and Pete Seeger helped to politically radicalize rural white folk music Template:Ref. The popular musician Bob Dylan rose to prominence in the middle of the 1960s, fusing folk with rock and making the nascent scene closely connected to the Civil Rights Movement. He was followed by a number of country-rock bands like The Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers, folk-oriented singer-songwriters like Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell, who remained politically activist even after Dylan had begun focusing more on music; by the end of the decade, there was little political or social awareness evident in the lyrics of pop-singer-songwriters like James Taylor and Carol King.


Jerry Garcia, Grateful dead frontman
Jerry Garcia, Grateful dead frontman

Psychedelic rock was a hard, driving kind of guitar-based rock, closely associated with the city of San Francisco, California, which also produced the pioneering blues-rock singer Janis Joplin, who was originally from Port Arthur, Texas Template:Ref. Though Jefferson Airplane was the only psychedelic San Francisco band to have a major national hit, with 1967's "Somebody to Love" and "White Rabbit", the Grateful Dead, a folk, country and bluegrass-flavored jam band, "embodied all the elements of the San Francisco scene and came... to represent the counterculture to the rest of the country" Template:Ref; the Grateful Dead also became known for introducing the counterculture, and the rest of the country, to the ideas of people like Timothy Leary, especially the use of hallucinogenic drugs like LSD for spiritual and philosophical purposes Template:Ref.


Alternative and indie rock

Main articles: Alternative rock and indie rock

Alternative rock is a diverse grouping of rock subgenres that developed from the early 1980s anti-corporate rock of the tail end of the punk rock boom. More specifically, it is made up mostly of genres that appeared in the 1980s and became popular or well known by the 1990s, such as indie rock, post-punk, gothic rock, and college rock. Most alternative bands were unified by their collective debt to punk, which laid the groundwork for underground and alternative music in the 1970s. Though the genre is considered to be rock, some of its genres were influenced by folk music, reggae and jazz music among other genres.

In the United States, many cities developed their own alternative rock scenes, like Minneapolis, Minnesota, Athens, Georgia, Washington, D.C. and, most influentially, Seattle, Washington. The most prominent American bands of this era include Fugazi, Hüsker Dü and Sonic Youth Template:Ref.



Main article: Grunge

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Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain

Grunge music is an independent-rooted music genre that was inspired by hardcore punk, thrash metal, and alternative rock. Grunge has a "dark, brooding guitar-based sludge" sound Template:Ref, drawing on elements of earlier bands like Sonic Youth and their use of "unconventional tunings to bend otherwise standard pop songs completely out of shape" Template:Ref. With the addition of a "melodic, Beatlesque element" to the sound of bands like Nirvana, grunge became wildly popular across the United States Template:Ref.

Grunge became commercially successful in the late 1980s and early 1990s, peaking in mainstream popularity between 1991 and 1994. Bands from cities in the U.S. Pacific Northwest such as Seattle, Washington, Olympia, Washington, and Portland, Oregon, were responsible for creating grunge music and later made it popular with mainstream audiences. The supposed Generation X, who had just reached adulthood as grunge's popularity peaked, were closely associated with grunge, the sound which helped "define the desperation of (that) generation" Template:Ref.



Main article: Soul


Soul music: 1960s

Main articles: Girl group, Motown and album-oriented soul

Soul music: 1970s

Main articles: Philly soul


Main article: Funk

Soul music: 1980s and 90s

Main articles: New Jack Swing and neo-soul

Latin music

Main article: Latin music in the United States


Main article: Tejano music

Latin music: 1950s

Main articles: Cha-cha-cha, mambo and boogaloo

Salsa music

Main article: Salsa music

Heavy metal

Main article: Heavy metal music

Heavy metal: 1980s and 90s

Main articles: Hair metal and thrash metal

Punk rock

Main article: Punk rock


Main article: Hardcore punk

Hardcore was the response of American youths to the worldwide punk rock explosion of the late 1970s. Hardcore stripped punk rock and New Wave of its sometimes elitist and artsy tendencies, resulting in short, fast, and intense songs that spoke to disaffected youth Template:Ref. Hardcore exploded in the American metropolises of Los Angeles, Washington, DC, New York and Boston and most American cities had their own local scenes by the end of the 1980s.


Main article: Disco music


Electronic music

Main article: House music and techno music

Hip hop

Main article: Hip hop music

Hip hop is a cultural movement, of which music is a part (as are graffiti art and breakdancing). The music is itself composed of two parts, rapping, the delivery of swift, highly rhythmic and lyrical vocals, and DJing, the production of instrumentation either through sampling, instrumentation, turntablism or beatboxing Template:Ref.

Hip hop arose in the early 1970s in Harlem, New York City. Jamaican immigrant DJ Kool Herc is widely regarded as the progenitor of hip hop; he brought with him the practice of toasting over the rhythms of popular songs (the root of modern dub music and ragga). In New York, DJs like Kool Herc played records of popular funk, disco and rock songs. Emcees originally arose to introduce the songs and keep the crowd excited and dancing; over time, the DJs began isolating the percussion break of songs (when the rhythm speeds and climaxes), thus producing a repeated beat that the emcees rapped over Template:Ref.

Rapping included greetings to friends and enemies, exhortations to dance and colorful, often humorous boasts. By the beginning of the 1980s, there had been popular hip hop songs like "Rappers Delight" by the Sugarhill Gang and the major celebrities of the scene, like LL Cool J and Kurtis Blow. Other performers experimented with politicized lyrics and social awareness, while others performed fusions with jazz, heavy metal, techno, funk and soul.

Hip hop began to diversify in the latter part of the 1980s. New styles appeared, like alternative hip hop and the closely related jazz rap fusion, pioneered by rappers like De La Soul and Guru. The crews Public Enemy and N.W.A. did the most during this era to bring hip hop to national attention; the former did so with incendiary and politically charged lyrics, while the latter became the first prominent example of gangsta rap.


Gangsta rap

Main article: Gangsta rap

Gangsta rap is a kind of hip hop, most importantly characterized by a lyrical focus on macho sexuality, physicality and a dangerous, criminal image. Craig Werner notes that black hip hop performers were pressured into projecting images that fit into "white stereotypes of black life as primal, sexual violent... (as) hip-hop gained popularity, musicians who'd actually lived something resembling the life they sang about... faced the temptation (of) catering to the fantasies of the young white men who made up the majority of gangsta rap's audience" Template:Ref.

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Dr. Dre

Though the origins of gangsta rap can be traced back to the mid-1980s raps of Philadelphia's Schoolly D and the West Coast's Ice-T, the style is usually said to have begun in the Los Angeles and Oakland area, where Too $hort, NWA and others found their fame. This West Coast rap scene spawned the early 1990s G-funk sound, which paired gangsta rap lyrics with a thick and hazy tone, often relying on samples from 1970s P-funk; the best-known proponents of this sound were the breakthrough rappers Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg.

Musical institutions

Main category: Category:American orchestras

Many American cities are home to a orchestra, with the most prominent including the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic, the oldest symphony in the country. There is also a National Symphony Orchestra.

There are a number of non-profit organizations in the United State that promote music in various aspects, such as ethnic folk music or music education. The Save the Music foundation, which promotes musical education and enrichment, is very well-known.

Music education

Main article: Music education in the United States

Music festivals and holidays


Main article: Christmas music



  1. Template:Note Provine, Rob with Okon Hwang and Andy Kershaw. "Our Life Is Precisely a Song" in the Rough Guide to World Music, Volume 2, pg. 167 Andy Kershaw, a BBC radio DJ, remarks that North Korea is the only country on earth where I have not, at some stage, heard country music.
  2. Template:Note Though the scope of the topic music of the United States necessarily includes the non-state territories, the music of these regions is generally quite distinct from the rest of the country, and has more in common with regional neighbors than the more distant mainland. This article, therefore, will focus on the fifty states and the music of Washington D.C., discussing the musics of Puerto Rico, Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, American Samoa and Virgin Islands only in as much as they have had on effect on the more general aspects of American music.
  3. Template:Note Ferris, pg. 11 American rhythms, metered or unmetered, are often more flexible than the rhythms of European music. Western composers have always varied rhythmic effects by placing accents between beats or on normally weak beats in the technique called syncopation. However, the bold and consistent syncopation of some American classical, as well as popular, music has a distinctive flavor. Much of the refreshing spontaneity we associate with some characteristically American pieces is in fact derived from their delightfully asymmetrical rhythms. (paragraph break) The long, irregular melodies of a number of American vocal and instrumental works are sometimes thought to reflect the wide-open spaces of our land. These flexible melodies also seem to suggest the informality and the sense of personal freedom characteristic of American life. Composers sometimes quote or imitate a familiar American melody for programmatic or nationalistic effect. For example, some American have used black spirituals, Indian melodies, cowboy songs or early American hymn tunes as musical references to particular American experiences. (emphasis in original)
  4. Template:Note Nettl, pg. 180
  5. Template:Note Struble, pg. xvii
  6. Template:Note Rolling Stone, pg. 18 At first, it was a body of music that combined the depth and drama of the classics with undemanding technique, eschewing complexity in favor of direct expression. If it was vocal music, the words would be in English, despite the snobs who declared English an unsingable language. In a way, it was part of the entire awakening of America that happened after the Civil War, a time in which American painters, writers and 'serious' composers addressed specifically American themes. (quotations around serious in original)
  7. Template:Note Ferris, pgs. 18-20 Ferris notes the use of three instruments in three families: percussion, wind and string, though gives no examples of the latter in use. She names five basic types of instruments: rattles, rasps, drums, whistles and flutes, elsewhere also noting the rare use of trombone and panpipes in isolated areas. She characterizes Native American music as essentially song, generally monophonic, utilizing vocables and descending melodic phrases and usually accompanied by one or more rattles or drums, providing a percussive effect. Ferris does not mention the use of choral vocals.
  8. Template:Note Means, Andrew. "Hey-Ya, Weya Ha-Ya-Ya!" in the Rough Guide to World Music, Volume 2, pg. 594 Some insist that in essence it goes back hundreds, maybe thousands of years; others that it was created as a tourist spectacle by traders and Indian agents around the turn of the century. The truth probably embraces part of each theory. In context, the turn of the century can only be the 20th century. Means' qualifier of in essence is important, because any Native American music that predates European contact is folk music, which evolves steadily over time; thus, any music played hundreds or thousands of years ago either had little to do with modern native folk music or else represents a profound and unique exception to the ordinary evolution of folk music. The atmosphere and purpose surrounding modern powwows may, of course, extend prior to European contact, but due to a lack of written records, this is purely speculative.
  9. Template:Note Cooper, Mike. "Steel and Slide Hula Baloos" in the Rough Guide to World Music, Volume 2, pg. 56 Cooper addresses and describes the terms mele and mele hula pahu.
  10. Template:Note Nettl, pg. 171
  11. Template:Note Ewen, pg. 53
  12. Template:Note Szatmary, pg. 2 Torn from their kin, enduring an often fatal journey from their homes in West Africa to the American South, and forced into a servile way of life, Africans retained continuity with their past through music. Szatmary attributes patting juba to an ex-slave writing in 1853.
  13. Template:Note Ferris, pg. 50
  14. Template:Note Ferris, pg. 99
  15. Template:Note Ewen, pg. 54
  16. Template:Note Broughton, Viv and James Attlee. "Devil Stole the Beat" in the Rough Guide to World Music, Volume 2, pg. 569-570 Broughton and Attlee addresses the uses and purposes of spiritual songs with coded messages, citing the examples "Steal Away to Jesus", "Let My People Go" and "Go Down Moses".
  17. Template:Note Ewen, pg. 58
  18. Template:Note Rolling Stone, pg. 20 Ward, Stokes and Tucker cite the lament in the lyrics, the so-called blues scale, with its flatted or indeterminate third and the codified form of the blues with an A A B structure. The explicit timeframe is sourced as scholars usually place the event in the first decade of this century.
  19. Template:Note Clarke, pg. 136
  20. Template:Note Nettl, pg. 201
  21. Template:Note Nettl, pgs. 201-202
  22. Template:Note Lomax, pg. 1, cited in Nettl, pg. 202
  23. Template:Note Barraclough, Nick and Kurt Wolff. "High an' Lonesome" in the Rough Guide to World Music, Volume 2, pg. 536 Barraclough and Wolff describe the religious beliefs of the hillbillies and musical practices of the Holiness Pentecostal and Old Regular Baptist churches, but that Protestant Christian music was an influence on old-time music is an inference. They also introduce the term happy clappy, distinguishing it with scare quotes.
  24. Template:Note Rolling Stone, pg. 51 Monroe was always a hard guy to get along with, and two of the best musicians who had ever played with him, a guitar-and-banjo duo named Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, exited his band to make a more modern, stremalined form of bluegrass music fueled by Scrugg's unusual three-finger banjo-picking style.
  25. Template:Note Merwe, pg. unavailable
  26. Template:Note Kochan, Alexis and Julian Kytasty. "The Bandura Played On" in the Rough Guide to World Music, Volume 1, pg. 308 Kochan and Kytasty describe Humeniuk as King of the Ukrainian Fiddlers, alongside an image of a record entitled Pawlo Humeniuk: King of the Ukrainian Fiddlers, New York 1925-1927: The Early Years, with the apparent logo indicating the label as Arhoolie Polalyric and the number as 7025.
  27. Template:Note Burr, Ramiro. "Accordion Enchilada" in the Rough Guide to World Music, Volume 2, pg. 604 Burr refers to conjunto historian Manuel Peña, but does not provide an explicit citation or quotation, though he is the implied source for the embryonic conjunto form originated in south Texas in the late nineteenth century when German, Czech and Polish immigrants introduced the accordion into the region (emphasis in original). Burr specifically cites as Mexican and European forms: corridos, rancheras, boleros, waltz, polka; a sidebar entitled Conjunto Rhythms cites as rhythmic influences: vals (French waltz), shottis (scottische), mazurka, huapango, cumbia, bolero, ranchera, corrido, the "most prominent" rhythm being the Bavarian oom-pah polka beat (parenthetical descriptors in original).
  28. Template:Note Broughton, Simon. "Rhythm and Jews" in the Rough Guide to World Music, Volume 2, pg. 583 Setting the timeframe as between 1880 and 1924, Broughton claims around three million -- a third of the then population, presumably referring to the Jews of Eastern Europe. Broughton mentions by name Tarras, Kandel and Schwartz, along with Naftule Brandwein, and cites modern klezmer musician and historian Henry Sapoznik in support for his general claim regarding the roots of modern klezmer.
  29. Template:Note Struble, pg. xiv - xv
  30. Template:Note Struble, pg. 2
  31. Template:Note Ewen, pg. 7
  32. Template:Note Struble, pg. 4-5
  33. Template:Note Struble, pg. 4
  34. Template:Note Ferris, pg. 66 The best songs of these "Yankee pioneers" were as rugged, naive, and honest as the sturdy tunesmiths who wrote them. Untouched by the influence of their sophisticated European contemporaries, they relied upon old, familiar techniques and their own honest taste. Colonial Americans, after all, had been out of touch with European music since the early seventeenth century, the very time that tonality was becoming the harmonic system of the Western World. Although aware of the major and minor scales, the singing school masters did not know all the rules of the tonal system. Nor did they feel obliged to conform to those they understood, frequently basing their melodies upon modal or pentatonic scales. The European rules of harmony that governed relationships between "tense" and "relaxed" (or dissonant and consonant) sounds were also quite unfamiliar to American pioneers, whose harmonies were often conceived according to personal taste rather than formal precedent.
  35. Template:Note Crawford, pg. unavailable
  36. Template:Note Chase, pg. unavailable
  37. Template:Note Ewen, pg. 3
  38. Template:Note Clarke, pgs. 1-19
  39. Template:Note Ewen, pg. 153-154
  40. Template:Note Garofalo, pg. 72
  41. Template:Note Ewen, pg. 9
  42. Template:Note Ewen, pg. 11
  43. Template:Note Ewen, pg. 17
  44. Template:Note Struble, pg. xvii
  45. Template:Note Howard, John Tasker, cited in Ewen, pg. 19 (no specific source given)
  46. Template:Note Ewen, pg. 21
  47. Template:Note Ewen, pg. 25
  48. Template:Note Library of Congress ( Band Music from the Civil War Era
  49. Template:Note Ewen, pg. 29
  50. Template:Note Ewen, pg. 15
  51. Template:Note Malone, pg. 4, cited in Garofalo, pg. 45
  52. Template:Note Garofalo, pg. 45
  53. Template:Note Sawyers, pg. 191
  54. Template:Note Sawyers, pg. 198
  55. Template:Note Barraclough, Nick and Kurt Wolff. "High an' Lonesome" in the Rough Guide to World Music, Volume 2, pg. 537 Barraclough and Wolff do not purport to explain the European and African roots of the guitar and banjo, only the change from the ubiquitous fiddle-and-banjo to include the guitar.
  56. Template:Note Rolling Stone, pgs. 19-20 Ward, Tucker and Stokes do not cite any explanation for the spread of the guitar aside from the price, which cost between $2.70 and $10.80 through the Sears, Roebuck & Co 1900 catalogue; they also give low prices for pianos, violins and banjos. When these inexpensive musical instruments found their way into the most remote areas of the nation, they inalterably changed centuries of musical traditions. The English/Scottish people of Appalachia, whose ballads had mostly been sung unaccompanied and who used the fiddle as a lead instrument for dancing, began to adapt their traditional melodies to the intonation of the readily available guitar, with its fixed frets. Soon, they started playing guitar chords behind the modal dance melodies that squeezed around them like a tight pair of shoes.
  57. Template:Note Garofalo, pg. 45
  58. Template:Note Collins, pg. 11
  59. Template:Note Garofalo, pg. 74
  60. Template:Note Gillett, pg. 9, cited in Garofalo, pg. 74
  61. Template:Note Werner, pg. 60
  62. Template:Note Garofalo, pg. 75
  63. Template:Note Roughstock (
  64. Template:Note PBS American Masters (
  65. Template:Note Allmusic (
  66. Template:Note Collins, pg. 75
  67. Template:Note Ferris, pg. 228 Conceived as dance music, and long considered a kind of popular or vernacular music, jazz has become a sophisticated art form that has interacted in significant ways with the music of the concert hall.
  68. Template:Note Ferris, pg. 233 Their hot new dance music combined the steady beat and stirring tempo of European march and dance tunes with the subtle and complex syncopations of black African and Caribbean effects.
  69. Template:Note Ferris, pg. 233
  70. Template:Note Garofalo, pg. 71
  71. Template:Note Clarke, pgs. 200-201
  72. Template:Note Garofalo, pg. 72
  73. Template:Note Ferris, pg. 243
  74. Template:Note Clarke, pg. 268
  75. Template:Note Broughton, Viv and James Attlee. "Devil Stole the Beat" in the Rough Guide to World Music, Volume 2, pg. 569 Its seminal figure was a piano player and ex-blues musician by the name of Thomas A. Dorsey (1899-1993), who began composing songs based on familiar spirituals and hymns fused to blues and jazz rhythms. (emphasis in original)
  76. Template:Note Werner, pgs. 4-5
  77. Template:Note Broughton, Viv and James Attlee. "Devil Stole the Beat" in the Rough Guide to World Music, Volume 2, pg. 569 Many of rock'n'roll's characteristics, from rhythms to vocal styles, from dance steps to stagediving, were first conceived on the gospel circuit -- and it's perhaps no surprise that it started early, with Elvis Presley, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis -- among many other American singers -- learning at the feet of gospel's own legends. (emphasis in original)
  78. Template:Note Baraka, pg. 168, cited in Garofalo, pg. 76
  79. Template:Note Garofalo, pg. 76, 78
  80. Template:Note Rolling Stone, pgs. 99-100 Ward, Stokes and Tucker call cover versions the ants at the increasingly sumptuous rhythm-and-blues picnic.
  81. Template:Note Rolling Stone, pgs. 101-102Ward, Stokes and Tucker cite Diddley and Berry, singling out Berry's "Maybellene" for staying in the Top Ten for weeks.
  82. Template:Note Palmer, pg. 48; cited in Garofalo, pg. 95
  83. Template:Note Lipsitz, pg. 214 ; cited in Garofalo, pg. 95
  84. Template:Note Garofalo, pg. 131
  85. Template:Note Gillett, pg. 38; cited in Garofalo, pg. 132
  86. Template:Note Garofalo, pgs. 96-97, 121
  87. Template:Note Garofalo, pg. 121
  88. Template:Note Marcus, pg. , cited in Garofalo, pg. 121
  89. Template:Note Garofalo, pg. 122
  90. Template:Note Garofalo, pg. 131
  91. Template:Note Garofalo, pg. 185
  92. Template:Note Szatmary, pgs. 69-70 Also a guitar enthusiast who had released a few undistinctive singles on his own label in 1960, Dale worked closely with Leo Fender, the manufacturer of the first mass-produced, solid-body electric guitar and the president of Fender Instruments, to improve the Showman amplifier and to develop the reverberation unit that would give surf music its distinctively fuzzy sound.
  93. Template:Note Rolling Stone, pg. 251 Though the Beach Boys' instrumental sound was often painfully thin, the floating vocals, with the Four Freshman-ish harmonies riding over a droned, propulsive burden ("inside outside, U.S.A." in "Surfin' U.S.A."; "rah, rah, rah, rah, sis boom bah" in "Be True to Your School"} were rich, dense and unquestionably special.
  94. Template:Note Garofalo, pg. 201
  95. Template:Note Garofalo, pg. 196
  96. Template:Note Clarke, pgs. 476-477
  97. Template:Note Garofalo, pg. 218
  98. Template:Note Garofalo, pg. 218
  99. Template:Note Garofalo, pgs. 446-447
  100. Template:Note Garofalo, pg. 448
  101. Template:Note Garofalo, pg. 451
  102. Template:Note Szatmary, pg. 285 Recording the songs that would become Nevermind, Nirvana added a melodic, Beatlesque element, which had shaped Cobain, Novoselic, and new drummer Dave Grohl.
  103. Template:Note Szatmary, pg. 284 Grunge, growing in the Seattle offices of the independent Sub Pop Records, combined hardcore and metal to top the charts and help define the desperation of a generation.; in context, this presumably refers to Generation X, though that term is not specifically used.
  104. Template:Note Blush, pgs. 12-13
  105. Template:Note Garofalo, pgs. 408-409
  106. Template:Note Vibe, pg. unavailable
  107. Template:Note Werner, pg. 290

Further reading

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