By early 20th Century, music had become a common part of American life. Public schools taught band and orchestra as well as singing. Music schools sprang up in neighborhoods across the country. Pastoral park reverberated with the sound of public concerts. The development of the radio and the phonograph accelerated the spread of song across the country. Jazz was beginning to make its place on the music scene and a variation of traditional jazz developed among white singers in Chicago.
The Depression started a revival of American folk music because these ballads would raise the morale of the homeless and poor and voice the political thoughts of the time. Sentimental ballads, accompanied by guitars and banjos echoed the emotions of a nation trying to recover from economic calamity. And like the popular folk songs, bluegrass music and country-western songs described the conditions of life and love in the United States. Like jazz, these styles were uniquely "American."
In the 1950's, music that combined many of the qualities of blues and jazz with a strong rhythm developed--known as rock and roll. Over the decades it evolved through phases of "acid," "soft," "punk," and "disco," which each added a distinctive style to the traditional rock and roll music.
American music, at the end of the millennium, with its simple lyrics and common appeal, has become one of the country's biggest exports.
The tones used by Native Americans are different than the traditional scale of American music. And it is common for the voice to be used as "accompaniment" for a singer. This was, in part, because there were fewer musical instruments that played melodies. Native Americans had a simple flute and some used their bows to make musical sounds but the common instruments were drums and rattles. The hand drum was like a tamborine, with a hide stretched over the bent wood frame. In some tribes, skins were stretched over a shallow pit to amplify the sound, some sending their sounds more than 10 miles into the air.
Jazz on the other hand, is associated with instrumental music. Like blues, the rhythms and harmonies of African and slave music provide the framework for jazz. Black musicians in New Orleans developed the Dixieland style of jazz that blended the sounds of clarinets, trumpets, saxes and pianos into unique, often improvised, music. Many variations have developed over the years but many young musicians are returning to the styles that Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie and John Coltrane pursued in the 1950s and 60s.
The music of blues was getting a faster tempo. Chuck Berry was one of the first men to start singing this type of music. Chuck Berry was famous for his amazing duck walk. He would take his guitar and dance like a duck with it. Some of Berryís greatest hits are "Maybelline," Sweet Little Sixteen," and "Johnny B. Goode." Other early names in rock were Fats Domino and Buddy Holly.
There are lots of other singers that have become legends--among these -- Elvis and Little Richard. Elvis Presley got the nickname "The King" by taking over the new age of music. Elvis introduced new moves and concepts to dancing. His dancing was so new that they would not allow it to be seen on television. His greatest hits included "Heartbreak Hotel," "Hound Dog," "Donít Be Cruel," and "All Shook Up." He could make meaningless phrases like "Well Uh-Huh" sound just like a set of polished lyrics. At the same time Elvis was hitting it big there was another man named Little Richard. Little Richard could play the piano like there is no tomorrow. His lyrics were silly such as WOP BOP ALU BOP A WOP BAM BOOM from the song "Tutti Fruiti." He inspired many different artists like Michael Jackson, Kiss, and James Brown. These singers made music what it is today.
Teenagers loved this new kind of music. Most parents did not like it and some didnít let their kids listen to it. But in the segregation of the 1950s, many white teens could not relate to the ways of Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, or Little Richard. Even Elvis, born in the rural South, seemed different to most American students.
But teenagers did love the new television music show, American Bandstand, that was shown in the 50s and 60s. The program was hosted by Clark. On the show, he would play music like Chubby Checker or The Beach Boys.
With the new music came new styles of dancing. There were tons of dance crazes that swept the whole country at during the 50s and 60s. One famous dance was the twist. As parents saw teenagers shaking their bodies without restraint, they became more alarmed about the damage being done by Rock and Roll.
In 1964, rock music changed again. There was a "British Invasion." This is when a many music groups came over from Great Britain. The Beatles were one of the most famous groups. The members included were John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr. Some of their biggest hits are "I Wanna Hold Your Hand," "Love Me Do," "Sergeant Pepper Band," and "Help." Other groups included The Rolling Stones, Herman's Hermits and Jerry and the Pacemakers.
In the late 1960s, rock music became the anthems of the "flower generation." New bands like the Grateful Dead, Santana, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix were introduced. The songs at this time became longer with more music and less lyrics. As the music changed, peopleís styles began to change too. People started wearing faded blue jeans, bell bottoms and tie-dye T-shirts. People started to grow their hair long. These people were known as hippies. Hippies championed free love, world peace, and other liberal causes.
In the 1950s rock and roll changed the standards of music in the United States. The music was more complex and interesting than the traditional music it before that time. If it wasnít for these early rock and roll artists, music of today would sound very different.
Bierhorst, John. A Cry from the Earth, New York, New York, Four Winds Press, 1979
Carlin, Richard. Rock and Roll: 1955-1979. New York, New York: Facts on File Publications, 1988.
Miller, Hugh H. Introduction to Music, A Guide to Good Listening, Second Edition, New York, New York, Harper & Row, 1978
Kenny Colloran plays the United States' national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner