Do you like American music?

Do you like American music?
We like all kinds of music,
But I like American music best.

-“American Music”, The Violent Femmes

Happy Independence Day! As you and family are barbequing, toasting marshmallows, and watching fireworks, no doubt you will also be listening to music–perhaps even American music. As a melting pot of many nationalities and backgrounds, American music is unique and quite interesting! Join us for a breif history of American music–and listen along!

1776- British soldiers sing “Yankee Doodle” to mock colonists, and Americans adopt it as their own tune. “Johnny’s Gone for a Soldier,” an adaptation of Irish folk tune, gains popularity in the newly formed United States.


1815- Francis Scott Key writes the poem The Defense of Fort McHenry, which appears in The Baltimore Patriot newspaper. One year later he puts the poem to the music of popular British song, To Anacreon in Heaven, and publishes The Star-Spangled Banner.


1850- Col. Sandford C. Faulkner believed to write music and words to The Arkansas Traveler, a song about a country fiddler, popular in the Ohio River Valley. The song is traditionally known to have had several versions of lyrics, which are much older than the copyrighted song.


1861-Julia Ward Howe writes a poem for Atlantic Monthly, “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” based on the hymn, “John Brown’s Body”; William Steffe later writes music to create popular Civil War song. Staying at the Willard Hotel in Washington on the night of November 18, 1861, Howe awoke with the words of the song in her mind and in near darkness wrote the verses to the “Battle Hymn of the Republic”. Of the writing of the lyrics, Howe remembered:

I went to bed that night as usual, and slept, according to my wont, quite soundly. I awoke in the gray of the morning twilight; and as I lay waiting for the dawn, the long lines of the desired poem began to twine themselves in my mind. Having thought out all the stanzas, I said to myself, ‘I must get up and write these verses down, lest I fall asleep again and forget them.’ So, with a sudden effort, I sprang out of bed, and found in the dimness an old stump of a pen which I remembered to have used the day before. I scrawled the verses almost without looking at the paper.


1883- Metropolitan Opera House opens in New York

1897- John Philip Sousa composes march “Stars and Stripes Forever”. He will create more than 100 popular marches and pieces of orchestral music. Composers Scott Joplin, James Scott, and Joseph Lamb establish and popularize ragtime, giving birth to America’s popular music industry and ending the country’s reliance on European music.

1900- The “country” music of the southeastern United States begins to gain popularity. This music features guitar, fiddle, banjo, and harmonica, and is a direct descendant of English, Scottish, Irish ballads, and folk songs. Similarly, the “western” musical genre spreads through western states, featuring steel guitars, large bands, and singing cowboys. In the South, jazz develops in New Orleans brothels and honky-tonk bars. Early jazz is based on Mississippi River boat music and black, French, Spanish piano music, including ragtime.


1911- Popular songwriter Irving Berlin completes “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” his first hit; a culmination of the ragtime craze of the first two decades of the 1900s. While not itself strictly a ragtime song, it is rumored the tune was stolen from a song of Scott Joplin’s.


1925- George Gershwin composes Rhapsody in Blue, the symphonic jazz composition. Gerschwin’s Porgy and Bess, a folk opera, opens in 1935, and he becomes one of most original and popular American composers. The Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee, begins Saturday night radio broadcasts featuring regional music, which helps fuse Southeastern and Western styles, creating the  country-and-western genre.


1935- Clarinetist Benny Goodman named the “King of Swing”. Tommy Dorsey, Harry James, Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw lead popular dance bands. In 1936, the electric guitar debuts.

1945- Swing music dominates the music scene, with jazz and country-and-western remaining popular. Rhythm and blues begins to gain traction.


1951- Cleveland disc jockey Alan Freed first uses term “rock ‘n’ roll” to promote rhythm and blues to white audiences.

1955- Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene” is first of series of hits for “Mr. Rock’ n’ Roll”. Elvis Presley becomes the first “rock star”.


1964- Folk singer Bob Dylan popularizes protest songs. Peter, Paul and Mary sing Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” at the 1963 March on Washington. The Beatles’ song “I Want to Hold Your Hand” is a sensation, igniting the immense popularity of British groups, known as the “British Invasion”. Other popular British groups are the Rolling Stones, The Who, and Herman’s Hermits.


1965- The Byrds version of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” creates a new form of music: “folk-rock”. The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane play their first shows.

1969- Woodstock Music and Art Fair, featuring Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Joan Baez, and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, attended by hundreds of thousands of fans; culmination of rock ‘n’ roll and counterculture movement.

1977- Movie Saturday Night Fever popularizes “disco” music. Sony introduces the Walkman in 1978.

1979- Hip hop, a blend of rock, jazz, and soul with African drumming is born in the South Bronx. The Sugarhill Gang releases “Rapper’s Delight”, popularizes rap, combines elements of disco and rock with urban street music.

1981- MTV debuts with nonstop music videos. The presentation of music becomes just as important as the sound. Innovations in electronic music and instruments an the adoption of these technologies explodes in the 1980s in pop, New Wave, and hip hop/rap.

2000s- The Internet transforms music scene as companies offer free music over the Internet without paying copyright fees. Music industry executives take the issue to court. A ruling prompts Napster to stop distributing copyrighted music free and to begin providing music for a fee. Apple introduces the iTunes Music Store, which allows people to download songs for 99 cents each.


What was your favorite period of American music? Let us know in the comments, and check out the timeline here to learn more!




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