When revising my blog posts, I read back through all of them checking for grammar mistakes. Most all of my revision work consisted of fixing grammar syntactical mistakes. After correcting grammar issues, I read through to make sure that the point I was attempting to convey was clear instead of vague. This occasionally involved adding information to the post in order to make especially clear the impact each musical subject had on American history. Reading through the peer review comments as well as the comments from the instructor, I was able to more clearly understand how the posts were being perceived and how to alter what they said in order to make clear exactly what I was attempting to convey. The only other revision work that was done involved the re-ordering of videos and or images in order to better suit the organization of the post.
Music has always been used as a mode of expression and popular music is no different. Popular music generally reflects the time in which it was produced. Much like ideas, over time, music shapes and is in-turn, shaped by the events surrounding it and in this case, the people who produce it. Throughout American History, popular music has taken on several different styles and genres, each representing some social, economic, or political change occurring during the time. These musical changes have been known to jump start other social, economic, or political changes in a pattern that is similar to Newton’s third law that states- for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. This cycle of actions and reactions has shaped our nation’s history from the beginning the end of the Civil War and still does today.
Beginning with the Civil War, popular music has expressed the views of producers/consumers as well as the various historical changes taking place. During the late 1800s, though the legal bondage of the civil war had been broken, the racial tension was perhaps at its peak. Appealing to middle-class white northerner consumers due to the exotic feel, Minstrelsy became a highly demanded form of Popular Music. Reinforcing brutal stereotypes, and exaggerating real-life African-American circumstances, this form of popular music did have a positive side. It paved the way, however ridiculous, for African-American performers and artists such as Scott Joplin, who soon after became the Father of Ragtime.
Leading into the 1900s and well into the 1940s, African Americans maintained their position as prosperous performers of American popular music. Given the feminist movements that were taking place during the early 1900s, it was no surprise that African-American Women took to the popular music scene with Jazz and the Blues, a promiscuous genre that gave rise to the idea of modernity and emphasized the changing moral standards. This also gave rise to the regular recording of African-American artists through “Race Records” after the cost of recording dropped due to World War I. This feminist movement did more than to put African-American women on the musical scene, it also gave way to the flapper, the independent woman. After the loosening of the moral standards with the Jazz, Blues, and flapper era, an era more focused on romanticism arose around World War II with the appearance of Hillbilly Music. This era focused on the romantic view of westward expansion of a steamer train with a singing cowboy. This was an attempt after the Great Depression and in the beginnings of the second World War to remind America of the good old days on the frontier. It was also a ploy by the producers to speed up westward expansion.
The romanticized view of westward expansion slowly drifted away however, with the rise of a new genre focused on doing what you want, rock ’n’ roll. With the rise of the Civil Rights issues, popular music took a turn to the extreme. Elvis, and The Beatles did and said what they felt like doing or saying. Elvis, with his gyrating dance moves on stage and many other artists rebelled against social protocol that they didn’t believe in. Many rebelled against segregation by integrating their crowds or jumping into the other sides of crowds to dance with the opposite race. Rock ’n’ roll brought everyone together, unified if only for a few moments with the admiration of this form of expression.
Throughout history, Americans have expressed themselves through music. They have also gained rights and formed bonds through musical expression. Whether it be fighting for rights, pushing social standards to the side, or coming together in a time of need, popular music has always been a way to unite Americans. Music bonds through what is felt, not what is seen. When through words and actions we fail, music speaks.
The Beatles. We have all heard of them. But what’s all the hype about? While the Beatles are a common household name in today’s world, we shouldn’t take their contributions to US Pop culture lightly. Arriving at JFK national airport in 1964, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr, better known as The Beatles, became an instant sensation(Altschuler 63). Their shaggy hair and interesting clothes soon became anything but unique in America. Though The Beatles revolutionized American popular music in many important ways, one way, that doesn’t always get the credit it deserves is that they developed the stereotypical “boy-band”(Wald 75).
To Show just how famous The Beatles were, here is a clip of them stepping off the plane for the first time in the US. Notice the welcome they received in a country they had never been to before.
The Beatles made what it is to be a boy-band. There was the “smart one”, “goofy one”, “sweet one”, and the “bad one”. Though it may seem silly to describe such an iconic musical group in a way that only a teenage girl could, it made the mold for all boy-bands to come. Though the Beatles are without a doubt the most successful boy-band ever to exist, they revolutionized American music in a way that allowed other guy groups to attempt to imitate similar success. Bands like The Backstreet boys, nSync, One Direction, and Big Time Rush are just a few examples of groups molded from the idea set by The Beatles.
Not only did they revolutionize the makeup of bands, they also revolutionized America in that they introduced music that harbored at least some cultural tolerance. The Beatles’ interest in Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who was the founder of the transcendental meditation movement, and culturally traditional music changed Western attitudes about other cultures especially Indian cultural practices and their music (McGasko). This was especially important in the tumultuous time period in which they arrived which consisted of the Assassination of JFK, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Space Race, the Cold War, and several other serious issues. Their broadmindedness brought about peace during a thundering time in our nations history, coinciding with “one of the most socially tumultuous periods in the history of America, the Beatles’ music reflected its era but also transcended it, so that even now their music remains fresh to each successive generation that discovers it”(McGasko).
Altschuler, Glenn C. All Shook Up: How Rock ‘n’ Roll Changed America. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2003. Print.
“Beatles Arrive in USA February 7, 1964 JFK Airport.” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 05 Apr. 2015.
McGasko, Joe. Bio.com. A&E Networks Television, n.d. Web. 05 Apr. 2015.
Wald, Elijah. How the Beatles Destroyed Rock ‘n’ Roll: An Alternative History of American Popular Music. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009. Print.
Emerging in the 1950s was a new form of music called rock ‘n’ roll. Rock ’n’ roll was characterized by a heavy beat that came about through the combination of rhythm and blues, country music, and gospel music. Revolutionized by familiar artists such as Elvis Presley and The Beatles, this new genre had a lasting effect on crucial social issues of the 50s. Rock ’n’ roll created a significant impact in that it “was credited with and criticized for promoting integration for blacks”(Altschuler 35).
How did rock ’n’ roll create a lasting effect on the music world? Well the new sound and rhythm that made up the recently developed style of music accompanied by the performances of the artists themselves, yielded an audience that was practically hypnotized(Birnbaum 16). The sexuality expressed through the dancing that was brought about by this new genre sent the nations’ youth into a dance craze. Elvis Presley, for example, would swing and gyrate his hips when he performed. Though this was seen as immoral to most of the older generations, the youth instantly fell in love and before anyone knew it, the craze had taken over. When a rock ’n’ roll artist would perform, the whole crowd would be dancing in this new, unethical, fashion. This later lead to artist such as the Beatles and continued to evolve until rock ’n’ roll turned in to what we know today as rock music.
But what does this have to do with integration? Remember that during this time, segregation was still enforced. Therefore, ropes were put up in order to segregate the white audience from the black audience. Herb Reed, of a band called The Platters, recalled such a rope in his audience and recounted that once the music began, “the kids broke the rope and started dancing together. That rock ’n’ roll beat gets them all”(Altschuler 35). Some rock ’n’ roll artists also actively sought to play a role in this integration process. One example of this would be when Larry Williams was arrested after he “‘took off his shirt and leaped off the stage—and across the color line— to dance with his white fans’”(Altschuler 40). This act of coming together through a certain bond really moved wonders for the integration movement as well as artists speaking out or acting out in ways that showed their support for integration.
Below is a video that demonstrates Elvis Presley’s “immoral” dance moves. The video also shows his crazed younger fans in sharp contrast with their unamused parents in the back.
Altschuler, Glenn C. All Shook Up: How Rock ‘n’ Roll Changed America. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2003. Print.
Birnbaum, Larry. Before Elvis: The Prehistory of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2013. Print.
“Elvis Presley – Hound Dog – Tupelo Goldsuit 1957.” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 06 Apr. 2015.
Many may know of Hank Williams Jr., a professional country singer who wrote songs such as “Family Tradition” and “A Country Boy Can Survive”. Though Hank Williams Jr. has influenced country music in his own way, his father Hank Williams Senior revolutionized the genre from hillbilly music into what we know today as country music.
In the beginning, hillbilly music was struggling to find a place among the music industry because it lacked a cohesive sound and identity. Another barrier for the genre was that it was not allowed to become a part of the American Federation of Musicians (AFM). In order to become a member of the AFM, you had to be able to sight read music, in other words you had to be able to play a piece you’ve never seen or played before just by looking at the sheet music. This was difficult for the hillbilly genre because most of its musicians could not read music. Because they could not become a part of the AFM, it was virtually impossible to perform outside of the south, seeing as membership was almost always a requirement.
With the rise of Hank Williams Sr. came a revolution of hillbilly music into country music. By combining elements of the hillbilly tradition to give his songs an appeal, he became wildly famous and well known. When Hank Williams Sr. approached the stage however, he did not portray a western cowboy. But rather, Hank portrayed a clean-cut, sophisticated musician, almost always wearing a nice suit to perform and instructing his band members to do the same (Huber, Goodson, Anderson 47).
He also revolutionized the subject matter of the songs he was singing from overly romanticized cowboys, to actual relatable matters such as guilt and loneliness. While he still maintained the “male bravado”, he also sang sad songs that tugged on the heart strings such as “Lonesome Whistle” and “Lovesick Blues”, songs about being lonely and miserable missing his lady while time is passing by.
With lyrics such as, “Well I’m in love I’m in love with a beautiful gal, That’s what’s the matter with me, Well I’m in love I’m in love with a beautiful gal, But she don’t care about me” Hank Williams is using relatable scenarios in order to better identify with his audience. The performance below is “Lovesick Blues” by Hank Williams Sr.
By changing the manner in which hillbilly music was performed and tweaking the subject matter of the songs into something more personal and relatable, Hank Williams Sr. created a more respectable style of hillbilly music, known as “country music” (Huber, Goodson, Anderson 48).
Hank Williams Sr. was only briefly able to enjoy his hard work and fame before he passed away on January 1, 1953. Though he died early in his career, Hank Williams’ fame, and legacy, have lasted long after his death. He formed the basis of today’s country music. As mentioned in the previous blog post, hillbilly music served as a coping mechanism for what was going on in the world with recovering from the Great Depression and the beginning of WWII (Malone 90,91). Hank Williams’ country music also served the purpose of an escape outlet toward the end of WWII due to how relatable the subject matter was. Being that the men were leaving for war, Hank offered a musical style that related to the emotions of both the traveling soldiers and the lonely wife/mother. Giving an escape or rather a release of these emotions expressing grief for the troubles of the world at the time, Hank Williams was able to comfort a weary nation through his expressive songs.
“Hank Williams – Lovesick Blues.” YouTube. YouTube, 20 Sept. 2012. Web. 18 Mar. 2015.
Hank Williams Senior Promotional Photo. Digital image. WSM Radio, n.d. Web. 16 Mar. 2015.
Huber, Patrick, Steve Goodson, and David M. Anderson. “Section 10.” The Hank Williams Reader. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 47-48. Print.
Malone, Bill C. “Mountaineers and Cowboys.” Singing Cowboys and Musical Mountaineers: Southern Culture and the Roots of Country Music. Athens: U of Georgia, 1993. 69-91. Print.
When hearing the term Hillbilly music, an image similar to this probably comes to mind.
This stereotype came later in the musics’ history. The early hillbilly musicians were actually quite the opposite of the picture displayed above. According to Bill C. Malone, author of Singing Cowboys and Musical Mountaineers, early advertisements of country musicians “show them dressed in their ‘Sunday-go-to-meeting’ clothes— suits, ties, well-polished shoes— and not in overalls, brogans, blue jeans, or other accoutrements of working-class life”(Malone 70). Beginning as “hillbilly music”, the music style was later revolutionized into a more respectable genre and renamed “country music”.
How then, did the genre obtain its name? Because the music itself could not be “easily defined” as Malone describes it, it could not be easily labeled either (Malone 70). Perhaps this musical style was difficult to define due to the fact that its first performers had no “clear self-identity”(Malone 70). This was especially visible when Al Hopkins, a leader of a string band reportedly told a recording entrepreneur “Just call us whatever you want, we’re nothing but a bunch of hillbillies”, which was where the genre got its name (Malone 70). The significance of this name plays hand-in-hand with the image of the genre, as can be expected given that first photo is now a common stereotype of hillbilly music (Lange 60).
Soon, the image of the hillbilly musician began to stray from the afore mentioned promotional photographs into that of rural working-class, or the most recognizable, cowboy with the help of hollywood film makers through western movies. Playing to this “largely romantic” perception of the south and rural life, hillbilly music later turned the genre into both a film sensation and a musical sensation. The significance of this genre appears in the late 1930s, 40s, and 50s, serving as a comfort blanket and coping mechanism for a struggling country (Malone 91).
This video is an example of how Hollywood portrayed the singing hillbilly/cowboy. (Start at the 6 minute mark, and watch about a minute of it)
1. Fure, Robert. “Tucker and Dale Versus Evil.” Film School Rejects. FilmSchoolRejects, 13 Oct. 2012. Web. 16 Mar. 2015.
2. Hank Williams Senior Promotional Photo. Digital image. WSM Radio, n.d. Web. 16 Mar. 2015.
3. Malone, Bill C. “Mountaineers and Cowboys.” Singing Cowboys and Musical Mountaineers: Southern Culture and the Roots of Country Music. Athens: U of Georgia, 1993. 69-91. Print.
4. “COWBOY WESTERN HEROS 1940/50’s.” YouTube. YouTube, 6 Dec. 2007. Web. 18 Mar. 2015
5. Lange, Jeffrey J. Smile When You Call Me a Hillbilly: Country Music’s Struggle for Respectability, 1939-1954. Athens: U of Georgia, 2004. Print.
The exact date that Jazz originated is quite controversial. The range however has been concluded to be somewhere between 1895 and 1917. Modernization of the 20th century came hand in hand with the emergence of Jazz. According to Kathy Orgen, Jazz was “often credited with expressing a break from the past and the introduction of a new time and speed…”(Orgen 143). The modernist views entailed an outlook that contradicted the notion of an orderly universe and the rigid social and moral codes of previous day. Everything mostly became relative rather than strict and inflexible. What made Jazz modern though, was its emphasis on improvisation and also its complex rhythms. This rhythm was based on polyrhythms, a rhythm that makes use of two or more different rhythms simultaneously, that were perfect for dancing.
How did Jazz come to be so popular? According to Kathy Orgen, “Whatever the origins of Jazz, writers and musicians often linked its popularity to changes produced by WWI”(Ogren 143). With immigration basically stopping by 1915, America was in need of labor. The great migration of 1915, was the first time african americans were hired to work industrial jobs in the north. This soon led to black neighborhoods in the north which were essentially cities on their own. During this time, prohibition was also instated. This prompted the move of northern upper-middle class whites from normal hangouts to Jazz clubs. These whites ventured into these small african american districts to clubs such as the Cotton Club to hear Jazz music and also to escape prohibition. These whites that were coming into these clubs and neighborhoods, were quickly reminded of the existence and even the creativity of the African Americans. Finding in Jazz a new view of African Americans contrary to what they had been made to believe, both whites and blacks were introduced to cultural tolerance. So in essence, Jazz helped americans to become truly modern, modern in the sense of cultural tolerance anyway.
This picture above is an actual advertisement for the cotton club. As can be seen from the advertisement, three wealthy whites are coming to the Cotton Club which was run by blacks. Posters and advertisements such as these promoted the activity of visiting these neighborhoods and clubs. Attempting to make Jazz and African American clubs more acceptable as well as more high class, the sign reads “The Famous Cotton Club The Aristocrats of Harlem”. Aristocrat is a term used to define something or someone as high class or the best of its kind. Having an image of wealthy whites being served by an African American also made this club more acceptable in social terms because there was no longer the idea of socializing with blacks, but rather being served by them. Promotion of these clubs eventually led to the admiration and acceptance of African American talent and even cultural tolerance which showed true modernization.
The Cotton Club. 1920: n. pag. Print.
Ogren, Kathy J. “Prudes and Primitives.” The Jazz Revolution: Twenties America & the Meaning of Jazz. New York: Oxford UP, 1989. N. pag. Print.
“The Rise of Consumer Culture.” The Rise of Consumer Culture. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2015.
“Music History 455: Jazz History .” Finding Scholarly Journal Articles. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2015.
Blues, as other forms of music during this time, was associated with modernity and women. Believed to have originated in Memphis, Blues was becoming more popular in recruiting women as both music consumers and performers. At first however, African Americans were not allowed to record music due to the thought that white consumers wouldn’t want black musicians’ music and blacks were too poor to to consume their own music. This assumption however, was struck down when “Crazy blues” by Perry Bradford sold over a million copies in less than a year. There was no question afterwards of whether there was a demand for African American music. Another factor that helped African Americans begin recording was that the price of creating records fell significantly after WWI. This recording of black artists was called “race records”.
The first Lady Blues artist, Bessie Smith, was discovered in 1923. Bessie Smith’s first song sold about 2 million copies in a year. This was a significant amount in this time period. Smith went on to record 159 more songs during the 1920s selling just over 7 million copies. A reoccurring theme of sexual relationships dominated women’s blues music. One example of an especially sexual song is “Organ Grinder Blues” by Victoria Spivey.
With lyrics like “Grind it north and grind it east and west, but when you grind it slow I like it the best…” and “You’re the grinder I’ve been waiting for…” it becomes apparent that women were branching out into this idea of modernity and emphasizing the change in social and moral standards. Songs like this were very prominent in the blues era, showing women in a different light with their newly expressed sexual appetites (Granda 35). The expressions of these women and others during this time eventually led into women becoming flappers, which were basically women of modernity, and branching out and throwing the social and moral standards of the past away. Blues music, for its sexual nature caused much controversy and in-turn, publicity. This publicity led to more widespread change in social standards for women.
Granda, Victoria C. “The Politics of Black Sexuality in Classic Blues.” Nota Bene: Canadian Undergraduate Journal of Musicology. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Feb. 2015.
“The Rise of Consumer Culture.” The Rise of Consumer Culture. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2015.
“Victoria Spivey- Organ Grinder Blues (Take C).” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2015.
Scott Joplin was, as the title gives away, “The King of Ragtime”. Joplin had always been musically inclined, even at a young age. By the time he was in his twenties, Joplin had been playing as an itinerant pianist in saloons for years, and in 1890 settled in St. Louis to study and develop his new genre of music called “Ragtime” (Berlin 4).
With Minstrelsy on its way out, a new form of music was emerging called Ragtime. Ragtime is an interesting genre as it is difficult to put an actual definition to. There was so much room for innovation and creativity that, much like todays pop and alternative genres is hard to verbally confine with a definition. The best way to distinguish this new music is by its use of syncopation. Syncopation involves a variety of rhythms which are in some way unexpected which make part or all of a tune or piece of music off-beat. The syncopation of this genre made the music lively and springy which was fresh and new.
After touring for a while with his Texas Medley Quartette, Joplin came out with one of his first compositions, “The Great Crush Collision” around 1896. This piece was inspired by a railroad locomotive crash near Waco Texas. Though this was one of his first pieces, it was not anywhere near as popular as his hit “The Maple Leaf Rag”, named after the business in which he had been working, the Maple Leaf Club. “The Maple Leaf Rag” was later followed by perhaps one of the best known Ragtime pieces of all time, “The Entertainer” (Berlin 6). Though many may not know it by name, “The Entertainer” is a tune not soon forgotten. Its spring-like and happy nature would make appearances in several comedy “Picture shows” in the future.
This is a video of “The Great Crush Collision”:
This is a video of “The Maple Leaf Rag”:
This is perhaps the one most recognized of the pieces discussed, “The Entertainer”:
Over the next two decades, Joplin added about 60 songs to his list of compositions and soon moved to New York City to pursue his “Treemonisha” which became the first grand opera composed by an African American. Though Joplin would never see Treemonisha successfully performed in his lifetime, it later won the pulitzer prize in 1976. Joplin died in 1917 at the age of 48, and like many great musicians throughout the years, didn’t receive recognition as a serious composer until nearly a half-century after his death. His musical strides, however, made much head way for African Americans to broaden their standings in the musical and compositional scene.
“History of Ragtime [article]:Article Description: Performing Arts Encyclopedia, Library of Congress.” History of Ragtime [article]:Article Description: Performing Arts Encyclopedia, Library of Congress. The Library of Congress, 29 Sept. 2006. Web. 28 Jan. 2015.
“Maple Leaf Rag Played by Scott Joplin.” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 27 Jan. 2015.
“Scott Joplin – The Entertainer.” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 26 Jan. 2015.
Teichroew, Jacob. “Ragtime (Genre) – Origins, Characteristics, and Composers.” N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Jan. 2015.
Berlin, Edward A. King of Ragtime: Scott Joplin and His Era. New York: Oxford UP, 1994. Print.
Popular music generally reflects the time in which it was produced. Minstrelsy is a term representing a genre of music that arose in the early-to-mid 19th century. During this time period the chains of the civil war were being broken, but the racial tensions were stronger than ever. The music of this genre exaggerated actual black circumstances and strengthened vicious stereotypes (Brundage 35).
Minstrelsy was synonymous with the term blackface. Blackface describes the way in which minstrel entertainers would perform (Brundage 6). As if the word itself didn’t already give it away, the performers would paint their faces black and act out exaggerated skits or dance wildly around the stage. They would also perform songs in which the black stereotypes of the day were reinforced. Since this era lacked the technology of recording, the continuation of the minstrel tradition relied on observation and replication. What we know of minstrel music however, comes from sheet music. One example of minstrel music that is on the more mild side of the spectrum would be Stephen Foster’s “Old Folks at Home”.
Link to the sheet music: http://levysheetmusic.mse.jhu.edu/catalog/levy:058.101
When viewing the sheet music to “Old Folks at Home” it becomes apparent that Foster is portraying a runaway slave. He even writes the words as if they are being sung in the dialect of a southern slave. Foster writes, “All de world am sad and dreary ebry where I roam”, portraying a slave that longs to be back on the plantation. This song was written before the end of the Civil War in 1851 and most likely served the purpose of entertaining whites and discouraging slaves from running away. “Old Folks at Home” has remained popular throughout history though, as one of the most popular minstrel songs. Here is a link to listen to a version of the song being performed.
Minstrel shows would bring in crowds of middle class white people looking for some good entertainment. They considered this to be exotic as blacks and slavery were merely a distant idea to these pre-civil war northerners. While the acts were dehumanizing as well as inaccurate, this offensive performance did pave the way for black performers to bust onto the scene post-Civil War.
Example of a 1950s Minstrel Show:
1. “Old Folks At Home. Suwanee [sic] River. Route to Florida. A Souvenir. – The Lester S. Levy Sheet Music Collection.” Old Folks At Home. Suwanee [sic] River. Route to Florida. A Souvenir. – The Lester S. Levy Sheet Music Collection. Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University, 2013. Web. 26 Jan. 2015.
2. “Cotton and Chick Watts Blackface Minstrel Show Comedy.” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 25 Jan. 2015.
3. “OLD FOLKS AT HOME – Original 1851 Verses – Tom Roush.” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 26 Jan. 2015.
4. “Blackface!Minstrel Shows.” Blackface! N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Jan. 2015.
5. Brundage, W. Fitzhugh. Beyond Blackface: African Americans and the Creation of American Popular Culture, 1890-1930. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina, 2011. Print.