The history of American music is hugely diverse and rich, from state specific music such as Polynesian, Cajun and Creole, to some of the most influential music across the world to date. Whether you’re a fan of the blues, rock and roll, hip-hop or jazz, many genres of music found their origins in the United States, and if you’re considering moving to the U.S., it is important to immerse yourself fully in the American culture, by understanding the importance of music to the country.
American Roots Music
The first musicians in the U.S. were Native Americans, and their genre of music consisted of hundreds of ethnic groups bringing their own styles of folk music. Although much of this American root music is extinct, Hawaiian music offers vibrant reminders of these cultures and traditions.
Jazz music was one of the most important genres of music in the country and flourished in New Orleans, Memphis and Chicago. The genre gave rise to star performers, triggering big hits and a huge range of subgenres. Jazz in the form of big band swing became a popular form of music to dance to, and was generally used for large ensembles. Big band made a resurgence in the 1990’s with popular groups and fashion from the earlier era becoming more prominent. The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is still around today, and reflects a great part of American society. Through the blues and jazz music, the likes of swing and polka were born.
The Blues/Rock ‘n’ Roll
Rock ‘n’ roll originated and evolved during the late 1940s and early 1950’s, combining blues, jazz and gospel music with swing and country music. Notable names in the rock & roll evolution include Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash. Distorted power chords, electric guitar solos and basic blues band instrumentation with a bass guitar and drums took hold of the genre, leading to a further evolution of rock.
Country music is one of the most notable and iconic genres of American music, with Bluegrass being a notable name in the scene. It originated from south-eastern folk music and often consists of ballads, accompanied by acoustic guitars, banjos, fiddles and harmonicas. The origins of country music were often associated with working class Americans, who adopted and blended Irish and Celtic fiddle tunes with cowboy songs and ballads.
Britain were dominating the charts with the likes of the Beatles and Rolling Stones in the 1960’s, so America introduced bands such as The Beach Boys and The Mamas & Papas. These bands ended up becoming associated with Hippies, and became a defining symbol of a generation with events like Woodstock taking place. This genre of music was associated with anti-war movements, civil rights, and environmentalism, but this genre quickly evolved into other genres such as punk rock, heavy metal and progressive rock.
Soul & Funk
Gospel was also a very popular genre of music that saw widespread popularisation in the 1950s, which broke into international audiences. In the middle of the 1960’s, female soul singers and innovative performers such as James Brown, Parliament Funkadelic and Aretha Franklin invented a new style of music known as funk – a very dance-able version of soul music. Along with this, Motown quickly became a very established record company, which continued through the decades producing soul and funk music.
Heavy metal was one of the most rebellious forms of music and although it originated in Britain, with the likes of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, American bands such as Blue Cheer and The Velvet Underground quickly played a major role in taking over the music industry. From this, heavy-metal influenced musicians turned to a new genre of glam rock, followed by progressive rock, creating many sub-genres that are still around today. Grunge also became an off-set of heavy metal, where many bands such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains and Soundgarden quickly rose. This became both a band and fashion phenomenon, with flannel, tattoos and piercings all beginning to rapidly grow in popularity.
Hip-hop is long considered to be a cultural movement that began in the Bronx in the 1970s by African-American, Caribbean and Latino youths. Rapping and djing are the two key elements of hip-hop with the basis of hip-hop deriving from MC’s standing up and rapping while DJ’s would spin popular records, while two other key elements to the genre include b-boying and graffiti art. Hip-hop is now one of the most influential forms of music in America, with the likes of Afrika Bambaataa, NWA, Tupac, Public Enemy and Lauryn Hill all making up some of the most influential artists in the genre. Although some relate hip-hop to gang culture, the genre’s diversification is undeniable, and is now widely appreciated as an accepted form of music.
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