EARLY MUSICAL INFLUENCES
The music of the United States reflects the country’s multi-ethnic population through a diverse array of styles. It is a mixture of music influenced by West African, Irish, Scottish, Mexican, and Cuban music traditions among others. The country’s most internationally renowned genres are jazz, blues, country, rhythm and blues, ragtime, hip hop, barbershop, pop, experimental, techno, house, dance, boogaloo, salsa and rock and roll. The United States has the world’s largest music market with a total retail value of 4,481.8 million dollars in 2012, and its music is heard around the world. Since the beginning of the 20th century, some Forms of American popular music have gained a near global audience.
Native Americans were the earliest inhabitants of the land that is today known as the United States and played its first music. Beginning in the 17th century, immigrants from the United Kingdom, Ireland, Spain, Germany and France began arriving in large numbers, bringing with them new styles and instruments. African slaves brought musical traditions, and each subsequent wave of immigrants contributed to a melting pot.
Much of modern popular music can trace its roots to the emergence in the late 19th century of African American blues and the growth of gospel music in the 1920s. The African American basis for popular music used elements derived from European and indigenous music. There are also strong African roots in the music tradition of the original white settlers, such as country and bluegrass. The United States has also seen documented folk music and recorded popular music produced in the ethnic styles of the Ukrainian, Irish, Scottish, Polish, Hispanic and Jewish communities, among others.
Many American cities and towns have vibrant music scenes which, in turn, support a number of regional musical styles. The Cajun and Creole traditions in Louisiana music, the folk and popular styles of Hawaiian music, and the bluegrass and old time music of the Southeastern states are a few examples of diversity in American music.
Folk music in the US 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. 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.
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”. Some distinct aspects of American music, like the call-and-response format, are derived from African techniques and instruments.
Throughout the later part of American history, and into modern times, the relationship between American and European music has been a discussed topic among scholars of American music. Some have urged for the adoption of more purely European techniques and styles, which are sometimes perceived as more refined or elegant, while others have pushed for a sense of musical nationalism that celebrates distinctively American styles. Modern classical music scholar John Warthen Struble has contrasted American and European, concluding that the music of the United States is inherently distinct because the United States has not had centuries of musical evolution as a nation. 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. Struble deemed the ballads of the Civil War “the first American folk music with discernible features that can be considered unique to America: the first ‘American’ sounding music, as distinct from any regional style derived from another country.”
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 have been described as combining “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 unsinkable 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.” During this period the roots of blues, gospel, jazz and country music took shape; in the 20th century, these became the core of American popular music, which further evolved into the styles like rhythm and blues, rock and roll and hip hop music.
Music intertwines with aspects of American social and cultural identity, including through social class, race and ethnicity, geography, religion, language, gender and sexuality. The relationship between music and race is perhaps the most potent determiner of musical meaning in the United States.
Economic and social classes separates American music through the creation and consumption of music, such as the upper-class patronage of symphony-goers, and the generally poor performers of rural and ethnic folk music. Musical divisions based on class are not absolute, however, and are sometimes as much perceived as actual; popular American country music, for example, is a commercial genre designed to “appeal to a working-class identity, whether or not its listeners are actually working class”. Country music is also intertwined with geographic identity, and is specifically rural in origin and function; other genres, like R&B and hip hop, are perceived as inherently urban. For much of American history, music-making has been a “feminized activity”. In the 19th century, amateur piano and singing were considered proper for middle-class and upper-class women. Women were also a major part of early popular music performance, though recorded traditions quickly become more dominated by men. Most male-dominated genres of popular music include female performers as well, often in a niche appealing primarily to women; these include gangsta and heavy metal.
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, like Cape Verdean music in New England, Armenian music in California, and Italian and Ukrainian music in New York City.
Ragtime was a style of music based around the piano, using syncopated rhythms and chromaticism. It is primarily a form of dance music utilizing the walking bass, and is generally composed in sonata form. Ragtime is a refined and evolved form of the African American cake walk dance, mixed with styles ranging from European marches and popular songs to jigs and other dances played by large African American bands in northern cities during the end of the 19th century. The most famous ragtime performer and composer was Scott Joplin, known for works such as “Maple Leaf Rag”. His music was also featured in the movie “The Sting”.
The Creoles are a community with varied non-Anglo ancestry, mostly descendant of people who lived in Louisiana before its purchase by the U.S. The Cajuns are a group of Francophiles who arrived in Louisiana after leaving Acadia in Canada. The city of New Orleans, Louisiana being a major port, has acted as a melting pot for people from all over the Caribbean basin. The result is a diverse and syncretic set of styles of Cajun and Creole music.
The United States has produced many 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”. Most histories of popular music start with American ragtime or Tin Pan Alley; others, however, trace popular music back to the European Renaissance and through broadsheets, ballads and other popular traditions.