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Oxford Music Online

Bottom of Form
United States of America
1. Musical life in early America
Except for the Quakers, all the religious groups that settled in early
America called for music in their worship, though organists were
commonly engaged from Europe. Less promising for the art of music were
the activities of the Reformed Calvinists, including the Puritans who
settled New England. Believing the theatre immoral, they successfully
opposed its firm establishment in the colonies until near the end of
the 18th century. As for sacred music, they mistrusted the motives of
those who wanted to expand its role in worship, and they discouraged
such expansion. Following the practice begun by John Calvin, they
assigned musicmaking during public worship entirely to the
congregation. Not until the 18th century, and then only gradually, did
the unaccompanied, monophonic psalm singing of the Calvinist worship
begin to be elaborated.
The elaboration began in Massachusetts around 1720, when singing
schools were established. These schools, instructional sessions run by
a singing master, sought to teach the scholars how to sing
congregational tunes in a coordinated way, as they were written down
in musical notation. Instructional tunebooks like John Tufts's An
Introduction to the Singing of PsalmTunes and Thomas Walter's The
Grounds and Rules of Musick Explained (both Boston, 1721) were
published, condensing the rudiments of music and offering a supply of
harmonized tunes for singing schools or public worship.
From the 1750s and 60s, musicians began to take over sacred musicmaking
from both clergy and congregation. Singers banded together to form
choirs, at first to lead singing in public worship. Soon, however, in
some places, choirs began to sing pieces that other members of the
congregation did not know, or that were too complicated for them to
learn. More and more American tunebooks were published. Most, like
James Lyon's Urania (Philadelphia, 1761) and Daniel Bayley's The
American Harmony (Newburyport, MA, 1769), carried choir music—‘fuging’
psalm tunes, throughcomposed ‘setpieces’, and prose anthems—together
with standard congregational fare. By the 1780s a modest hierarchy of
musicmaking organizations had grown up around the Calvinist
meetinghouse, and some of the more dedicated singers formed musical
societies to sing the choir music they most admired.
Crowning the new sacred musical life of New England was the appearance
of the American composer. Beginning with the Boston tanner William
Billings's The New England PsalmSinger (Boston, 1770), Americanborn
musicians, including the storekeeper Daniel Read of New Haven, the
hatter Timothy Swan of Suffield, the carpenter Oliver Holden of
Charlestown, and dozens more, taught singing schools, composed their
own sacred pieces, compiled tunebooks, and, as these and other
tunebooks were sold, saw their compositions circulate in print. Their
music, generally set for unaccompanied fourvoice chorus, lacks the
melodic and harmonic suavity of European music of the time.
Nevertheless 18thcentury New England sacred music, written by
selftaught musicians who composed for their neighbours or for singers
of similar background and skill, showed considerable vitality and
staying power. As the frontier pushed westwards after 1800,
evangelical religious groups that settled west and south established a
practice of sacred musicmaking that in some ways resembled that of
Billings's New England. Tunebooks compiled by 19th and 20thcentury
southern singing masters (e.g. The Sacred Harp, compiled in Hamilton,
GA, 1844), usually contained both newer local compositions and a
selection of favourites by the New Englanders.
Secular musicmaking in early America organized itself along very
different lines, led by emigrant musicians from Europe. Ranging
through the cities of the eastern seaboard, they began presenting
public concerts as early as 1731 in Boston and 1732 in Charleston.
Shortly after 1750, with the arrival of Hallam's theatre company,
which toured extensively and was soon joined by rival companies, the
musical theatre began to make its first real impact, the players
performing the bestknown English ballad operas. By the time of the
Revolutionary War, Europeanborn music masters were teaching young
American harpsichordists, flautists, and violinists in cities and
towns, and also on the plantations of the South. These activities were
sporadic, however, compared with what happened after the war. As
residents of the cities along the Atlantic seaboard enjoyed increased
wealth and leisure, European professionals like Gottlieb Graupner (1767–1836)
and Benjamin Carr (1768–1831) found more reason to settle in the New
World. By the mid1790s, each of the major Atlantic coastal
cities—Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Charleston—had its
own musical theatre. Concerts of vocal and instrumental music were
given regularly. Music lessons were available to those who could
afford them. And a domestic music trade was beginning to flourish:
publishers brought out songs and pieces from the AngloAmerican
musical theatre in sheetmusic form, and both imported and
Americanmade instruments were widely for sale.
Most music in early America, whether sacred or secular, was shaped by
musicians working to satisfy a particular public and dependent in the
long run on some measure of commercial success. One remarkable group
of religious dissenters made music entirely apart from commercial
considerations—the Moravians who had settled in North Carolina and
Pennsylvania by the 1750s, and whose high level of performance and
composition centred on sacred music and instrumental chamber music as
well. Another musician to whom commercial success was unimportant was
the ‘gentleman amateur’ Francis Hopkinson, whose Seven Songs
(Philadelphia, 1788) are among the earliest Americancomposed art
songs. But the Moravians and the aristocratic Hopkinson are
exceptions: few of their musicminded contemporaries were in a
position to follow their example. Thus, in the 18th century the
foundations for the support of American musicians were laid, not in
salons and cathedrals, but in the marketplace.
2. The 19th century
The volume of all aspects of organized musicmaking increased greatly
during the 19th century. The rapid growth of the country's population
and settled territory helped bring about a corresponding growth in the
size of the American middle class, whose needs and tastes did a great
deal to shape 19thcentury American musical life. Musicians who first
learnt how to address middleclass musical needs, and who set up means
for doing so, wielded an influence beyond what their purely musical
talents might seem to warrant. Lowell Mason (1792–1872), Patrick S.
Gilmore (1829–92), and George Frederick Root (1820–95) were three such
musicians.
The Massachusettsborn Mason, who compiled more than 50 musical
publications, composed many hymn tunes in a simple ‘devotional’ style
that was widely imitated. Gilmore, who emigrated to America from
Ireland as a young man, made his mark in the realm of the public
concert: the wind band was his medium, the mass audience his quarry.
In the hands of Gilmore and, later, Sousa the wind band came to be the
medium most successful in drawing a concert audience virtually
anywhere in the world. Much of the band's broad appeal lay in its
eclectic programming—a musical mixed bag of marches, patriotic airs,
popular songs and dances, and excerpts from the classics. Taken up by
orchestras in their ‘promenade’ or ‘pops’ concerts, this programming
principle, which seeks to meet the general public on its own ground,
has persisted to the present day.
Root's career reflects a third strain in 19thcentury American musical
life: the development of the home as a centre of musicmaking. As a
partner in the Chicago publishing house of Root & Cady (1860–71), he
brought out music by many composers, including the talented songwriter
Henry Clay Work (1832–84). Root himself also composed ‘people's songs’
and cantatas—works whose studied avoidance of musical complication was
supposed to fit them for the broadest possible market. Many hit the
mark, especially his Civil War songs, which had a wide and lasting
appeal. By that time, the availability of lowpriced pianos had
prompted thousands of Americans to install pianos in their parlours.
Together with dozens of other music publishers, Root & Cady stood
ready to supply vocal and instrumental music to fit all tastes.
Pieces like Root's own songs, or the flood of piano pieces written
expressly for the amateur performer, formed only two of the many
species of 19thcentury American sheet music. Arrangements and
adaptations abounded: opera pieces, variations on favourite melodies,
battle pieces, overtures, even symphonies. Meanwhile, the popular
musical theatre continued under English domination throughout much of
the first half of the 19th century. The American presence on American
musical stages was first forcibly felt in the 1840s, when the
Ohioborn musical entertainer Dan Emmett and three cohorts blackened
their faces with burnt cork, dressed in ragtag costumes, affected the
heavy dialect and loosejointed motions associated with the African
American, and as ‘The Virginia Minstrels’ put on the first fulllength
blackface minstrel show. The idea caught on like wildfire: ‘Ethiopian’
troupes multiplied with amazing speed and found audiences wherever
they went.
After emancipation in 1863, minstrelsy was taken over increasingly by
black performers. Touring black minstrel troupes flourished from the
1860s into the early years of the 20th century, providing an avenue by
which black Americans could make a living as musicians. The songwriter
James A. Bland (1854–1911) spent his career performing in minstrelsy;
and the blues singers Ma Rainey (1886–1939) and Bessie Smith (1894–1937)
and the composerpublisher W. C. Handy (1873–1958) began their careers
as members of black minstrel troupes.
Sustained partly by the minstrel stage and partly by the home music
market was the career of Stephen Foster, whose songs, sung widely in
his own day, have endured to form part of the cultural experience of
almost every American since. Like such diverse contemporaries as Mason,
Gilmore, Root, and Bland, Foster cooperated or competed with other
musicians who were trying to reach substantially the same audience.
All of them worked in a commercial tradition shaped by themselves and
their audiences—a collective, stylistically conservative process in
which creators and consumers were linked interdependently.
Practitioners of art music in 19thcentury America struggled to build
a tradition of their own. Their initial success is best measured by
the gradual increase in the number of American institutions devoted to
teaching, performing, and promoting European art music. One kind of
performing organization is typified by the Handel and Haydn Society of
Boston (founded 1815), in which local citizens, encouraged perhaps at
least as much by religious as by artistic motives, formed a chorus
with regularly scheduled meetings. Accompanied by an orchestra of
professionals and available amateurs, and joined by solo singers, they
gave public concerts of sacred music, sometimes including full
oratorios, seeking to cover expenses by selling tickets. Choral
societies similarly drawn from the community at large grew up
throughout the country in the 19th century and continued to flourish
in the 20th.
Opera first took root in the New World in New Orleans, which had its
own resident company through much of the century (1859–1919).
Elsewhere, most Americans had to depend on touring companies. Relying
on publicity to drum up audiences and hence promoted as a branch of
show business, troupes such as the one managed by Max Maretzek
performed operas by Mozart, Rossini, Donizetti, and other European
masters. New York, fitted for the role by its concentration of wealth
and high proportion of foreignborn residents, has been the chief
centre of operatic performance in America since the late 19th century.
The Metropolitan Opera (founded in 1883) holds a place as one of the
great international houses, though in the 20th century a number of
other American cities established companies of their own, including
San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, Seattle, Santa Fe, St Louis, Dallas,
Washington, DC, and Houston.
Somewhere between the steady respectability of the choral society and
the emotional brio of the opera company stands the orchestra, a medium
indispensable to both. Throughout most of the 19th century American
orchestras tended to be groups assembled from among available
musicians on an ad hoc basis. The maintenance of a standing ensemble
as large as a symphony orchestra was simply more expensive than the
need for its services would warrant. The oldest such continuing
ensemble in America, the New York Philharmonic Society, began in 1842
as a cooperative, with the musicians themselves running the orchestra,
concerts being open only to other members of the society. Theodore
Thomas (1835–1905), perhaps the dominant figure in American concert
life during the second half of the century, established, managed, and
conducted the Theodore Thomas Orchestra, which toured for years from a
base in New York.
In general, however, standing ensembles were organized wherever
musicians succeeded in tapping a community's wealthy residents for
support. This was usually done through subscription, with a number of
patrons agreeing to commit funds to cover the ensemble's expenses.
Thus, through the patronage of some of their affluent citizens, cities
like Philadelphia, Chicago, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and
New York managed to maintain professional orchestras and to build
halls acoustically suited to their playing. The founding in 1881 of
the Boston Symphony Orchestra by a single patron, Henry Lee Higginson,
who maintained the ensemble out of his own pocket for nearly 40 years,
is unique in American musical history.
In the 19th century the musical leadership of opera companies,
symphony orchestras, and even most choral societies was assumed from
the beginning by Europeans, and the repertory they performed was
almost entirely European as well. American composers of art music,
among whom one of the first was Anthony Philip Heinrich (1781–1861),
seemed destined for the role of outsider. Two more composers, both
active in New York from the mid19th century onwards, complained
publicly that American music, including their own, was being
overlooked by the city's performers. William Henry Fry (1813–64), a
music critic of a New York daily newspaper, and George Frederick
Bristow (1825–98), a violinist with the New York Philharmonic Society
and music teacher in the city's public schools, thus raised an issue
of fundamental and continuing importance to American musical life,
though with little noticeable effect on concert programming. The one
19thcentury American composer of art music who consistently found an
audience was the New Orleansborn Louis Moreau Gottschalk.
Beginning at about the time of the Civil War, the first real ‘school’
of Americanborn composers began to come of age. Sharing an
AngloSaxon heritage, eastcoast birth, and a strong leaning towards
the musical style of German Romanticism—most, in fact, studied in
Germany—composers like John Knowles Paine (1839–1906), Horatio Parker,
George Whitefield Chadwick, Arthur Foote (1853–1937), Amy Marcy Beach,
and others gained for American composers a foothold in the country's
institutional structure. But the most famous American composer of the
time was one who stood apart from the New England group: Edward
MacDowell.
3. Folk music
Beneath the busy surface of the organized musical world of
19thcentury America, there existed folk music brought to the New
World by different groups of settlers. In this sphere the shaping
agent was not the professional tunesmith working in the musical
marketplace but, rather, the community as a whole. Consensus among
community members selected the music that linked the past with the
present and determined the forms in which oral transmission would
carry it, both over time to the next generation, and across space to
other communities.
AngloAmerican folk music offers some ready examples of two
complementary traits of oral transmission: continuity and variation.
When Cecil Sharp, the noted English folksong collector, travelled to
Appalachia early in the 20th century, singers there performed for him
versions of English and Scottish songs that had changed remarkably
little in their long journey over time and space. AngloAmerican folk
music, and the folk music of other ethnic groups, was preserved with
the least change in communities, chiefly rural, where Old World
customs and social structures were strongest. There it could serve the
roles of traditional music in traditional society: confirming
community values, providing entertainment, and performing ritual
functions.
It is a peculiarity of American musical history that when, early in
the 19th century, scholars and artists in many European countries
began to explore their unwritten cultural traditions and to draw
inspiration and materials from them, American musicians experienced no
corresponding rediscovery of their own ‘folk’. Instead, most
professional musicians and music teachers reacted to folk music with
indifference or hostility, apparently believing that its untutored
roughness placed it beneath their own serious attention. This was
ironic, for most of the popular musical forms that circulated on paper
during the 19th century had roots in AngloAmerican folk music:
psalmody, hymnody, and a good deal of secular song, inspired by the
rhyme schemes, narrative techniques, and strophic forms of the oral
ballad; the ‘broadside’ and the ‘songster’, which printed strophic
texts to be sung to tunes people knew by heart; and printed dance
music, reflecting the characteristic rhythmic patterns and the
multistrain musical forms of folk dance.
The traditional folk music types of other European groups are more
regional phenomena. Thus HispanicAmerican folk music belongs to the
Southwest and to California, FrenchAmerican to the Cajuns in
Louisiana, GermanAmerican to the ‘Pennsylvania Dutch’, and eastern
European music—Greek, Russian, Balkan—to ethnic communities in large
American cities like New York, Chicago, and Detroit. Also restricted
to circulation within culturally distinct, isolated groups is the
music of the many Amerindian tribes, aboriginal settlers of the North
American continent.
No folk music has enjoyed a more complex history in the New World than
that of the black Americans, who were brought there against their
will. Most blacks in 18th and 19thcentury America were slaves;
hence, most black American communities existed under some degree of
white control, which discouraged the survival of such elements as
drums, Old World languages, and African religious beliefs. Living in
proximity to whites, black Americans gradually adopted certain white
musical genres without abandoning their own indigenous performing
styles—much more aggressive in rhythm and freer in pitch than any
EuroAmerican singing or playing. Perhaps the most famous example of
an acculturated vocal music is the spiritual, the black American
version of the Protestant hymn. First set down by white amateur
musicians in the landmark collection Slave Songs of the United States
(1867), then sung in harmonized choral versions by the Fisk Jubilee
Singers and other groups of young blacks under white direction, and
much later turned by trained black musicians into art songs for solo
voice and piano, the spirituals illustrate how the folk music of a
people considered ‘halfbarbarous’ by its first white collectors could
be adapted without losing its distinctive, haunting beauty.
The rhythmic complexity that early white collectors of spirituals
found hard to capture in notation also pervaded black American
instrumental folk music, much of it tied up with dance. Black
musicians' fondness for offbeat accents within a steady metre was
expressed through all available means: vocables, bodyslapping, and
footstomping; Africanderived instruments like the bones and the
banjo; and eventually European instruments, especially the fiddle and
the piano. By the end of the 19th century, black American performers
had fashioned an entertainment and dance music called ‘ragtime’, in
which squarecut, syncopated melodies were played in a series of
contrasting, marchlike strains. Published as piano music around the
turn of the century, ragtime achieved special elegance in the works of
the composerpianist Scott Joplin—as far removed from folk tradition
as Henry T. Burleigh's settings of spirituals, but just as
unmistakably marked by it.
The ability of black Americans to assimilate Europeanbased forms and
bend them to their own purposes, as in the spiritual and ragtime, and
to provide the inspiration for some of the most lively white musicmaking
of the age, as in the minstrel show, suggests that in 19thcentury
America cultural power did not necessarily depend upon social
position. That fact was to become even clearer in the 20th century,
when black American musical traditions made a decisive impact on
virtually all American popular music.
4. 20thcentury art music
Charles Ives, one of the most original of all 20thcentury composers,
stood almost entirely apart from the musical world that his American
predecessors had struggled to build. By 1920, when Ives had virtually
stopped composing, the institutions supporting music in the
USA—symphony orchestras, opera companies, choral societies,
conservatories and schools, and, a newer agency, phonograph recording
companies—formed a superstructure of some permanence. Shaped by
musicians and musically active citizens, that superstructure was a
major part of the 20thcentury composer's legacy. Although American
composers who came of age in the 1920s had no stylistically unified
tradition to carry on, they at least inherited a tradition of
professionalism in art music. Another part of their inheritance,
however, conspired to exclude them from that tradition. In the years
before World War I the European avantgarde attacked artistic
institutions and conventional aesthetic values, asserting that
bourgeois society was the enemy of meaningful art. Such an attack
carried certain penalties, especially in the USA, where musical
institutions and composers depended on the support of the very
citizens whom the avantgarde attacked. American composers who carried
avantgarde influences to the New World found most musicians and
audiences indifferent or hostile in their responses. It therefore fell
to them to find or organize their own forum.
Edgard Varèse, who had made his home in New York from 1915, helped
found in 1921 the shortlived International Composers' Guild,
dedicated to performing contemporary music. As one of the founding
members of the League of Composers (1923), Aaron Copland began his
career as a tireless worker on behalf of the cause of new music. The
Californiaborn Henry Cowell, at a Carnegie Hall recital in 1924,
unveiled pieces that called for many unconventional techniques, and in
1927, with Ives's financial backing, founded the New Music Edition,
which for the next quartercentury published modern works by a whole
range of composers, most of them American.
The economic depression of the 1930s touched almost every facet of
American life, including music. In a social atmosphere of deprivation
and misery, some composers reached a new understanding of their role
in society. Rather than an embattled minority of artists in a hostile
environment, they began to think of themselves as citizens with
special talents that could be tapped for the general improvement of
other Americans' lives. Simultaneously, institutional changes brought
more Americans than ever before into contact with art music. The
government's Federal Music Project, begun as a relief measure, put the
resources of the state in the service of art music for the first time.
Radio networks began to broadcast performances of symphony orchestras
and opera companies, giving a large audience virtually free access to
professional performances of art music. The commercial film industry
engaged established American composers to provide scores for its
productions. With composers standing ready to meet audiences halfway,
hopes ran high between 1930 and 1945 that, by addressing a broader
audience in an idiom that it understood, they could strengthen their
rather tenuous place in American society.
In line with its new agenda, American art music of that period shows a
greater tendency than ever before to celebrate American history,
American heroes, and the American ‘folk’. Roy Harris, born in Oklahoma
and writing in an idiom shaped by his lifelong acquaintance with folk
music, was a symphonist whose career blossomed in the 1930s. Virgil
Thomson was another who plainly welcomed American subject matter. And
Copland changed his style to produce Appalachian Spring (1944) and his
Third Symphony (1946).
In the years immediately after World War II, American composers of art
music were generally more interested in exploring new technical
dimensions of their art than in broadening their audience. One
institutional change that supported such exploration, and encouraged
the notion that composers were intellectuals, was the rapid postwar
expansion of college and university departments and schools of music,
many of which appointed composers as teachers. Faculty positions
required composers to do more than just compose, yet freed them to
compose as they wished. Moreover, by assigning talented young
musicians to their instruction, such posts affirmed their importance
in the perpetuation of American music. Such composerteachers as
Walter Piston at Harvard and Howard Hanson at the Eastman School
carried on the traditional academic posture of the earlier New England
Classicists. Others, like Roger Sessions at Princeton and the
University of California, Milton Babbitt at Princeton, and Ross Lee
Finney at the University of Michigan emphasized the importance of the
university as a place to work freely. By employing composers and
encouraging performances of music by them, their colleagues, and their
students, the university has created a public forum separate from that
of the other established institutions of art music.
For all the importance of academic institutions, many musicians have
managed to exist outside them as composers of commissioned pieces,
performers, or writers on music. The Californian composer John Cage, a
conspicuous avantgarde figure since his first New York concerts in
the early 1940s, succeeded in finding another kind of audience in
downtown Manhattan, home to an unusual concentration of artists,
writers, theatre people, and students.
In view of the past history of art music in America, it is remarkable
that not even thoroughgoing, antiestablishment radicalism could
inhibit the growth in the 1960s and 70s of musical philanthropy.
Private foundations, some of which had long supported musicians,
stepped up their giving. Various states, most notably New York,
established arts councils to disburse money financing worthy projects.
The involvement of universities continued. And in 1965 the federal
government established the National Endowment for the Arts, a funding
agency whose budget grew quickly in the following years. In the 1980s,
however, funds for music began to dwindle.
Nevertheless, by the end of the 20th century American art music was in
a state of resolute pluralism. Earlier hopes that such a thing as an
‘American music’ might accompany national maturity seemed naive as the
outline of a mature American culture began to appear. For, rather than
pulling it towards a single, national style, the passing of time had
seemed increasingly to diversify American art, to a point reflected in
the music of Elliott Carter, Steve Reich, and John Adams.
5. Presentday popular music
With economic stakes so much higher than in art music, American
musicians working in vernacular genres in the 20th century worked
within a group of highly competitive institutions: the theatre
circuit, the nightclub circuit, a network of music publishers and
distributors, and the recording, film, and broadcasting industries. By
the end of the 19th century theatrical entertainments involving music
included both musical theatre (operettas and other shows with an
integrated plot and many musical numbers) and the variety show or
revue in which a series of different acts, some musical, shared the
stage. Control of both was centred in New York, where dozens of
theatres flourished. Some operettas and musical shows toured, and the
vaudeville circuit sent variety shows through the whole country in a
network of theatres. Songs from the musical theatre represented one of
the staples of the musicpublishing industry, which was now also
centred on New York in the socalled Tin Pan Alley district.
The American popular song, somewhat like the industry that supported
it, presents a constantly changing surface whose fundamental subject
matter has altered little. Most popular songs are love songs. The
strain of high romantic rhetoric that pervaded the Viennese operetta
is reflected in its early 20thcentury counterpart in songs by Victor
Herbert and Sigmund Romberg. The impact of black American music helped
to bring a new rhythmic vitality and an informality of expression to
shows of the 1910s and 20s and their songs, as suggested by Irving
Berlin's Alexander's Ragtime Band and Gershwin's I Got Rhythm. This
new ‘hot’ style of song was rooted in dance—especially in such new
ways of moving as the foxtrot and the Charleston, which reflected the
syncopated dance music increasingly referred to as jazz. A widening
range of harmonic possibilities enriched the songwriter's expressive
resources, as shown in songs by Jerome Kern and Harold Arlen.
Formally, the 32bar chorus was almost universal, which made a song
with a 48bar chorus like Cole Porter's Night and Day remarkable. But
the songwriter's craft calls on him to hide rather than flaunt his
technique, working for something both naturalsounding and catchy.
Among types of indigenous music, black American blues was one of the
first to penetrate a commercial market. Observing the powerful
response of rural southern black audiences to traditional folk music
performed by members of their own community, the bandleader W. C.
Handy began in about 1915 to publish blues in sheetmusic form.
Recordings of blues were made by black singers as early as 1920, and
the unexpectedly strong reception they received from record
buyers—mostly black, since the records were issued on ‘race’ labels
that circulated chiefly where blacks lived—helped to create a new
branch of the popular music industry. The same kind of process took
place among rural and smalltown whites in the southeastern USA. As
early as the 1920s, such performers as ‘Fiddlin’ John' Carson and the
Carter Family were recording their own kind of music, leading to the
establishment of the country music industry, with headquarters in
Nashville, Tennessee.
Traditional folk music of other kinds also found its way outside the
context in which it originated. Beginning in the 1920s, emigrant
musicians from many different European ethnic groups made commercial
recordings in their indigenous Old World styles. AngloAmerican folk
tunes, together with their instrumentation and singing style, served
as both a source and a model for performers linked with political
causes—from Woody Guthrie's labourunion songs of the 1930s to Pete
Seeger's and Bob Dylan's antiwar songs of the 1960s. Arranged for a
wider commercial audience, folk music also contributed a fresh
repertory in the 1950s and 60s for such entertainers as the Kingston
Trio and Harry Belafonte. At the same time, musicians like Mike Seeger,
performing in coffee houses and at folk festivals, dedicated
themselves to preserving the ‘authenticity’ of traditional
AngloAmerican folk styles.
The predominant popular style since the 1960s, rock and roll, was also
conceived for a particular social group, American teenagers. Unlike
blues, country music, and folk music—on all of which it has drawn—rock
and roll originated as a strictly commercial music. Beginning in the
late 1950s, it addressed the tastes of youngsters who were not much
drawn to the music of Tin Pan Alley and Broadway—written for such
performers as Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Peggy Lee, who sang
primarily to other adults. Promoted at first by independent record
producers and disc jockeys on offbeat radio stations, and sold cheaply
in singledisc form, rock music soon became big business as the
economic power of the youth market and the vitality of the new musical
style revealed themselves. Talented and successful performers
including Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix, and many others contributed to
the maturing of rock music. Through various style changes, two
elements have remained more or less constant as wellsprings of the
music: an aggressive, driving beat implying sexuality, and a posture
of rebellion against the values of conventional society, expressed
both in song lyrics and in the dress and behaviour of the musicians,
often calculated to offend nonaficionados.
Of all types of commercially based American music, jazz is the one
that has most consistently fostered musical artistry on a high level.
Black jazz performers began to record early in the 1920s, among them
Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong. Larger dance orchestras of the
1920s were influenced by the new jazz style, and some, like the New
Yorkbased black band of Duke Ellington, were organized especially to
play it. White dance bands of the 1930s and 40s, like the group led by
the Chicagoborn clarinettist Benny Goodman, gained great commercial
success through touring, record sales, and radio broadcasts, playing a
repertory that included both jazz numbers and Tin Pan Alley songs.
The appearance of bebop in the 1940s added a new style to the field of
jazz—one in a selfconsciously ‘advanced’ musical idiom perceived from
the first as a radical departure from earlier jazz. Bebop also helped
to introduce to jazz an aggressively anticommercial orientation. The
performer now considered him or herself more an artist than an
entertainer, and such musicians as the saxophonist Charlie Parker, the
trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, and the pianistcomposer Thelonious Monk
worked in a smaller, more specialized sphere with its own
institutions—clubs, record companies, publications, and critics—and
its own devoted audience. Younger performers like Ornette Coleman,
John Coltrane, and Cecil Taylor contributed to an avantgarde movement
that extended the jazz idiom further and further away from its
original roots, so that by the 1960s the jazz avantgarde was
beginning to be recognized by the academicphilanthropic establishment
as a special kind of art music whose future required institutional
support beyond what the commercial market could provide.
It is no surprise that in a musical culture like that of the USA, one
that has developed without a single powerful centre, music of high
artistic integrity and durability has appeared all over the country.
Since jazz has been a uniquely American music of international
impact—one clearcut example of influence moving eastwards rather than
westwards—perhaps it is fitting to take a jazz performance as a
paradigm of American musical vitality. In October 1947 the 27yearold
black alto saxophonist from Kansas City, Charlie Parker, played
Gershwin's song Embraceable You in the course of a recording session.
That brief recorded moment preserves an uncanny balance: the fantasy
of improvisatory inspiration within the restraint of a Tin Pan Alley
love ballad's formal and harmonic structure; the decorative profusion
of the virtuoso controlled by a disciplined, cohesive command of newly
invented materials; a statement in a thoroughly personal idiom,
delivered with the communicative power of a performer who seems to be
speaking or singing through his instrument. Here is a fusion that
testifies to artistic maturity; here is an American artist at work in
a tradition.
Richard Crawford / Paul Griffiths
Bibliography
B. Nettl , An Introduction to Folk Music in the United States (Detroit,
1960; 3rd edn, rev. H. Myers as Folk Music in the United States,
Detroit, 1976)
E. Southern , The Music of Black Americans: A History (New York, 1971,
3/1997)
B. Lambert (ed.), Music in Colonial Massachusetts, 1630–1820 (Boston,
1980–5)
N. Tawa , A Sound of Strangers: Musical Culture, Acculturation, and
the PostCivil War Ethnic American (Metuchen, NJ, 1982)
C. Hamm , Music in the New World (New York and London, 1983)
C. Small , Music of the Common Tongue: Survival and Celebration in
AfroAmerican Music (New York and London, 1987)
A. P. Britton , I. Lowens , and R. Crawford , American Sacred Music
Imprints, 1698–1810: A Bibliography (Worcester, MA, 1990)
R. A. Crawford , R. A. Lott , and C. J. Oja (eds.), A Celebration of
American Music: Words and Music in Honor of H. Wiley Hitchcock (Ann
Arbor, MI, 1990)
S. Porter , With an Air Debonair: Musical Theatre in America,
1785–1815 (Washington, DC, 1991)
J. Dizikes , Opera in America: A Cultural History (New Haven, CT, 1993)
R. Garofalo , Rockin' Out: Popular Music in the USA (Needham Heights,
MA, 1997)
R. Crawford , America's Musical Life (New York, 2001) Copyright ©
Oxford University Press 2007 — 2011.

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