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The evolution of music has led to the invention of many different genres and styles. From jazz and disco to rock and punk, there is a type of music for every taste and every era, making it one of the most well-loved aspects of American culture. Music transcends generations, decades, and even centuries, which is why it continues to be so popular to this day. But, where did American music have its roots?
One of the biggest insights into the history of American music is the ongoing popularity of modern-day genres. You only need to look at bands such as Red Hot Chilli Peppers or Guns n’ Roses to know that the rock genre has strong influences from decades way before its time. The same goes for pop music, hip hop and rap. There is an underlying theme running throughout all types of music, and its origins go way back.
An era of rebellion and social and political change, the 1920s marked the beginning of the revolt against tradition. Americans began to shun farm life, instead flocking to bustling towns and sprawling cities where they could keep up to date with modern culture. This led to the creation of speakeasies and dance clubs, such as The Cotton Club. These clubs played the most popular styles of the time – blues, ragtime and jazz. With their African American roots, these genres enchanted a generation and inspired countless musicians in their wake. Artists such as Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman and Fanny Brice are still popular to this day.
Though this was a time of poverty due to the Great Depression, music still continued to hold its appeal. Album sales dropped, but the popularity of rhythm and blues artists such as Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Artie Shaw and Tommy Dorsey was at an all-time high. This style of music was to be the most influential on the pop music genre.
The 1940s saw the emergence of different types of music, such as country and pop. Country music took its influence from blues, and lyrics were centred around sadness and relationship troubles; while pop music was much more upbeat and positive. Swing artists such as Glen Miller became extremely popular, as did Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby.
Caption: America has a long tradition of producing world class musicians
Arguably one of the most influential decades of all time for music, the 1950s were an explosion of economic growth, baby boomers and rock and roll. The era that gave us Elvis Presley, Ritchie Valens, Buddy Holly, and Fats Domino, as well as country stars like Johnny Cash, was memorable in more ways than one. Rhythm and blues combined with doo-wop, jazz and gospel to create a unique and faster sound coined by artists such as Ray Charles.
The rock and roll genre was taken to new heights during the swinging sixties, particularly by bands from Great Britain. The Rolling Stones and The Beatles became huge influences on American music, sparking a new wave of idolising fans and innovating artists. Woodstock started the era of hippy culture, ensuring the popularity of artists like Janis Joplin and Bob Dylan; while the Motown movement saw girl-group The Supremes reach dizzying heights in 1966.
A further leap into the rock genre was taken in the 1970s, with bands such as Aerosmith and Kiss taking the genre off into one direction, while John Denver and The Doobie Brothers took it in another. Bands lived their lives on tour, such as The Eagles, who would invent their own card games to pass the time on the road. Disco became a huge part of the 1970s, thanks to the box office hit Saturday Night Fever. The Bee Gees and The Village People came to define the era.
The birth of MTV brought with it the music video. Bands such as Pink Floyd, Kenny Rogers, Guns n’ Roses and Bon Jovi became megastars in their own right. Hip hop appeared on the scene, with Run DMC, Grandmaster Flash, The Beastie Boys and Salt ‘n Pepa providing the dance soundtrack for the decade. Pop music went to places it had not been before. Artists such as Madonna, Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston reached levels of global stardom that were unheard in the genre.
Techno and hip hop were strong contenders for the top spots in the 1990s. Artists such as Techtronic, Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer had huge international hits. Grunge music inspired bands like Nirvana to release angst-ridden, angry songs that attracted the disenfranchised youth of the day. By the end of the decade, however, bubblegum pop took a front seat. Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera were propelled into stardom along with boy band N’Sync.
This was the era when rappers such as Eminem and Jay Z took the top spot. Pop queens Alicia Keys and Beyoncé were also launched into the pop stratosphere. All types of music began to flourish, as instant internet accessibility connected fans with music in a way that had never been seen before.
American music has greatly evolved over the last century and continues to do so with each year. Talent shows are now making it possible for anyone to become a star, while the age of the internet also gives anyone the opportunity to make music whenever they want. Who knows where the industry will go next!