Music of the United States  

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"Buffalo Gals" (c. 1840), covered by Malcolm McLaren on his 1983 album Duck Rock, which mixed up influences from Africa and America, including hip-hop. The album proved to be highly influential in bringing hip-hop to a wider audience in the UK. Two of the singles from the album ("Buffalo Gals" and "Double Dutch") became major chart hits on both sides of the Atlantic.
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"Buffalo Gals" (c. 1840), covered by Malcolm McLaren on his 1983 album Duck Rock, which mixed up influences from Africa and America, including hip-hop. The album proved to be highly influential in bringing hip-hop to a wider audience in the UK. Two of the singles from the album ("Buffalo Gals" and "Double Dutch") became major chart hits on both sides of the Atlantic.

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The music of the United States reflects the country's pluri-ethnic population through a diverse array of styles. It is a mixture of music influenced by West African, Irish, Scottish and mainland European cultures among others. The country's most internationally renowned genres are jazz, blues, country, bluegrass, americana (music), rock, rhythm and blues, soul, ragtime, funk, hip hop, doo wop, pop, techno, house, folk music, disco, boogaloo, reggaeton, and salsa. American 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 their own musical traditions, and each subsequent wave of immigrants contributed to a melting pot.

Much of modern popular music has roots in 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 musics. 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 Irish, Scottish, Polish, Hispanic, and Jewish communities, among others.

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Popular music

American popular music

In the 20th century the American music industry developed a series of new forms of music, using elements of blues and other genres of American folk music. These popular styles included country, R&B, jazz and rock. The 1960s and '70s saw a number of important changes in American popular music, including the development of a number of new styles, including heavy metal, punk, soul music, and hip hop. Though these styles were not popular in the sense of mainstream, they were commercially recorded and are thus examples of popular music as opposed to folk or classical music.

Classical music

American classical music

The New York classical music scene included Charles Griffes, originally from Elmira, New York, who began publishing his most innovative material in 1914. His early collaborations were attempts to use non-Western musical themes. The best-known New York composer was George Gershwin. Gershwin was a songwriter with Tin Pan Alley and the Broadway theatres, and his works were strongly influenced by jazz, or rather the precursors to jazz that were extant during his time. Gershwin's work made American classical music more focused, and attracted an unheard of amount of international attention. Following Gershwin, the first major composer was Aaron Copland from Brooklyn, who used elements of American folk music, though it remained European in technique and form. Later, he turned to the ballet and then serial music. Charles Ives was one of the earliest American classical composers of enduring international significance, producing music in a uniquely American style, though his music was mostly unknown until after his death in 1954.

Many of the later 20th-century composers, such as John Cage, John Corigliano and Steve Reich, used modernist and minimalist techniques. Reich discovered a technique known as phasing, in which two musical activities begin simultaneously and are repeated, gradually drifting out of sync, creating a natural sense of development. Reich was also very interested in non-Western music, incorporating African rhythmic techniques in his compositions. Recent composers and performers are strongly influenced by the minimalist works of Philip Glass, a Baltimore native based out of New York, Meredith Monk and others.

Interaction between black and white music

By the 1940s, cover versions of African American songs were commonplace, and frequently topped the charts, while the original musicians found success among their African American audience, but not in mainstream. In 1955, Thurman Ruth persuaded a gospel group to sing in a secular setting, the Apollo Theater, with such success that he subsequently arranged gospel caravans that traveled around the country, playing the same venues that rhythm and blues singers had popularized. Popular African American music at the time was a developing genre called "rock and roll", whose exponents included Little Richard and Jackie Brenston. The following decade saw the first major crossover acts, with Bill Haley and Elvis Presley performing rockabilly, a rock and country fusion, while black artists like Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley received unprecedented mainstream success. Presley went on to become perhaps the first watershed figure in American music; his career, while never extremely innovative, marked the beginning of the acceptance of musical tastes crossing racial boundaries among all audiences. He was also the first in a long line of white performers to achieve what some perceive as undue fame for his influence, since many of his fans showed no desire to learn about the pioneers he learned from. The 50s also saw doo wop become popular.

The late 1950s also saw vastly increased popularity of hard blues from the earliest part of the century, both in the United States and United Kingdom. A secularized form of American gospel music called soul also developed, with pioneers like Ben E. King and Sam Cooke leading the wave. Soul and R&B became a major influence on surf, as well as the chart-topping girl groups like The Angels and The Shangrilas, only some of whom were white. Black divas like Diana Ross & the Supremes and Aretha Franklin became 60s crossover stars. In the UK, British blues became a gradually mainstream phenomenon, returning to the United States in the form of the British Invasion, a group of bands led by The Beatles who performed classic-style R&B, blues and pop with both traditional and modernized aspects.

The British Invasion knocked most other bands off the charts, with only a handful of groups, like The Mamas & the Papas, maintaining a pop career. Soul music, in two major highly-evolved forms, remained popular among blacks. Funk, usually said to have been invented by James Brown, incorporated influences from psychedelia and early heavy metal, particularly Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix was himself innovative in electric guitar, being one of the first guitarists to use effects pedals such as the wah wah pedal. Just as popular among blacks and with more crossover appeal, album-oriented soul revolutionized African American music with intelligent and philosophical lyrics, often with a socially aware tone. Marvin Gaye's What's Going On is perhaps the best-remembered of this field.

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Music of the United States" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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