Music in Global America



In jazz, the African-American musical genres and hybrids that grew out of  slave cultures blossomed into a uniquely American art form with world-wide influence.  Jazz began in New Orleans, the melting pot of musical traditions at the turn of the twentieth century. Jazz blends the style of the  blues and spiritual songs, the rhythms of ragtime, the call and response of work songs, as well as classical music traditions, and weaves them into a powerful music that swept through the 1920s and gained that decade its title: The Jazz Age. 

As more instruments were added to the early jazz bands, the Big Bands of the Swing Era made it possible for percussion instruments to join the dance music. The drum set became an indispensable part of rock and other forms of American popular music, and brought the hidden and hybridized African emphasis on percussion instruments into the bright light of American popular music. Percussion is still a conspicuous part of most forms of popular music, though acoustic percussion instruments have been largely replaced by electronic percussion.


Many streams of folk and vernacular music styles contributed to the evolution of rock & roll, but it was mainly the convergence of early rhythm and blues and honky-tonk that led to its distinctive style.

Little Richard and Bo Diddley transformed rhythm and blues into rock & roll by drastically upping tempo, stressing the backbeat, adding saxophones and a "pounding" piano style, and increasing the prominence of electric guitar. At first Little Richard's recordings were considered too raw and aggressive and his live performance style too "anarchic" for mainstream audiences. 

Compare Big Mama Thornton's rhythm and blues version of "Hound Dog" (written in 1952 by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stolle) to Elvis Presley's.


Elvis Presley (1935-1977) was the only artist to have #1 hits in gospel, country, rhythm & blues, and rock & roll. His mansion, Graceland, is the second most-visited residence (after the White House) in the United States.



Blues shouters like Big Joe Turner (1911-1985) transferred to blues songs the exhorting, impassioned vocal style ("shouting") of African-American Southern Baptist preachers, as well as black gospel music traditions --  hand claps, the rhythmic pattern of the backbeat, a call-and-response format between soloist and group of singers, improvisation, and spontaneous movement. Combined with electric guitar and drum set and sped up, the style eventually became known as soul.

Ray Charles (1930-2004) was the first artist to combine elements of black gospel music ("It Must Be Jesus") and secular lyrics in his recording from 1952, "I Got a Woman." 



Funk is a style originating in the mid-1960s and one of the dominant forms of music, along with disco, of the 1970s. Funk added a small section of brass and saxophone instruments (and sometimes electric organ) from the "hard" be bop jazz bands of the 1950s.

The widespread availability of portable video cameras in the late 1960's allowed amateurs and independent documentary filmmakers an inexpensive means to capture spontaneous unedited footage, as in this scene in a nightclub where funk singer Wilson Pickett and his band perform "Funky Broadway".

Other funk artists include Sly and the Family Stone.

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