Popular Music in the United States
Undoubtedly, the US popular music is a cultural phenomenon as it combines diverse styles, traditions of different social groups, and interesting musical discoveries. A tipping point in the American music culture was in the 1920s. Due to urbanization, a sufficient number of the population moved to cities, and many immigrants from Europe and Africa become a part of these urban areas in pursuit for “American dream” also. They brought their native instruments, musical traditions and unique styles with them. The changes in music that happened during the 20th and 21st century triggered the occurrence of such popular styles as Tin Pan Alley music, country, rock and roll (rock’n’roll), and rap. As a result, with these original music styles, the US has acquired a combination that made its music culture one of the most diverse in the world.
The Tin Pan Alley
The evolution of the US diverse musical culture started in the early 20th century when the Jewish immigrants in the New York City established the popular music in the country. This group comprised of songwriters, composers, publishers, and performers and was called the Tin Pan Alley. For example, Irving Berlin, a Jewish refugee from Russia, was writing songs for the Broadway stage and films. The first song that made him popular was “Alexanders Ragtime Band” composed in 1911. He sold 1.5 million of copies in the first few days, which was a great success at that time. George Gershwin is also an unordinary example. He had a short life due to a disease. Nevertheless, he became one of the most famous American concert music composers as well as popular music artist (Starr and Waterman 26). Nowadays, many Tin Pan Alley songs are used as a source of inspiration and material for the modern Jazz singers.
Another stage of increasing diversity of the US musical heritage has become country music as a cultural phenomenon that depicts both national traditions and history as the mirror reflection of all changes that took place in the nation after the World War II. It represents two opposite worlds. One is full of love, family relationships, and memories about the pleasant past. The second one is about broken love and restless seeking for better life. Country became extremely popular after the war because people from the south of the country started moving to the cities of Ohio, California, and Michigan among others. This statement is proved by the fact that by 1949 almost 700 radio stations around the US were broadcasting country music (Starr and Waterman 56). However, this music style was divided by those artists who wanted to move it to mainstream popular charts and those who wanted to preserve the musical traditions of the American South, trying to make old country to fit the new circumstances. As a result, many new substyles were created. Probably, the most popular one was the bluegrass music, which was the combination of modern country with the good old southern string band music. Bill Monroe, born in Kentucky, was a pioneer of this style. Under the impact of the black musician Arnold Schulz, he developed a unique style with bluesy notes which were a distinguishing feature of his songs. Monroe started his own band called The Blue Grass Boys, and later the same year joined the team of the Grand Ole Opry, which made him extremely popular (Starr and Waterman 57).
It is impossible to talk about country music without mentioning Hank Williams, the most significant country artist of the post-war period. The artist was included in the Top 10 country charts 36 times, with such songs as “Lovesick Blues,” “Cold, Cold Heart,” and “Jambalaya.” Williams started his career quite early. Taught by a black singer called Rufe Tee-Tot, he was performing on the streets, while at the age of 16, he already had his small radio station, then a band. The peak of his career was in his middle 1920s. Unfortunately, he died at the age of 29, having troubles with alcohol and painkilling drugs (Starr and Waterman 61). Nevertheless, he made a great impact on the history of music of the middle 20th century and gave inspiration to numerous young artists.
Rock and Roll Music
The rock and roll music triggered a cultural revolution in the US as it attracted the audience with remarkable guitar shows and songs based on the issues of the day. In fact, it was not a new style of music and definitely not the first one addressed to the young audience. Exactly because of the adolescent listeners, this style became dominating. Most of the rock’n’roll fans appeared as the result of post-war baby boom. This type of music was based on different styles. One of them is rhythm and blues with its most famous representative, Chuck Berry, who addressed his songs to both black and white teenagers. There was also a country-based type of rock’n’roll with its biggest star – Elvis Presley (Starr and Waterman 62). Presley was so popular among Americans that he is still holding the record of the biggest selling solo artist, which was established in the 1960s.
Beginning with the 1960s, the second generation of rock’n’roll emerged. It happened under the impact of the civil rights movement, the assassination of the President J.F. Kennedy, and the Vietnam War. On this background, the all-time rock’n’roll star of Jimi Hendrix has arisen. His unicity and imagination made him one of the best guitarists of the rock era. Hendrix created a band called The Experience in 1966. It was first seen in America in 1967 at Monterey Pop Festival and the artist shocked the spectators with his performance (“America Rocks and Rolls,” n. pag.). He created a unique guitar-focused show, which has become a typical characteristic of rock concerts of the whole generation.
Actually, there is one more style of rock’n’roll that emerged in the 1960s and was called urban folk. In addition, one more outstanding artist made his way to the hall of fame not only of this style but music art in general. His name is Bob Dylan. In 1965, the performer released his first album Bringing It All Back Home (Starr and Waterman 70). At that time, baby boomers were college students interested in political and cultural issues, for example the Cold War. Dylan’s song were based on the issues of the day became an inspiration for both audiences and artists.
Hip Hop Culture and Rap Music
One more contribution into the rich diversity of the US music has become rap as a matchless music style developed in the poorest areas of the New York City, a combination of old African traditions with the new rhythmic hip hop music. It was one of the essential parts in the hip hop culture, along with breakdancing and graffiti art. Rap was used in Africa as well as in the Caribbean long time before its emergence in the US for telling rhythmic stories. Young African-Americans mixed this old tradition with typical for them rhythm and creativity, and acquired a completely unique music style that has become extremely popular and still occupies the leading place in top charts (Starr and Waterman 83).
The 21st century was marked by immense popularity of hip hop music and rap in particular. The local hip hop communities appeared all around the world, with such famous artists as Wiz Khalifa and Lil Wayne in the US, Dizzee Rascal in the United Kingdom, and Drake in Canada, to name a few. Among all these stars, the brightest one was born. His name is Marshal Mathers, better known as Eminem. He was surrounded by the hip hop culture in his native city of Detroit. Being a gifted young man, he won several rapping competitions. Eminem became one of the first white rappers who achieved this fame. At early stages of his career, he was facing huge difficulties with getting a record contract. He was not recognized by African American community, but after years of trying he finally received a contract (Errey, n.pag.). Nowadays, Eminem is considered as the greatest rapper in history.
Thus, the music culture of the United States has evolved into one of the most diverse in the world. It is an example of combination of unique styles and creativity. With the creation of the Tin Pan Alley, the history of the popular American music has started. The next stage of the US pop music development is country, with its reflection of traditions and problems of America. However, the country was overshadowed by the rock’n’roll, with its remarkable guitar shows and songs based on the issues of the day. Finally, the end of the 20th century has become prominent with the development and establishment of the rap music as an inevitable part of the hip hop culture.