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Paul Sparks - Online English Lesson Plans, Lesson Material and Ideas for "Culture of English Speaking Countries Lessons" for Xiangtan Normal University...




American Music

The History of American Music:

  • American popular music includes many different forms, such as: Blues, Jazz, Country, Rock, R&B, RAP, and Hip-Hop. When British pop music of the 1960's hit America, almost everyone listened to music from "The Beatles", "Rolling Stones", "Tom Jones" and many other British groups and individual performers.

  • In early America a wide variety of musical styles emerged. In the beginning American music was largely dependent on European styles, in particular British, Scottish, Irish, German, Italian, French and African. By 1776 it had developed a more unique sound. The music included ballads, dance tunes, folk songs, and parodies, comic opera arias, bugle and drum calls, psalms, minuets, and sonatas.

  • Rock and Roll grew from Black Rhythm and Blues with Country and Western. Rock and Roll started out being labeled as rebellious, primitive, black music. Some white artists like "Buddy Holly" introduced Rock and Roll to the youth in the early 1950's, and their influence along with others began the first true multi-racial and multi-cultural movement in America. It was legendary Elvis Presley bursting on the scene in the middle 1950's that signaled that Rock and Roll had began to become accepted as legitimate. 

  • Rhythm and Blues (now called R & B) can trace its roots from Jazz and old black Gospel music. The narrative form (speech) and rich beat of R & B has led to modern RAP and Hip-Hop. It is this music which form the basis of the rhythms of modern American Popular Music. From New Orleans Jazz, to the Motown Sound, to Urban Hip-Hop and Rap, black music forms the core of contemporary music in America. There is hardly a Rocker anywhere who can't trace their music's roots to the sound of black America. 

  • Modern Country and Western music has its roots in the folk songs of the rural south and the cowboy music popularized by the singing cowboys of the 30's, 40's and 50's. It was also influenced by many songs born of the strife and conflict of the impoverished miners and farmers or the depression era.

  • The 1980's and 1990's saw a rebirth of the influence of the Latin rhythms in American Music. The Miami Sound and the Mexican influence swept into American Music. Cuban, Puerto Rican, and Mexican artist in all forms added their music to the mix. Rap, Country, Rock, and R and B have all been touched by the Latin beat. 

  • The media explosion of the 1950's and 1960's was fueled by Rock and Roll on Radio, Television, and the movies. The beat of Rock and Roll became the dominant force of American music, and the lines between the forms began to blend. Music forms are no longer segregated by race today as the forms have merged across the lines of culture in America. Today the effect of this mixing of music and culture can be seen everywhere in the culture. Whitney Houston soulfully sings a song written by Dolly Parton, Lionel Richey writes Country songs for Kenny Rogers. Ray Charles has had some of his greatest hits from Country and Western standards like "Your Cheatin' Heart". Marshall Mathers, better known as Eminem, is a white Rap artist who crosses all lines.

American Music in the Twentieth Century:

1920's and 1930's - This was the era that jazz was thought to have received its name. In this period, jazz music saw the appearances of two of the greatest of all time: Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. They brought about the Big Band/Swing movement.

1940's - There was a dramatic change in jazz. Most noticeably, the sound and intonation produced had more edge and a more aggressive than the sound of a typical swing band. 

1950's - Jazz drifted from the mainstream and became known as Hard Bop. It included elements from the Bop era and was led by sax players Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, and trumpet player Miles Davis.

1960's - Rock also had its revolution in the 60's. Some of the more influential rock 'n' rollers were Dobie Gray, Chuck Berry, Chubby Checker, and Bo Diddley. Elvis Presley, by most accounts, greatly popularized rock 'n' roll, with his gyrating hips and risque movements. The Beach Boys introduced a slightly different take on rock-- the surfer-dude sound. The Troggs came along with "Wild Thing."Bob Dylan developed folk rock in the mid-1960's. Bands such as Jefferson Airplane, the Doors, and the Grateful Dead were among the great acid rock bands.

1970's and 1980's - Throughout the 70's and 80's, jazz and rock became a new form called fusion. It uses guitars and electric pianos that play fast unison melodies. This method was popular throughout jazz fusion.

1980's - In the 1980's television networks like MTV and VH1 began to broadcast music videos. Millions of people around the world tune into these stations everyday.

1990's - In the late 1980's and early 1990's the hard rock sound began. The songs by Nirvana and Pearl Jam spoke of the deep-running problems in American society. Rap also became popular at this time. Run-DMC was among the first popular rap groups. LL Cool J and the Beastie Boys were also hugely popular.

The late 1990's and the beginning of the new millennium have been dominated by the "teen-queens" like Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Mandy Moore, as well as the "boy bands" such as NSYNC, Backstreet Boys, and O-Town. While many of the old favorites like Aerosmith are still popular, the sugar pop crowd rules. 

Important Figures in American Music:

  • Music has changed a great deal since the founding of the United States. It's course has been altered forever by many artists. Here are a few of the most famous musical artists:

  • Louis Armstrong, also known as "Pops", is undoubtedly one of the most influential people in Jazz history. Although even he never knew his actual birthday, it is thought he was born in 1900 and, like Jazz, in New Orleans. His unique voice made him easily recognizable and the way he played the trumpet was also as distinctive. He became popular in the 1920's.

  • Elvis Presley, known as "The King," was the first major rock 'n' roll star in American history. He used country, blues, and gospel music to enchant his audiences. He was born in Tupelo, Mississippi. He had a twin brother who died at birth. His family later moved to Memphis, Tennessee. Elvis signed with RCA in 1955. "Heartbreak Hotel," "Hound Dog," "Don't Be Cruel," and "Love Me Tender" were some of his greatest and most enduring hits. He also starred in films like Love Me Tender, Jailhouse Rock, and Blue Hawaii. He married Priscilla Beaulieu in 1967, after he returned from the Army in Germany. He began his comeback almost immediately. The music scene was changing, but Presley felt he could compete. Due to the stress of travel and nightly shows, he died on August 16, 1977. Elvis is still referred to as "The King."

  • Aretha Franklin is indisputably known as the "Queen of Soul." She was born in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1942. She later moved to Detroit where she taught herself to play the piano and received musical training from Reverend James Cleveland. She formed a singing group with her sister and two friends. Her first public appearances were in local churched. She also sang in the choir at her father's church. Famous songs include "Respect" (still a favorite today) and " Baby, I Love You." She also received two Grammy's for "Respect." Her career was exploding, raising her to "diva" status which is still recognized.

  • Robert Zimmerman was born in Duluth, Minnesota, in 1941. He changed his name to Bob Dylan when began his musical career. His greatest musical influence was Woody Guthrie. Dylan recorded his first album, Bob Dylan, in 1961, for Columbia. None of the songs on that album were written by Dylan. Freewheelin' Bob Dylan was the second album. It contained several of his own songs. Many of his own songs criticized the social evils that were so present in American society. 

  • While many people at first believed that rap/hip-hop was not a true form of music, it has entered the mainstream over the last 15-20 years. This explosion can be attributed, at least in part, to Run-D.M.C., the first major rap group in America. Their first number one hit on the Billboard chart was "Hard Times." Run-D.M.C.'s partnership with Aerosmith on "Walk This Way" helped to introduce the group, and rap, to white audiences. They focused on the music's message, not its beat. They received an endorsement contract from Adidas. After a minor falter in their career, they came back in 1989. They released their fifth album, Back from Hell, in 1990. Run-D.M.C. became active in the Christian community and remain so today. Although their style has been more or less replaced, they are still greatly respected by members of the rap/hip-hop community.

Country Music in America:

  • Country music is undoubtedly one of the most popular genres of music alive today. It was born in the backwoods and hills of the rural South. Country music has played an integral part in American society, especially in the South. Most major cities have at least three country music stations. You can hardly walk a step in Nashville without seeing something of significance to country music.

  • Country music can generally be categorized into many genres: early country, cowboy country, western swing, country-rock, bluegrass, honky-tonk, rockabilly, new country, and alternative country. In the 18th and 19th centuries country music came directly from British ballads and folk songs. Storytelling through song and old-time country featuring instrumentals with the fiddle while talking were the major forms of music until John Carson. Carson combined the two by singing and playing at the same time.

  • New country was a term originally intended to describe country's return to its roots with added emphasis on electric guitars and drums. The sound is closer to rock/pop than pure country. Garth Brooks, Shania Twain, and Brooks & Dunn are all artists in this category of music.

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