Music and Popular Culture in America

Popular culture and social knowledge circulated by traditional mass media and the Internet.

Pop culture is entertainment, music and sports.

Popular culture is distributed across many forms of mass communication including newspapers, magazines, radio, television, movies, music, books and cheap novels, comics and cartoons, and advertising. It contrasts with high cultural art forms, such as opera, classical music and artworks, traditional theater and literature.

In mass communication, the term popular culture refers to messages that make limited intellectual and aesthetic demands through content that is designed to amuse and entertain audiences.
  • aesthetic refers to the appreciation of beauty and good taste.
Pop Culture Yellow Sign
Where did it come from?
After the Industrial Revolution, people had increased leisure time. This led to demand for amusement and entertainment, which prompted growth of mass media.

Also after the Industrial Revolution, the increased supply of goods necessitated advertising to attract consumers.

Mass media wanted to reach the largest audience possible. That influenced the content of mass media.

The Industrial Revolution
Why do we care?
We're concerned with popular culture because:
  • It reaches almost all the public
  • It influences how we think, dress and act
  • It has an economic impact on media
  • It influences content of media
We study popular media artifacts and images to learn about a culture – for instance, how women and ethnic minorities are portrayed on TV or in film

Almost all popular culture has an entertainment function. TV and film are among the media most concerned with entertainment.

Popular culture includes music, sports and many different kinds of goods and services – works sold for profit that are integral to the economics of media.

Dreyfus Dryke Portrait
What did we have before pop culture?
Prior to mass media there were two kinds of art:
  • Folk art – unsophisticated, localized, natural works by unknown artists.
  • Elite art – more complex works deliberately produced so artists gained recognition.
In ancient times prior to writing, oral performance was accessible to the whole community. Then, after the adoption of writing and as layers, or classes, of society evolved over centuries, an elite literature began to be distinguishable from the folk literature of the people.

Similarly, other forms of both unsophisticated and complex art genres developed over time.

The eventual development and growth of mass media brought a new kind of popular art called kitsch.

Classical Greek Bowl
Elite art classical Greek bowl
What is it about kitsch?
The word is used as a euphemism for unsophisticated, simple, trivial, trashy or junk.

Kitsch works are thought to be in bad taste, have no artistic merit, and make low intellectual demands.

Kitsch is what we find in modern media – newspapers, magazines, paperbacks, movies, television and on the radio.

Kitsch Theater Poster
So what?
Products of low intellectual demand drive out elite art and higher culture.

Since kitsch is what media provide, they deprive the audience of developing higher tastes. At the same time, they're making a profit from the audience.

As you might imagine, tastes of society's lower middle class dominate media. After all, they have the largest numbers and plenty of income to purchase media-advertised products. In fact, they are white-collar and many are college-educated.

The social economic classes in America are:
  • Quasi-folk class – very poor people with little education and few skills
  • Low class – low-income, blue collar, semi-skilled, less educated workers
  • Lower middle class – skilled, well-educated, white collar workers with disposable income and sufficient numbers to dominate
  • Upper middle class – professionals and executives who are affluent and well-educated, but not enough numbers to dominate
  • High class – the relatively small number of wealthy elite people who can afford serious art
Storm Trooper Bobble Head
Star Wars bobble head
There is a theory of popular culture
Elements of the theory:
  • Privately owned media want profits
  • They need to attract large numbers of people
  • Most people are attracted by entertainment that requires limited intellectual demand
  • Media produces and delivers the content they want – kitsch
  • Constant production and consumption of kitsch drives out other kinds of art, which results in:
    • Destruction of folk and elite art
    • Economic exploitation of the public
    • Diminishing of real-life heroes
Social network icons
How did heroes change?
Since the growth of mass media, our heroes have changed.

Before, we had heroes of deed – real people who made a contribution. Examples might be George Washington, Daniel Boone, Susan B. Anthony, Sacagawea, Charles Lindbergh, Neil Armstrong, Martin Luther King.

In the time of big and influential mass media, we've adopted for our heroes famous media-created characters from the entertainment and sports industries, even cartoon figures.

Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, James Bond, Ellen Ripley, Superman, Batman, Dirty Harry, Nancy Drew, Capt. James T. Kirk. Mad Max, Tarzan, Spider-Man, Robin Hood, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Han Solo

Micheal Jordan, John Elway, Brett Favre, Picabo Street, Joe Montana, Tiger Woods , Howie Long, Anna Kournikova, Rocky Bleier, Chuck Noll, Sheryl Swoopes, Pat Riley, Julius Erving, Mark McGwire, Mary Lou Retton, Joe Namath, Cal Ripken, Jr, Bruce Smith, Mia Hamm, Emmitt Smith, Michelle Kwan, Venus Williams, Terry Bradshaw, Bobby Knight, Barry Sanders, Bonnie Blair, Dan Marino, Joe Theismann, Gail Devers, Karrie Webb, Larry Bird , Mike Ditka, Magic Johnson, Tara Lipinski, Brooks Robinson, Bill Cowher, Johnny Bench, Lou Holtz, Kareen-Abdul Jabbar, Phil Simms, Don Shula, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Troy Aikman, Herschel Walker, Hank Aaron, Pete Rose, Willie Stargell, Bob Uecker, Marcus Allen, Tommy Lasorda, Roger Staubach, Randy White, Daryl Johnston, Bill Parcells, Brandi Chastain, Jim Kelly, Ken Stabler

We display little interest in people that affect society through real deeds – for instance scientific heroes who discover new things that affect the well-being of millions of people and medical heroes who create new processes that affect the health of millions. Can you even name one such person without the assistance of Google?

Many people have argued it is a waste of money to go to the Moon or have a space station. Yet those advances have benefited mankind. On the other hand, nobody talks about playing and televising the Superbowl as a waste of money.

What should we make of Gregory Peck's "Atticus Finch" in the film of Harper Lee's novel To Kill a Mockingbird?

Neil Armstrong On The Moon
Neil Armstrong on the Moon

What about sports?
A sport is an organized competition of skilled activity with its performance governed by a set of rules. It is played in public on a set schedule for an audience known as fans.

Sports are forms of popular culture deeply rooted in modern society everywhere. They have been particularly important in American culture for more than one hundred years.

There is a relationship between sports, media and broad social issues such as class, gender, ethnicity, sexuality and nationalism. In fact, media coverage of sports provides a window into the social, cultural and political experiences of many different groups of people.

Sports events often have a meaning beyond the score of a particular game. For the sports journalist, a well-written story isn't just about the process and the score. It's about the human beings engaged in the event.

Of course, from a journalist's point of view, a sports event provides pseudo-news because it's organized and scheduled in advance.

Sports coverage is more than a quarter of all newspaper space and TV weekend and special event coverage.

Superbowl QB pass
Phonographs, Victrolas and Gramophones.
Popular music has grown as audio recording technology has advanced.

The technological development of the recording industry can be traced at least back to 1877 when Thomas Edison conceived of the phonograph as a way to record the human voice and developed a crude phonograph record machine.

Several problems had to be overcome:
  • The first system's sound reproduction quality was poor.
  • It only had two minutes of recording time.
  • There was no way to make multiple copies of the master recording.
By the 1900s, these technical problems were solved:
  • Multiple records could be molded from a master.
  • That brought down the price per recording.
  • A reliable spring motor kept the turntable speed constant at 78 rpm (revolutions per minute).
Around the time of World War I at the end of the second decade of the 20th century, the Victor Talking Machine Company produced millions of wind-up machines called a Victrola. In fact, the word Victrola became a generic name for a record player.

The Columbia Disc Gramophone Co. also made phonograph machines. Gramophone became another generic name for a record player.

Edison Phonograph 1899
Edison Phonograph 1899
New technologies keep things interesting.
Electric record players were developed in the 1920s to replace the wind-up machines leading to a spectacular growth in the sale of records.

Radio broadcasting began in 1920 when Pittsburgh station KDKA went on the air with a regular schedule of programs.

Invented in the 1930s and developed during World War II in the first half of the 1940s, magnetic recording tape was used by German intelligence gatherers to capture and store radio broadcasts. Later, magnetic tape would be edited by physically cutting and splicing. Reel-to-reel tapes could play an hour or more of program content.

Also, during World War II, the British developed high-fidelity recording, which was picked up by the recording industry after the war.

After the war, Columbia Records in 1948 introduced a new kind of disc called an LP (long playing). Instead of easily-scratched shellac, it was made of plastic. An LP could play at 33 rpm for 23 minutes on each side, an improvement over the 78 rpm record which played only 4 minutes.

RCA brought out a 45 rpm player.

Record players in the 1950s had to be able to play all three speeds – 78, 33 and 45 rpm.

Stereo (stereophonic) sound, developed in the 1960s, allowed recording of more than one soundtrack. The individual tracks could be issued by different speakers.

The compact cassette, a.k.a. audio cassette, cassette tape or cassette, was first produced in 1964. A cassette didn't wear out as easily as records. Audio cassettes were easy to play in small, portable players and in a car.

The endless-loop 8-track tape was introduced in 1963. It became very popular for use in cars, but had a short life span for home use.

The CD (compact disc) using laser beam technology was introduced in 1980.

With the arrival on the market of the CD with its numerous advantages, LP records were all but dead.

You can say this for a CD when comparing it to an LP:
  • It doesn't wear out
  • It isn't fragile
  • It's smaller in size
  • It holds 20 minutes more music than LP
  • It creates no playback noise
Sony introduced the digital audio tape (DAT) in 1987 with better sound quality than analog audio cassettes. Music publishers opposed DAT because consumers could make perfect copies of music. DAT machines were discontinued in 2005.

Record 78 rpm
78 rpm record

Record 45 rpm
45 rpm record

8-track tape cartridge Aerosmith
8-track tape

Audio Cassette
audio cassette

compact disc
compact disc
Downloading music replaces physical media.
Record stores or shops were retail outlets that sold recorded music on vinyl records, audio cassettes, CDs and other media. They suffered unbeatable competition from mail order sellers, Internet order sites, superstores such as Walmart, and Internet download sites.

Most stores and major chains have closed or shrunk dramatically. For instance, the well-known Sam Goody.

A few remaining record shops specialize in used collectible records. Even this kind of shop has faced strong competition from Internet sites such as E-Bay.

The main persistent competition for record stores has been music downloads.

Music is downloaded when a song file is moved across the Internet from one computer or website to a different computer. Such activity can be legal, or illegal when copyright material is moved without permission or payment.

There are music stores on the Web that sell music singles and albums for legal download. Examples include Apple's iTunes Store, Microsoft's Zune Marketplace, Amazon's MP3, Napster, Kazaa, Nokia Music Store, TuneTribe and eMusic.

Even though it's digital, a download might not sound as good as a song on a physical digital CD because a downloaded song may be compressed to reduce file size and bandwidth, which causes a loss in audio quality compared to a CD. Uncompressed files are available at some Internet sites.

Silver iPod in hand
Music is, well, the music of our lives.
Music is a deep-down part of our lives:
  • Music is life's backdrop wherever we go – in our homes, cars, stores, offices, factories, elevators, everywhere.
  • People of every age enjoy music everyday everywhere.
  • Music brings out our emotions.
  • Music makes us feel nostalgic and brings good memories to mind. Listening to songs, we remember where we were and what we were doing in better times.
  • Music is therapeutic. In sick rooms it soothes and helps heal.
  • Music helps us cope with life.
  • Music during memorial services helps us grieve.
  • Music is embedded in Earth's natural rhythms.
  • Babies in the womb hear music. Later, mothers put them to sleep with lullabies.
  • Music helps children understand mathematics.
  • Music is the main content of radio broadcasts.
  • Films use music for background and to set mood.
  • Television shows use music for opening and closing billboards.
  • Network newscasts use music for billboards.
  • Music supports artists and the record industry.
Salt Box Fishing CabinI n SL
What the heck is a musicologist?
Musicology is the scholarly and scientific study of music. What would you suppose a musicologist does?

At Penn State, there are scientists who are biomusicologists.

They say music dates to pre-human times when only animals roamed the Earth. They suggest animals used forms of music to communicate.

We see examples today in the songs of birds, which seem musical and apparently are a form of communication. Similarly, humpback whales are believed to sing sonatas as a form of communication.

The Penn State biomusicologists say human brains are wired for music. They think that even the first humans in prehistoric times made music. Their first musical instruments may have been whistles carved from animal bones and used for communication.

Sometime around 5,000 years ago, people began making musical instruments for pleasure and for use in ceremonies.

Then some 2,500 years ago the Greek scholar Pythagoras designed a math formula for what today we see as a musical scale. In his plan, each note was one step higher than the next and each was assigned a letter so music could be written.

Around 1,500 years ago, music became more complex as various cultures went in their own directions, adapting their own kinds of music. The number and type of musical instruments expanded. In Europe, music developed mainly around the Christian religion. Music played and sung in monasteries preceded modern music in the western world.

Music publishing began in the mid-15th century, with the first music was printed. The earliest printed music dates to liturgical chants about 1465, which is about the same time as the invention of movable type and the Gutenberg press.

Music began to reflect the politics and culture of life at the time. In the classical music era of Beethoven and Bach, composers embedded intense emotions in their music. We still do that today.

Musicology in chalk on greenboard
Spiritual songs of the slaves
Spirituals were religious songs created by African slaves in 19th century America.

Indigenous to Africans in the United States, spiritual songs were a blend of religious music from Africa with religious music from Europe. While spiritual music developed in the U.S., the spiritual form of music didn't evolve among Christian Africans elsewhere – for instance in the Caribbean and Latin America.

The name comes from the King James Bible Ephesians 5:19, "Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord."

At the time of the Civil War in the 1860s, spiritual songs were described as used by slaves while sitting or standing in place with spiritual shouts used for dance music.

Human silhouette icon of spiritual music
What do we mean by popular music?
Popular music had its beginnings independent of other mass media. After all, at the time there were no other audio media, radio stations or record labels.

We have a definition for popular music:
  • Popular music is composed of musical compositions written or performed as commercial services and products that can be sold for profit to the largest possible segment of the public.
That's a shade different from the definition of pop music:
  • Pop music is commercially recorded music, marketed to youth, consisting of short, simple love songs using technological innovations to produce new musical sounds.
The commercial aspect sets popular music apart from folk songs, work songs and religious music historically related to a need for social gathering or to express the trials and joy of everyday life.

Globe With Earphones
The concept of a pop song or popular songs dates back to the 1920s. Back then it even could include classical music. With the arrival of rock and roll in the 1950s, that genre became the focus of pop music. Before that it meant music that was popular generally and afterward it referred to music popular with young people.

The term pop also is used in relation to art. The pop art movement started in the 1950s. Well known examples are Andy Warhol's works from the 1960s.
Billboard covers the hits
Billboard is a weekly American magazine founded in 1894 and devoted to the music industry.

As one of the oldest trade magazines in the world, it publishes music popularity charts that track songs and albums in several categories on a weekly basis.

Two of the magazine's best-known charts are the "Billboard Hot 100," which ranks by sales and radio airplay the top 100 songs of all types, and the "Billboard 200" chart for album sales.

Other charts survey the rock, country, adult pop, R&B, hip-hop, jazz, dance, Latin and Christian music genres. There also are international charts covering Canada, Europe, Brazil, Turkey and Japan.

Would you believe in the second decade of the 21st century there's a "Social 50" chart, which ranks the artists who are most active on the social networking sites Facebook, Twitter, Myspace and YouTube? There's even a chart called "Uncharted," which lists upcoming artists, who have yet to appear on a Billboard chart.

Billboard magazine cover 18 Dec. 2010
December 18, 2010
Ragtime was the first popular music
In the 1870s the piano was finding its way into more and more homes. This created a demand for sheet music.

At the end of the 19th century, there were many goods being carried by steamboat up and down the Mississippi River. Cities along the river like New Orleans and St. Louis became centers of commerce.

Sporting houses – gambling houses, saloons, brothels – became popular for recreation and relaxation. These establishments had pianos and mainly African-American musicians as piano players to entertain the crowds.

The kind of music they played in the red-light districts incorporated the folk music and work songs and rhythms from Africa and from the southern plantations. It came from the jigs and march music played by black bands and black folk dances called rag dances.
  • The music became known as ragtime and was the first form of what we now call popular music. It was popular from around 1897 to the time of World War I around 1918.
Composer and sporting house piano player Scott Joplin had studied music and so could write down his compositions. He wrote down one he called the Maple Leaf Rag. A white music store owner bought the rights to the song and printed it as sheet music. Joplin became famous when that was published in 1899.

Ragtime caught on and swept the country during the first two decades of the 20th century. It was quite different from other music, such as waltzes, and used syncopation with a so-called "ragged" rhythm. Joplin's 1902 song The Entertainer, re-introduced in the 1973 movie The Sting, is another example. The song became a Top 5 hit in 1974.

Jazz pushed ragtime from favor after 1917. However, it has an enduring quality. During World War II in the 1940s, jazz bands put out ragtime recordings on 78 rpm records. In the 1950s, more ragtime songs became available on records. In 1971, Joshua Rifkin compiled Scott Joplin's work and was nominated for a Grammy Award. In 1973, there was the motion picture sound track from The Sting.

Maple Leaf Rag
Singing the blues
During the period of ragtime at the end of the 19th century, African-Americans in the Deep South also were singing the blues to express their feelings about the difficult experiences of everyday life.

Their simple rhyming narrative ballads melded work songs, field hollers, shouts and chants with spirituals.
  • The term the blues stems from George Colman's one-act 1798 farce Blue Devils and refers to the "blue devils," which evoke feelings of melancholy images of sadness. The phrase in modern song lyrics describes something of a depressed mood where a person is unhappy, glum, downhearted and heavy-hearted.
In 1912, Oklahoma fiddler and bandleader Hart Wand's Dallas Blues was the first blues composition to be copyrighted.

Alabama blues composer and musician William C. Handy made the Blues accessible to white society. While he wasn't the first to publish blues music, Handy is remembered as the "father of the blues" for having propelled it to a dominant force in American music. In 1912, Handy published The Memphis Blues and then in 1914 the Saint Louis Blues, which inspired the Foxtrot dance step.

The blues grew in popularity during the 1920s and evolved over the decades until today it is a permanent fixture on the American music landscape. It's at the root of jazz, rhythm and blues, and rock and roll. Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis and Bob Dylan are among hundreds of jazz, folk and rock performers who have delivered significant blues recordings.

Memphis Blues W.C. Handy
Tin Pan Alley
Meanwhile, in the early 1900s, a group of music publishers in New York started copyrighting songs, printing the scores as sheet music and selling the sheets wholesale to distributors who then would sell them to retailers.

Tin Pan Alley may have started about 1885 in New York City when some music publishers and songwriters set up shop on West 28th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenue. The block is better known today as Manhattan's Flatiron District. The offices of those publishers and songwriters together became known as Tin Pan Alley.
  • It's not clear where the name came from. One myth says it was the tinny sound made by cheap upright pianos in music publishers' offices playing different tunes at the same time, producing noise that sounded like the banging of tin pans.
Today the term generally describes any area within a city where there is a high concentration of music publishers or musical instrument stores. An example outside New York is Denmark Street in London's West End. In the 1920s, Denmark Street became known as "Britain's Tin Pan Alley" because it was home to many music shops.

New York City's Tin Pan Alley dominated U.S. popular music from the late 19th century into the 20th century. It began to falter in the Great Depression of the 1930s as the phonograph and radio broadcasts supplanted sheet music as the driving force behind American popular music. Remnants of Tin Pan Alley continued into the 1950s unril earlier popular music genres were overtaken by rock and roll. Over time, Tin Pan Alley came to describe the U.S. music industry in general.

Tin Pan Alley publishers developed a form of song promotion they called plugging. It was successful and the amount of music produced by Tin Pan Alley was extensive. In 1893, one song, "After the Ball," sold a million copies and went on to sell a total of ten million copies over the next ten years. The first decade of the 20th century saw the highest production of popular music in history to that time with some 25,000 different songs published annually.

Tin Pan Alley
Tin Pan Alley
Jazz vs. moral decency
In 1916 Americans entered the Jazz Age.

Jazz was blended from West African and European music in the African American communities in the South &ndash mainly around New Orleans. After World War I, ragtime lost its novelty and its appeal to the public was replaced by jazz.
  • The word jazz came from jass, a West Coast slang term for intercourse. The spelling change came about after Nick LaRocca's band playing in Chicago got one listener so excited he cried out, "Jass it up boys." The next day, the band started calling itself the Dixieland Jass Band. When the band traveled to New York City, its posters were defaced with the J crossed out, creating "ass." The band memebrs changed the ss to zz and their name to Dixieland Jazz Band.
After World War I, America entered the 1920s with society changed by industrialization, urbanization, and modernization. The decade of the '20s offered new ways to deliver jazz into the home via phonograph records and radio broadcasts. Among the best-known jazz performers of the 1920s were Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Joe "King" Oliver, Fletcher Henderson, and Bix Beiderbecke.

While playing jazz, each musician in a band would improvise. From back in the day until now, jazz has been integral to American popular music with many types including New Orleans Dixieland after 1916, big band-style swing in the 1930s-1940s, bebop also in the 1940s, free jazz in the 1950s-1960s, jazz fusion in the 1970s, acid jazz in the 1980s, and Nu jazz in the 1990s.

The popularity of jazz in the 1920s spawned an anti-jazz movement. Conservatives were alarmed at the changes they saw in society and blamed jazz. To them, jazz was a visible enemy. They saw morals declining and social norms changing. The National Education Association and many religious organizations denounced it. Jazz was called immoral and a threat to the standards of decency. A cry heard everywhere was:
    Jazz is ruining the youth of America! What will become of the country?
Jazz Age Postage Stamp
1998 Jazz Flourishes stamp
commemorating the 1920s
Race records
Race records were 78 rpm phonograph records recorded by African-Americans during the 1920s and 1930s and marketed to African Americans.

The race music genre included a variety of African American music types such as blues, jazz and gospel music.
  • While the term "race record" is derogatory and inappropriate today, in the early 20th century the African American press used the term "the Race" to refer to African Americans as a group and the terms "race man" or "race woman" to refer to African American individuals. The term "race record" first appeared in an advertisement in a 1922 issue of the Chicago Defender, an African American newspaper.
Race records were marketed by Victor Talking Machine Company, Emerson Records, Vocalion Records, Okeh Records and other record producers. Although they originally were marketed to African Americans, white Americans began to purchase race records. Most of the major recording companies eventually issued special "race" series of records in the 1920s-1940s.

Billboard magazine published a Harlem Hit Parade chart from 1942, which evolved into a Race Records chart from 1945-1949, drawing it's data from jukebox plays and eventually record sales. Then, in 1949, Billboard renamed the chart Rhythm & Blues Records. In 1969 it became the Soul chart and in 1982 the Black music chart and in 1990 the R&B chart.

Cover of Victor Talking Machine Company race records catalog
A race records catalog
Cowboy songs were western music
There also were cowboy songs, professionally referred to as western music.

Popular 1930s cowboy characters in white hats like Gene Autry and Roy Rogers sang as they vanquished the bad guys in black hats.

Of course, there were white hat cowboy movie stars who didn't sing much, like Red Ryder, Tom Mix and The Lone Ranger.

Western was a folk music composed by pioneers who settled the western United States and Canada. It came from older English, Irish and Scottish ballads and Mexican music from the Southwest. Mostly it celebrated the hard life of the working cowboy on the open ranges and prairies of western North America.

Country and western music were lumped together in a Billboard magazine popularity chart. The two genres don't really go together as their roots are different.

Cowboy Songs Riders In The Sky
The Great Depression
The longest, most widespread and deepest economic depression of the 20th century is looked back on as The Great Depression. It occurred worldwide in the decade before World War II. In most countries it started about 1929 and lasted through the late 1930s.

Some 104 million records were sold in the United States in 1927 along with 987,000 record players. Then in 1929 the stock market crashed and The Great Depression began. The recording industry crashed with only 6 million records sold in 1932 – a 95 percent drop in sales. People simply had no money for luxuries like records.

On the other hand, radio was becoming increasingly popular and music and other entertainment could be heard without purchasing records. Radio stations were broadcasting dance bands live and playing records. Ever more households had radios so people could listen to music for free.

At the end of the Depression, the record industry recovered. Records were inexpensive and the introduction of record albums spurred sales. Also, in the late 1930s, the jukebox was introduced, bringing recorded music into restaurants, taverns, bars, drugstores and malt shops.

The Great Depression at the FDR memorial in washington
Gospel music was aesthetic praise
Gospel music grew out of the blues and the Great Depression.

It's a form of music written to express communal spiritual beliefs about Christian life. A common theme is praise, worship or thanks to God, Christ or the Holy Spirit.

Gospel music is composed and sung for religious ceremonial purposes, aesthetic pleasure and entertainment. It is quite marketable as a sectarian alternative to secular music.

Gospel Music Singing
Swing and the big bands
Swing music and the sound of big bands replaced Jazz as America's favorite in the 1930s.

Big bands played a form of jazz music in the 1920s and moved on to swing music as it developed out of jazz in 1935. Danceable swing was the dominant form of American popular music from 1935 to 1945.
  • A big band had 12 to 25 instruments in a musical ensemble of saxophones, trumpets, trombones, rhythm section, and singers known as vocalists. Big bands sometimes were referred to as dance bands, society bands, stage bands, jazz bands, jazz orchestras or jazz ensembles. However, rather than being improvised spontaneously like jazz, big band music was arranged in advance on sheet music.
Most everyone enjoyed the live performances of orchestra leaders like Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Jimmy Dorsey and Count Basie. Radio only served to increase their popularity.

Popular swing artists included Fred Waring, Ted Lewis, Earl Burnett, Henry Halstead, Rudy Vallee, Vincent Lopez, Ben Pollack, Shep Fields and Paul Whiteman, who employed Bix Beiderbecke and Frankie Trumbauer. There were so-called "all-girl" bands such as Helen Lewis and Her All-Girl Jazz Syncopators.

Other famous names of the era included Johnny Mercer, Harold Arlen, Hoagy Carmichael, Don Redman, Fletcher Henderson, Duke Ellington and his Cotton Club orchestra, Walter 'Foots' Thomas, Cab Calloway, Charlie Spivak, Mel Torme's Mel-Tones, Joe 'King' Oliver, Luis Russell, Louis Armstrong, Henry 'Red' Allen, J. C. Higginbotham, Charlie Holmes and Alvino Rey.

Like jazz before it, big band swing music was criticized as immoral and a threat to the standards of decency. It was said to have a dangerous hypnotic effect and could lead to rape, sexual excess and emotional unbalance. The music's tempo drove people to evil and sin, it was said. Listening and dancing to it was bad. A cry heard everywhere was:
    Swing is ruining the youth of America! What will become of the country?
Benny Goodman King of Swing
Boogie-woogie was for dancing
Boogie-woogie was a piano style of blues popular from the late 1930s into the 1940s. It brought into play the sounds of multiple pianos and guitars, and the big band, country, western and even gospel forms of music. While the blues depicted emotions, boogie-woogie was about dancing. It may have been the first uptempo popular music.

Again, as with popular music and dancing before, the boogie-woogie was criticized as immoral and a threat to the standards of decency. Listening and dancing to it was bad. A cry heard everywhere was:
    Boogie-woogie is ruining the youth of America! What will become of the country?
Boogie Woogie Piano
During World War II, the jitterbug was an immensely popular form of dancing to big band swing music. This fast-paced style of dance – also known as the Lindy Hop, Jive, and East Coast Swing – swept the nation. Cab Calloway was a popular entertainer associated with the jitterbug.
  • The word jitterbug had been a slang term for an alcoholic who might have suffered the "jitters" or delirium tremens while withdrawing. The jitterbug image of frenzied movements became associated with swing dancers.
In 1944, the U.S. government levied a 30% federal excise tax on dancing night clubs. Club owners couldn't afford the tax so "No Dancing Allowed" signs were seen across the country. Later, the jitterbug was adapted to rock music in the 1950s.

Again in the 1940s, as with earlier generations, the jitterbug was criticized as immoral and a threat to the standards of decency. Listening and dancing to it was bad. A cry heard everywhere was:
    The jitterbug is ruining the youth of America! What will become of the country?
Jitterbug 33 cent postages tamp
The jitterbug postage stamp
Country music
Country music was blended from traditional and popular musical forms in Appalachia and other southeastern areas of the United States in the 1920s.

The term country music gained popularity in the 1940s when the earlier name hillbilly music became politically incorrect. Today the label "country music" is used to describe many styles.

Western music came to be associated with country music only because Billboard lumped them together in a chart. In reality, western music was from the western U.S. while country music originated in the southeast.

Two of the top selling solo artists of all time came out of country music – Elvis Presley and Garth Brooks.
  • Presley had been known as "the Hillbilly Cat" in his early career from 1953-1955 when he was on the radio program Louisiana Hayride. Later, he was one the defining artists at the birth of rock and roll from 1955 on. Today Presley is said to be the top solo artist in U.S. history with some 130 million albums sold.
  • Brooks is the second best-selling solo artist in U.S. history with some 128 million albums sold.
Country & Western Postage Stamps 1993
1993 stamps commemorating
country and western music
Rhythm and blues
R&B emerged in the 1940s during World War II from African American roots as an urbane music with a heavy, insistent beat.

After the war, when the term "race music" was seen as offensive, the name rhythm and blues was used to describe recordings marketed predominantly to urban African Americans. Again showing Billboard magazine's influence on the music world, editor Jerry Wexler coined the term "rhythm and blues" in 1948. Wexler went on to become a major record industry player from the 1950s-1980s producing big names like Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, the Allman Brothers, Chris Connor, Dusty Springfield, Led Zeppelin, Wilson Pickett and Bob Dylan.

Over the years, the name rhythm and blues has had different shades of meaning. From the 1950s, the term was applied to blues records. Then rhythm and blues played an important role in the development of rock and roll. Later, the name included music styles that incorporated electric blues, gospel music, soul music, funk music and contemporary R&B. In fact, rhythm and blues has been a catchall, umbrella term over the years for any music made by and for the African American market.
  • Rhythm and blues bands had a piano, one or two guitars, sax, bass and drums. Band members dressed in suits and even uniforms. Arrangements were rehearsed and sometimes accompanied by background vocalists. Singers looked cool and relaxed, although they were emotionally engaged with their lyrics.
Again, as with earlier generations, the rhythm and blues mixture of rocking jazz and hypnotic musical textures was criticized as immoral and a threat to the standards of decency. Listening to rhythm and blues was bad. A cry heard everywhere was:
    Rhythm and blues are ruining the youth of America! What will become of the country?
Cyril Davies and his Rhythm and Blues All Stars Country Line Special from 1963 on 45 rpm EP
1963 Cyril Davies and his
Rhythm and Blues All Stars
Rock and roll delivered us from the days of old
Along with the new 45 rpm record technology, America discovered a new style of music in the 1950s when rock and roll replaced jitterbug and boogie-woogie as dance favorites.
Hail, hail rock and roll!
Deliver me from the days of old,
Long live rock and roll,
The beat of the drums, loud and bold.
Rock, rock, rock and roll,
The feelin' is there, body and soul.
–Chuck Berry, 1957

Rock and roll melded the blues, country music, jazz and gospel music and sometimes blended in the sounds of folk and classical music.

One early form of rock and roll was rockabilly that combined country, gospel and Appalachian folk music. From the 1960s, rock music grew to encompass pop, reggae, soul and a blizzard of other popular forms including folk rock, blues-rock, jazz-rock fusion, soft rock, glam rock, heavy metal, hard rock, progressive rock, and punk rock, New Wave, hardcore punk, alternative rock, grunge, Britpop, indie rock, and nu metal.
  • Rock and roll bands play guitars, electric guitars, bass guitars, drums, saxophones, harmonicas, keyboard instruments such as organs, pianos and synthesizers, and a lead singer. Sometimes there are more singers and other strings and brass such as violins, cellos, trumpets and trombones. The sound produced is an non-syncopated rhythm in three chords with a strong, insistent back beat and a catchy melody. The beat usually is a boogie-woogie blues rhythm with an accentuated backbeat usually from a snare drum.
There have been hundreds, if not thousands, of rock and roll stars over the decades. To mention only a few:
  • 1950s – one of the earliest superstar rock and roll groups was Bill Haley & the Comets. Elvis Presley was an early superstar famous for swiveling his hips. When Elvis was on the Ed Sullivan Show, the television producers wouldn't let the viewing audience see the lower part of his body. Other major names included Chuck Berry, Eddie Cochran, Buddy Holly, Jay Hawkins, Link Wray and many more.

  • 1960s – the Beatles from England became huge stars, famous in that time for their long hair. Other superstars included the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, the Beach Boys, James Brown, the Byrds and the Yardbirds, the Kinks, Jefferson Airplane, Frank Zappa and tons of others.

  • 1970s – superstars included the Grateful Dead, Abba, Neil Young, Blondie, the Sex Pistols, Aerosmith, the B52's, Black Sabbath, ZZ Top, Alice Cooper, Allman Brothers, Michael Jackson and many more.

  • 1980s – superstars included Bruce Springsteen, Billy Idol, R.E.M., Metallica, Madonna, Run DMC, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Van Halen, Minutemen, Beastie Boys, Guns'N'Roses, the Pixies, Peter Gabriel and many others.

  • 1990s – superstars included Pearl Jam, Boyz II Men, Paradise Lost, Nirvana, Garth Brooks, Rage Against The Machine, Tortoise, Alanis Morissette, Lightwave, 'N Sync, No Doubt and many more.

  • 2000s – superstars included 50 Cent, KT Tunstall, Spring Heel Jack, Kitty Kitty, Lil Wayne and more.
Beyond existing as a musical style, rock and roll is a pop culture reflected on television and in movies, influencing attitudes, fashion, lifestyles and language. A Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame and Museum was opened in Cleveland in 1995.

However, once again the fearful criticized the new music, rock and roll, as immoral and a threat to the standards of decency. They worried about juvenile delinquency and social rebellion, and the shocking way rock and roll culture was shared by different racial and social groups. What would happen to our youth listening and dancing to this kind of music? A cry heard everywhere was:
    Rock and roll is ruining the youth of America! What will become of the country?
Bill Haley and His Comets, 1950s
Bill Haley, 1950s

Twist and Shout The Beatles
The Beatles, 1960s

Abba 1970s
Abba, 1970s

Aerosmith rock band
Aerosmith, 1970s

Blondie Debbie Harry 1970s
Blondie, 1980s

No Doubt
No Doubt, 1990s

Kitty Kitty rock band 2009
Kitty Kitty, 2000s
Disco from the peak to the pits
A middle-to-late 1970s popular counterculture form of dance music called disco swept out of African American, Hispanic or Latino, gay and psychedelic clubs in New York City and Philadelphia to capture the nation's fancy. Women, heterosexuals and other social clusters came to embrace disco as musical styles became more corporate, aiming at what would sell best. There was a new emphasis on commercial success and profits.
  • Most disco music had strings, horns, electric pianos and electric guitars and sometimes flutes forming a lush background sound.
Rolling Stone Magazine published the first article about disco in 1973. The next year, New York City's station WPIX-FM aired the first disco radio show. The 1977 film Saturday Night Fever with John Travolta and the 1978 film Thank God It's Friday with The Commodores and Donna Summer pushed the musical form to mainstream popularity.

Disco grew in popularity to become the last mass popular music movement driven by the baby boom generation.

Well-known disco performers of the late 1970s included Donna Summer, The Bee Gees, KC and the Sunshine Band, The Jacksons and Chic.

Like they say, "Every dog has its day." A popular backlash developed against disco music. It peaked on July 12, 1979, in Chicago at a Disco Demolition Night promotion during a White Sox doubleheader at Comiskey Park. Some 90,000 people turned out to see a crate filled with disco records blown up on the field.

The popularity of disco declined. The word "disco" became unfashionable and was replaced in the 1980s by the labels "dance music" and "dance pop" for music with the disco beat.

Disco dancing was criticized as immoral and a threat to the standards of decency. After all, there were those hynotically-lighted clubs and that incessant dancing and dancing and dancing. How innocent could that be? A cry heard everywhere was:
    Disco is ruining the youth of America! What will become of the country?
Disco Ball
Disco ball

Donna Summer on the cover of Rolling Stone
Donna Summer
MTV plays music videos and spawns VJs
MTV was an acronym for Music Television when it was formed as an American network in 1981. The cable channel played music videos introduced by on-air hosts known as VJs – video jockeys, named after the term disc jockey.

MTV had a deep impact on the music industry and popular culture. The slogan "I want my MTV" was seen on other television channels. MTV was a place where artists and fans alike found a home for their music, news and events. Similar cable channels included VH1 and CMT.

Music streaming across the Internet forced MTV and similar television channels to abandon showing music videos and move on to reality television shows. Internet video competitors included YouTube, Google Videos, Yahoo! Video, Facebook and MySpace. MTV developed other kinds of programming over the years and dropped the words "Music Television" from its logo in 2010.

MTV's influence on young people was debated for years. Its music videos were said to be immoral and a threat to the standards of decency. Its social activism was denounced. MTV was critized for censorship when it removed references to drugs, sex, violence, weapons, racism, homophobia and advertising from the music videos it played. People asked what would happen to our youth viewing this kind of music? A cry heard everywhere was:
    MTV is ruining the youth of America! What will become of the country?
MTV logo
Rap has a distinctive rhythm
Rap is a blend of spoken prose, poetry and song. The term rap refers to chanted rhyming lyrics – something like spoken word poetry, but performed in time to a beat.

In the African American dialect of the 1960s, rap meant "to converse." Today, rap is the main ingredient in hip hop music and also is associated with reggae, a music genre that emerged from Jamaica in the 1960s.

Rap can be delivered over a musical beat or without musical accompaniment. Rapping has been called emceeing, MCing, spitting and rhyming.

By the 1990s, controversy had broken out over the lyrics of some rap performers like Ice T with Cop Killers and Sister Souljah. Rap music appealed to white middle class teens. Parents and school authorities were dismayed. Rap was criticized as immoral and a threat to the standards of decency. A cry heard everywhere was:
    Rap is ruining the youth of America! What will become of the country?
Black Eyed Peas The End
Black Eyed Peas
Hip hop scratches its way to the top
Hip hop is an expressive musical form that originated in African American communities in the South Bronx borough of New York City during the 1970s.

Disc jockeys with two turntables were creating rhythmic beats by sampling small bits of songs, called loops, that emphasized a percussion pattern. They also were creating scratching sounds. Later, the loops were accompanied by the rhythmic chanting of rap and beatboxing, which used the voice to imitate percussion instruments.

Hip hop music includes synthesizers, drum machines and live bands. Typically, rappers write, memorize and improvise their lyrics and perform their works alone to a beat.

Over the decades, hip-hop culture has engulfed the world, spawning a new dance form and new styles of dress. Today, the word rap is used interchangeably with hip hop, although hip hop also refers to the subculture.

Hip hop, like rap, has been criticized as immoral and a threat to the standards of decency. A cry heard everywhere is:
    Hip hop is ruining the youth of America! What will become of the country?
hip hop music logo
Multiculturals become music's new mainstream
Multicultural music consumners are African-American, Hispanic-American, and Asian-American listeners who compose the new 21st century mainstream determining music's trends, impact and earnings, according to the Nielsen Company research firm in 2014.

As the U.S. undergoes a demographic shift in the 21st century, these consumers are trailblazers. They expand diversity and cross-pollinate genres with collaborations such as Psy, Pitbull and Jay Z.

Multiculturals consume more R&B and hip-hop, less country, and about the same amounts of pop and rock.
  • They like live entertainment and digital music.
  • They are heavy users of Internet radio, on-demand video and audio streaming.
  • They tune into TV music channels and Facebook musician pages.
  • They share music and playlists, comment on artists' Facebook posts, and retweet artists on Twitter.
They're listening to everything on smartphones.
    Is multicultural music ruining the youth of America? What will become of the country?
multicultural music emblem
Major record labels
A record label is a brand name and trademark for the marketing of music recordings and videos. A record-label company scouts for talent and develops new artists, coordinates production, manufacture, distribution, marketing, promotion, and enforces copyrights.

Examples of record labels:
  • A&M Records
  • American Recordings
  • Angel Records
  • Capitol Records
  • Columbia Records
  • Decca Classics
  • Deutsche Grammophon
  • Elektra Records
  • Epic
  • MCA records
  • Philips Music Group
  • RCA Victor
  • RCA Victor Red Seal Opera Treasury
  • Rhino Records
  • Sony Music Online
  • Universal Music Group
  • Virgin Records America
  • Warner Bros. Records
The industry is dominated by four majors who produce and market 75 percent of music recordings. They are:
  • Sony BMG
  • Universal Music Group
  • EMI
  • Warner Music Group
Each of the big four record labels manages smaller businesses. Artists who are signed by one of the big four labels are either signed to the main label or to a subsidiary label. For instance, a band might be signed to Sony, or they may be assigned to a Sony subsidiary label such as Columbia Records.

Sony BMG Music Entertainment, Inc., one of the big four record labels, was the result of a merger of two industry giants, Sony Music and BMG Music. Sony BMG has more than 20 labels including:
  • Epic
  • Jive
  • Columbia
  • RCA
  • Arista
  • LaFace
  • Zomba Music Group
  • SoSo Def
  • Legacy
  • J Records
  • Red Music Distribution
Sony BMG's artists include:
  • Britney Spears
  • Jessica Simpson
  • Celine Dion
  • Franz Ferdinand
  • The Fray
  • Belle and Sebastian
  • Justin Timberlake
  • Kelis
Universal Music Group, owned by Vivendi SA, is the top selling family of labels:
  • Interscope
  • Geffen
  • Motown
  • Def Jam
  • Island
  • So So Def
  • Roc-a-fella
  • Verve
Universal's artists include:
  • Gwen Stefani
  • 50 Cent
  • Marian Carey
  • U2
  • Kanye West
EMI is another of the big four major record labels. Headquartered in London, England, the company started in 1931 as the Gramophone Company, manufacturer of gramophone record players. In 1931, EMI opened the Abbey Road music studios in London, which eventually became home to the Beatles and had a significant influence on the music industry.

EMI artists include:
  • The Beatles
  • Elvis
  • Nat King Cole
  • The Beach Boys
  • Pink Floyd
  • Depeche Mode
  • Pet Shop Boys
  • Elvis Costello
  • The White Stripes
Warner Music Group labels include:
  • Atlantic Records
  • Bad Boy
  • Roadrunner Records
  • Asylum Records
  • East West Records
  • Rhino Records
  • Sub Pop Records
  • Rykodisc Records
  • Reprise Records
The record labels produce the music of each artist who is under contract, manufacture the discs, distribute them to wholesalers, and sometimes have their own retail outlets.

There are also independent record companies called indies. They take more risks with unknown artists. They contract with the artists, make the recording, manufacture the record, then depend on wholesale record distributors who distribute, promote and sell the music.

Recorded music was sold in record shops or record stores. Vinyl records and audio cassettes are no longer sold in the few remaining music stores, while some still sell compact discs. Competition from Internet sales has been fierce and most stores have closed.

Other means of marketing is the tape/record club. Almost all clubs are subsidiaries of the majors. Television direct-response advertising is another method.

EMI logo

Sony BMG logo

Warner Music Group logo

Universal Music Group logo
Protecting intellectual property
Intellectual property laws protect creative works from being pirated.
  • In the United States, there are four kinds of intellectual property: copyrights, patents, trademarks and trade secrets. Each category is used with different types of material and affords different protections. Copyright covers the forms of intellectual property related to original music, such as songs. Copyright law gives the songwriter legal rights.
Other kinds of works covered by copyrights include novels, plays, short stories, poems, computer software, paintings, photographs and movies. You cannot copyrights ideas, facts, book titles or business names.

The creator owns the copyright to a work from the moment it is created. No application or registration is necessary. Of course, a work may be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office, which might help enforce the ownership in court. Copyrights generally last for 70 years after the author's death.

While laws protecting intellectual property had been developed much earlier in Venice and England, they didn't cover musical compositions in the United States until 1831. U.S. copyright legislation in 1891 allowed for the international protection of copyrights.

ASCAP – The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers was organized in 1914 to license the performances of songs. ASCAP is a not-for-profit organization that protects its members' musical copyrights by monitoring public performances of their music, whether via a broadcast or live performance, and compensating them.

BMI – Broadcast Music Incorporated was founded in 1939 to collect license fees on behalf of songwriters, composers and music publishers. BMI distributes the fees as royalties to those members whose works have been performed.

SESAC – the Society of European Stage Authors & Composers was founded in 1930 as an alternative performing rights organization. While ASCAP and BMI are not-for-profit organizations, SESAC is for-profit. ASCAP and BMI distribute income from performance royalties to their composers and publishers, while SESAC keeps a performance royalty income.

Copyright symbol

ASCAP logo

BMI logo

SESAC logo
For a song to become a hit, its audio recordings and music videos need airplay on radio, television and the Internet. To achieve that goal, it has to appeal to the gatekeepers of the industry – disc jockeys, program directors, and broadcast and Internet producers. The number of times a song is played can influence the perceived popularity of the song.

Music producers supply the music recordings and videos free. They also sometimes give secret gifts in return for airplay. That's known as payola and it's a violation of federal law.
  • In the American music industry, payola is the illegal practice of payment of money or other valuable inducements given by record companies in exchange for the broadcast of recordings. For instance, if a radio station were to play a specific song in exchange for money, that fact would have to be disclosed on the air as sponsored airtime.
The more a song is heard and seen on the air, the more popular it becomes. However, eventually it becomes old and drops off the popularity charts.

Media spoonfeeding cartoon

Learn more:
popular culture entertainment Industrial Revolution The Depression folk art kitsch
sports heroes George Washington Daniel Boone Susan B. Anthony Sacagawea
Charles Lindbergh Neil Armstrong Martin Luther King Jr To Kill a Mockingbird radio television
music art music traditional music popular music pop music musicology
sheet music phonograph Victrola Gramophone magnetic recording reel-to-reel tape
8-track tape cassette tape digital audio tape compact disc jukebox music downloads
portable media player iPod Grammy Emmy Oscar Tony
high-fidelity stereo music genres spirituals ragtime music blues music
Tin Pan Alley jazz music rhythm and blues race records gospel music cowboy songs
western music swing music boogie-woogie jitterbug rock and roll reggae
country music disco music hip hop rap music folk music Americana
electronic music music publishing record labels indies promoters payola
Billboard copyright intellectual property ASCAP BMI SESAC
streaming media loops sampling beatboxing MTV VJ
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© 2014 Dr. Anthony Curtis, Mass Communication Dept., University of North Carolina at Pembroke    910.521.6616    e-mail    home page
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