2.6.1 What “Genre” Means (Here, At Least)
2.6.2 Genres Emerging Over Time
2.6.3 Folk/Roots Music, ca. 200,000 Years Ago to the Present
“Classical”/Art/Formal/Serious Music, ca. 2,500 Years Ago to the Present
2.6.5 Minstrelsy (American), ca. 1830 - 1905
2.6.6 Music Hall/Vaudeville/Operetta/Cabaret, ca. 1850 - 1955
2.6.7 Jazz, ca. 1890 - Present
2.6.8 Blues, ca. 1890 - Present
2.6.9 Ragtime, ca. 1895 - 1920
2.6.10 Musical/Film (Broadway/West End), ca. 1920 - Present
2.6.11 Country/Bluegrass (Popularized), 1925 - Present
2.6.12 Gospel (“Gospel Blues”), ca. 1930 - Present
2.6.13 Swing, 1935 - 1946
2.6.14 R & B/Soul, ca. 1945 - Present
2.6.15 Rock/Pop, 1954 - Present
2.6.16 Reggae, 1968 - Present
2.6.17 Dance/Electronica, 1975 - Present
2.6.18 Hip-hop, 1979 - Present
2.6.19 World Music, 1982 - Present
~ • ~ • ~ • ~
What conditions define the emergence of a new genre in popular
• The new music contains a set of several significant stylistic
elements not widely heard in that particular combination in
other musical genres.
• A lot of performers and songwriters adopt the new set of
stylistic elements in their playing, singing (including rapping)
and songwriting (including beatmaking).
• A large number of performers and songwriters maintain the
use of the set of stylistic elements over time.
Recall from Chapter 1 that music is combinatorial. A finite set of
stylistic songwriting and performing characteristics define a particular
genre. For example:
• Musical instruments of choice
• Dominance of vocal vs instrumental songs
• Characteristic vocal style
• Dominant subject matter of lyrics
• Variable emphasis on elements such as rhythm, harmony,
melody, vocal style, instrumental solos
• Dominant type of rhythmic pulse
• Characteristic tempo range
• Degree of emphasis on improvisation
• Degree of emphasis on syncopation
• Variable use of modes and scale types
And scores of others.
Since music is combinatorial, all it takes is a handful of musical
elements and a set of rules governing each that a significant number
of musicians agree to play by. The result: music strikingly different
from any other.
Imagine, for example, what country music would have sounded
like if, in place of the steel guitar as a key element of the country
sound, bagpipes had had that role from the beginning. That single
instrumental difference would have made country music sound a whole lot
different from what we’re accustomed to hearing today.
A major genre of popular music typically spins off numerous
sub-genres. For example:
• In jazz, a couple of spin-offs were bop and fusion (among
• In country, honky tonk and bluegrass (again, among many
• In rock, metal and punk
• In R & B/Soul, Motown and funk
• In hip-hop, gangsta and crunk
There are hundreds and hundreds of sub-genres and
At last count, there were 647,512 genres and sub-genres in
No, wait! Some guy with his laptop in his bedroom in Milton
Keynes, England, has just created another one. That makes
trio of 14-year-old girls in Amarillo, Texas, has just created a sub-genre of a
sub-sub-genre. Now we’re up to 647,514.
No, wait! ...
Figure 4 below shows the major genres of Western popular music
(at least in the main English-speaking countries) from approximate
breakout dates to the present. The GSSL only applies to the right
half of Figure 4.
FIGURE 4 Genre Breakouts In Historical Perspective
Occasionally, a major genre, after flourishing for a time, becomes
extinct, such as ragtime and American minstrelsy. Usually the
reason is that another genre comes along with similar, but not
identical characteristics, and absorbs the first one. For example,
vaudeville took over from minstrelsy. Later, the Broadway-style
musical succeeded vaudeville. That does not mean the Broadway
musical represented artistic progress over vaudeville. Many
Broadway style revues use elements pioneered in vaudeville, but
presented with technologically updated stagecraft.
are brief sketches of each of the genres represented in Figure 4 above.
CA. 200,000 YEARS
TO THE PRESENT
• Folk music has several alternative names, such as
community music, peoples music, and music in the oral
music likely goes back 100,000 to 200,000 years— before Homo sapiens walked out of Africa and colonized the
rest of the planet.
get an idea of how old folk music is, have a look at the horizontal bar at the
top of Figure 4 above. It represents only 200 years. Now imagine this: to accurately
represent 100,000 to 200,000 years, that horizontal “Folk/Roots” bar would have
to stretch to the left roughly 190 to 380 feet (58 to 116 metres)! If you went
riding out of Dodge, looking for the origin of folk music, you would get so lost
that not even a halfway competent posse on fresh horses hand-picked by Sadie and
Ellie Sue from the Dodge City Horse Store, a posse led by Marshal McDillon himself,
would ever be able to find you. That’s how
old folk music is, compared with all other musical genres.
• With the advent of the printing press in the 15th
Century, vendors hawked “broadside ballads” in the streets—folk ballads printed
on one side of a sheet. Early journalism.
• In English-speaking countries, the folk music of the UK
and Ireland had a major revival that began in the late 1950s
and rocketed in popularity in the early 1960s. Countless
musicians in the UK, America, Canada, and other
English-speaking nations wrote countless original songs in
the English-Celtic folk tradition.
• The folk music revival crested in the latter part of the 1960s
and gave rise to sub-genres such as folk-rock (Dylan, the
Byrds, etc.) and the folk-soul music of artists such as Van
Morrison (for example, the beloved album Astral Weeks).
the term “roots” often appears in conjunction with folk music. The folk music
revival subsided in popularity, and folk/roots settled into the mainstream of
popular culture by the 1980s.
CA. 2,500 YEARS
TO THE PRESENT
You could define
classical music ultra-narrowly as the music of an era, the period of European art music of ca. 1750
to 1825 (Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven) that followed the baroque era and preceded
the romantic. Or you could define classical music broadly as formally-notated
art music, starting with some of the music of the Greeks, 2,500 years ago. In
which case, the bar second from the top in Figure 4 above would need to stretch to the
left about 4.8 feet (1.5 metres). Not a long time compared with folk music, but
much longer than the genres of popular music with which we’re familiar today.
racism prevented music from crossing cultural lines. For centuries, Europeans
and white Americans considered African music “primitive” and inferior to music
of European origin, especially the music of the baroque, classical, and romantic
composers of the common practice period (1600 - 1900). People with classical
music backgrounds have historically tended to value melody and harmony over
rhythm and rhythmic lyrics. The European aristocracy of the common practice
period who patronized composers actually believed they were fostering the
“progress” of music.
At classical music concerts, audiences were (and still are)
expected to sit quietly and listen to The Music. No nodding to the
beat (or nodding off), no tapping, clapping, or (horrors) singing or
dancing. Pretty much the exact opposite of, say, a hip-hop or rock
CA. 1830 - 1905
• American minstrelsy emerged in the 1830s. White musicians,
mainly solo or duo acts, would black-face themselves and
perform songs and dances from African American culture.
racist stereotyping (“See the happy dancing plantation slaves!”) didn’t bother
audiences of the day. Even Thomas Jefferson (1743 - 1826), author of the famous
phrase, “All men are created equal,” kept a couple of hundred slaves and did not
see fit to free them.
• By the 1840s, troupes of 5 or 10 players were common,
mainly white males, but not exclusively.
• Abolishionist minstrel troupes had some success.
• America successfully exported the minstrel show to Europe.
Of course minstrels had been a fixture in Europe for
centuries, but the American style minstrel show was
• After the Civil War, troupes grew larger, and there were more
African American troupes.
• Here is one description of American minstrelsy:
The typical entertainment included instrumental numbers, novelty acts (acrobats,
characters in animal costumes, dancers, and circus or museum oddities), short
skits, opera burlesques, parodies of urban concert life, comic and sentimental
songs, and ensemble dance numbers.
A. Bland, America’s first great African American songwriter (“Carry Me Back To
Old Virginny,” official state song of Virginia), wrote hundreds of songs but did
not make any money on royalties. However, he did earn a good living as a member
of various minstrel troupes.
• Stephen Foster, an abolishionist northerner, wrote many
songs for minstrel shows, with lyrics in dialect that did not
mock or denigrate plantation slaves.
• In the decades following the Civil War, the racist nature of
much of minstrelsy led to its demise, concomitant with the
rise of vaudeville, which had taken over from minstrelsy as
variety stage entertainment by the first decade of the 20th
CA. 1850 - 1955
• The Industrial Revolution began in the latter half of the 18th
Century and dramatically transformed European and North
American society. Decade after decade, people migrated
from the countryside to work in urban factories and foundries.
• Workers demanded more and better entertainment than
simply congregating in ale houses and singing traditional
songs. By the mid-1800s, music halls were meeting that
demand with a variety of entertainment for the working
• Some musicians became professional songwriters, furnishing
music hall entertainers with new songs. This marked the
beginning of the modern popular music industry.
• In America, a decade or two after the Civil War, music hall
entertainment became established in North America in the
form of vaudeville. It eventually superceded American
• Other varieties of music hall entertainment included operetta
(in both Europe and North America) and cabaret (mainly
Germany and France).
• Great composers and entertainers of the music
hall/vaudeville age include: Gilbert and Sullivan, Noel Gay,
Harry Lauder, Vera Lynn, Victor Herbert, George Formby,
Noel Coward, George M. Cohan, Albert and Harry von Tilzer,
James Reese Europe, Eddie Cantor, Fanny Brice, Al Jolson,
Sophie Tucker, Bert Williams, and Rudy Vallee.
• At the turn of the 20th Century, vaudeville was the most
popular form of entertainment in North America, as was
music hall culture in England.
major cities and towns in Europe and North America had music halls to
accommodate “light” entertainment variety shows.
• In America, other ways of presenting variety entertainment,
especially radio and film, began to displace vaudeville in the
1920s. However, the music hall genre lived on in Europe for
several more decades.
• The Broadway style musical replaced the vaudeville show as
stage entertainment. Eventually all of the elements of
vaudeville and music hall had migrated to other media or
were no longer referred to by their original names (e.g.,
musical revues, movie musicals, and television variety and
• The Beatles recorded a landmark album in the British music
hall tradition: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967).
Tin Pan Alley
Jewish immigrants who
arrived in America between 1880 and 1910 found themselves discriminated against
and barred from many professions. Some turned to what were then considered
“low-life” entertainment industries: movies and popular music. They founded Tin
Pan Alley, America’s popular music songwriting and publishing industry.
In the 1880s, the
vaudeville houses clustered around New York City’s Union Square, which became
the first home of Tin Pan Alley. As the entertainment venues moved north, so did
Tin Pan Alley, to 28th Street between 5th Avenue and Broadway.
Tin Pan Alley did not
get its name until around 1903, after it had moved to 28th Street. The name came
from the sound of the out-of-tune pianos in the publishing houses on both sides
of the street. (London, England, had its version of Tin Pan Alley—Denmark
From the1930s to the 1950s, Tin Pan Alley moved north again, up
to 42nd Street, hub of the theatre district and the broadcasting
and east coast recording industries.
By the 1960s, record company A & R directors had taken over
from publishers and the name Tin Pan Alley faded.
The Tin Pan Alley era was the golden age of non-performing
songwriters (ca. 1885 - ca. 1965). In the 1960s, bands and
songwriters who wrote and performed their own material took over
the popular music charts.
Since the 1980s a
number of producer-songwriters—non-performers who write and produce songs for
pop stars—have become successful. So, in a limited way, this marks a return to
Tin Pan Alley.
very glad to have met you, Mr. Sartre. I like your playing very much.
meeting Jean-Paul Sartre
gig in Paris, 1949
started in the early 1890s in the port of New Orleans, a city that was once a
French colony. The African American musical culture of syncopation, polyrhythm,
melodic embellishment, and improvisation mashed up with European (especially
French military) musical traditions and instrumentation: marches and
rhythmically “square” dance forms, brass instruments, and the upright piano.
Orleans Creole musicians (American born, of African American and
European—especially French—ancestry), such as Buddy Bolden, King Oliver, Kid Ory,
and Jelly Roll Morton, lived with, and played music with, self-taught African
American musicians. Altogether they created a new genre, jazz.
• The Original Dixieland Jazz Band made its first recording in
1917. By the 1920s, the Mississippi riverboats had carried
jazz north to Kansas City, Chicago, and New York. Not long
after, jazz had spread all over America and on to Europe.
(Recall that in the 1930s, the Nazis banned jazz.)
• White musicians played alongside black musicians, helping
to focus more attention on the appalling state of racial
discrimination and segregation that had existed since the
botching of emancipation at the end of the Civil War in
1865. Later, jazz musicians such as Louis Armstrong played
a role in sparking the civil rights movement of the 1950s and
the late 1920s and early ’30s, jazz musicians were transforming hundreds of
well-crafted songs for Broadway musicals (written mainly by Jewish immigrants
and their progeny, who had fled persecution in Europe and Russia) into what
would later be known as jazz standards.
• Composers and band leaders such as Duke Ellington were
writing brilliant pieces for the jazz orchestra. Historically, most
of the great innovators in jazz have been African Americans:
Louis Armstrong, Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker,
John Coltrane, Miles Davis.
the late 1930s, with the success of swing-era big-bands lead by the Dorsey
Brothers, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, and others, jazz was the most popular
musical genre in America, eclipsing “square” interpretations of Broadway show
• At the end of World War II, the popularity of jazz was starting
to decline. The advent of bebop sustained a healthy interest
in jazz well into the 1950s, after which several other emergent
genres took the spotlight. Today, jazz remains a solid
mainstream genre, showing no signs of fading away.
brought improvisation back from near-extinction in Western music. Improvisation
combines the creation of music with the performance of music. The hallmark of
jazz is that the performer composes while performing—improvises—although the
performer follows some sort of model or form (see Section 7.9.2).
• After the emancipation, African Americans found themselves
shut out of mainstream society, living in nightmarish
conditions of poverty and racial segregation. The Ku Klux
Klan organized lynch mobs that murdered thousands of
African Americans, beginning in the 1880s and continuing
into the 1960s.
• The blues began in the Mississippi delta in the late 1880s or
early 1890s, with former slaves and their progeny singing
about their tragic lives of discrimination, broken dreams,
shattered families, and alienation. And disappointment with
lovers. And satisfaction with lovers. And ambiguity about
• Unlike jazz, the blues was mainly rural in origin. It began as
a wholly African American folk music genre.
voice, guitar, and harmonica, blues musicians combined pentatonic and diatonic
scales to create blues scales—hybrid scales with “blue” notes (see Chapters 4
and 5). This black folk/country music didn’t sound much like either jazz or
white country music.
• With the proliferation of recording studios and the advent of
radio in the 1920s, the blues began to find audiences to a
limited degree outside the deep south. But the blues never
did break big time, not the way jazz did.
ASCAP musicians’ strike (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers)
helped the cause of the blues. The strike led to the formation of BMI (Broadcast
Music Incorporated) in1939. New labels and BMI publishers signed many African American blues musicians to make recordings to
meet the demand for fresh
music for radio broadcast.
• In the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s, the folk music
revival rekindled interest in authentic African American folk
music. Many blues musicians who had been playing in
obscurity for decades suddenly found themselves performing and recording for large
and appreciative audiences.
• As with other genres, interest in the blues waxes and wanes.
Like jazz, the blues will be around for generations to come.
important blues songwriters and performers include Blind Lemon Jefferson, Pine
Top Smith, Leadbelly, Charley Patton, Leroy Carr, Bessie Smith, W. C. Handy,
Robert Johnson, Ma Rainey, Blind Willie McTell, Son House, Howlin’ Wolf, Willie
Dixon, Muddy Waters, Etta James, and B. B. King.
CA. 1895 - 1920
• Ragtime was a style of piano-based syncopated jazz that
emerged in the mid 1890s. Some musicians played ragtime
on other instruments, such as the banjo.
New Orleans jazz, ragtime had roots in the “square” marches and dances of
Europe, combined with African American syncopation.
ragtime piano style, the left hand plays a “square” march rhythm or dance rhythm
against the right hand’s syncopated melody, resulting in a characteristic
• One of the main differences between ragtime and New
Orleans jazz was that ragtime was usually (but not always)
formally composed and notated, whereas jazz was usually
(but not always) improvised. Some musical historians argue
that much ragtime music was completely improvised, but only
the composed pieces remain for the record, as do ragtime piano
both New Orleans jazz and ragtime were
syncopated, yet sounded markedly different.
• Ragtime became all the rage for a few years, both in America
and Europe during the first decade of the 20th Century.
• As spectacularly as ragtime had broken out, it died away, and
by the 1920s had all but disappeared.
• As a major musical genre, ragtime was rare in that, after a
wildly successful breakout, it ultimately did not survive, not
even as a sub-genre of jazz. By the 1920s, ragtime had pretty
much disappeared, while jazz moved into mainstream
• Some ragtime greats: Scott Joplin, Joseph Lamb, James
Scott, Eubie Blake, Vess L. Ossman, and Ben Harney.
• The movie The Sting
(1973) briefly revived interest in ragtime. Some ragtime tunes have become great
classics, such as “The Maple Leaf Rag” and “The Entertainer.”
songs don’t go out of style, but occasionally good musical styles go out of
style for good. Or something. For a good rag time, track down the music of
ragtime xylophone player Morris Palter, one-time percussionist in the Canadian
alt-rock band Treble Charger.
• Europeans brought music hall style variety entertainment to
America, where music hall became vaudeville. Tin Pan Alley supplied
• By the late 1920s, America had created its own version of
music hall entertainment in the form of the Broadway musical,
which supplanted the vaudeville show.
• Whereas a vaudeville show was a variety revue, a Broadway
musical was a full-length, plotted, character-rich story with a
central theme and a set of songs written for the show by
professional Tin Pan Alley songwriters.
• The first great Broadway musical was Showboat
(Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, 1927). Within a few years, Broadway-style
musicals were playing everywhere, including London’s West End and Dodge City's
Wrong Ranch Saloon.
• Jazz eclipsed Broadway musical theatre in overall popularity
in the 1930s, but Broadway kept right on churning out shows
(and filmed musicals), supplying the jazz world with a steady
stream of wonderful songs that have become jazz standards.
• Richard Rodgers, one of the greatest songwriters ever,
composed all of his songs, except "Blue Moon," for musicals. The GSSL
lists more than 50 of his tunes.
• Some great writers of songs for Broadway musicals and films
include: Jerome Kern, George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter,
Harry Warren, Kurt Weill, Irving Berlin, Vincent Youmans,
Vernon Duke, Harold Arlen, Richard Rodgers, Sammy Fain,
Sammy Cahn, Julie Styne, Frank Loesser, Jimmy van
Heusen, and Stephen Sondheim.
• Broadway-style musical theatre is still with us, and probably
will be for the foreseeable future. However, with the
emergence of so many other great musical genres in the
second half of the 20th Century, the profile of the Broadway
musical has diminished markedly within mainstream popular
• In the 1700s, settlers from Britain, Ireland, and Scotland
brought their folk songs and instruments to America. Soon
they were composing their own tunes, telling their own
stories, and singing and playing their instruments in their own
• This gave rise to a new, uniquely American musical genre,
originally called hillbilly or mountain music, then country and
western, then just country music.
• As a national mainstream genre, American country music
broke out in the 1920s when radio spread throughout
America. In 1925, George D. Hay started the Grand Ole Opry, a radio showcase for country music. By the late 1920s,
country music had its first national star act, the Carter Family.
• The talent scout and record producer Ralph Peer recorded
some of the first great country music acts. Peer discovered
both Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family.
• Country music continued to grow in popularity throughout the
1930s and 1940s, spinning off exciting sub-genres such as
bluegrass and Texas swing.
• Starting in the late 1940s, Hank Williams, Sr., Lefty Frizzell,
Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins, George Jones, and other
giants of the genre took country music into its golden age,
which crested in the 1960s.
• Among the greatest country songwriters and performers are:
Uncle Dave Macon, Jimmie Rodgers, the Delmore Brothers,
Gene Autry, Tex Ritter, Hank Williams, Sr., Bob Wills, Bill
Monroe, Patsy Cline, Jim Reeves, the Carter Family, Lefty
Frizzell, Ernest Tubb, Chet Atkins, Marty Robbins, Hank
Snow, Flatt and Scruggs, Merle Travis, Merle Haggard,
George Jones, Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Willie Nelson,
Dolly Parton, and Lucinda Williams.
• Though not quite as popular as it once was, country remains
a powerful force in the mainstream of popular music.
The Deep Connection
Between Scientists and Country Music Singers: Luxuriant Flowing Hair
As we all know, many female country music singers flaunt their
luxuriant flowing hair. Especially in the presence of bald male
admirers. Shameful, but true.
Like country music singers, some scientists cannot resist the
seductive appeal of luxuriant flowing hair. They even have their
own secret society, the ...
Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club for Scientists
Yes, it’s shocking.
However, we must
remember that scientists occasionally behave like regular humans. For instance,
they go to scientific conferences in exotic locales such as Paris and Dodge City and get
plastered, just like regular people. And, yes, an undisciplined few pull on
mullet wigs (those who don’t have natural mullets) and dance on table tops and
smash their empty glasses into the fireplace and say inappropriate things in
loud voices to their colleagues from France and Brazil and regret it all in the
morning. Just like the rest of us.
• African American gospel music started as the spiritual songs
of plantation slaves, songs that sounded distinctly unlike the
gospel songs heard in white churches, which grew out of
the blues had become established in the north, especially Chicago, African
American gospel music and the blues blended into the animated, passionate,
melodically embellished style of today’s African American gospel music.
Thomas Andrew Dorsey (1899 - 1993) of Chicago, the seminal figure in
establishing gospel blues as a distinct genre, claimed he had coined the term
“gospel song” in the late 1920s. Not true. As far back as the 1870s, P. P. Bliss
had published collections of songs in books that had the phrases “Gospel Songs”
and “Gospel Hymns” in their titles.
• Nevertheless, Rev. Dorsey, a one-time secular blues artist,
deserves full credit for founding modern African American
gospel music in the 1930s. Dorsey fused his lively,
improvised, syncopated blues musical style with evangelical
lyrics to create an important musical genre.
• Probably the greatest interpreter of gospel music was
Mahalia Jackson (1911 - 1972), who, in the early part of her
career, worked with Rev. Dorsey.
1935 - 1946
• Jazz bands grew bigger and bigger in the 1920s and 1930s.
Big band music became its own style of jazz.
• Swing was actually a short-lived dance music era (sometimes
called the big band era), not a style or genre of music. It
began in 1935.
• Big band arrangers orchestrated many Broadway tunes for
their swing orchestras. Audiences went crazy for dancing to
big band music. By the late 1930s, swing was king, and
Benny Goodman was the king of swing. He pioneered mixed-race big bands.
• The swing era crested in the first half of the 1940s. Then, with
the end of World War II, swing abruptly fizzled out. The big
bands broke up and by 1946, the swing era was over for
good. Jazz, however, continued on as a mainstream musical
swing was more a dance era than a genre of music, it is represented on the GSSL
as a “genre” simply to emphasize the impact of the 11 years of the swing era in
popular music. Swing marked the height of the jazz age, when jazz was the most
popular of all the American popular music genres. Many songs of the swing era
of the swing era introduced electric guitars and big drum sounds that found
their way into club-centred music. These sounds became important elements of R &
B. A typical swing band consisted of five saxophones, four trumpets, four
trombones, piano, bass, drums, often rhythm guitar, and, later in the era, a
singer, the most celebrated—deservedly—being Frank Sinatra.
R & B / SOUL,
• In the 1920s and 1930s, many African American folk-blues
musicians migrated to the big cities of the north and found
themselves getting drowned out when playing in the rowdy
• What to do? Put down the acoustic guitar and pick up an
electric one (invented in the 1930s and widely used in the
Swing era). Get a good microphone and P. A. system. Get
some loud horn players and a drum kit. Big bands had all of
• By the late 1940s, electrified urban blues (African American
pop music) had become a new mainstream genre. Billboard
magazine labelled it rhythm & blues in the late 1940s, later
shortened to R & B.
white racist fears of African American “sexualized” music and lyrics kept R & B
records on the sidelines, while sanitized covers by white artists such as Pat
Boone climbed the charts and made piles of money.
the 1950s, gospel singers began writing and singing songs in the gospel blues
style but with secular R & B lyrics—a reversal of what Thomas A. Dorsey had done
in creating modern gospel music a generation earlier. Gospel blues style with
secular lyrics came to be called soul music.
• R & B and soul music crested in the 1960s.
• Some of the leading songwriters and performers in the R &
B/soul genre: Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Fats Domino,
Holland, Dozier, and Holland, Marvin Gaye, Jackie Wilson, Al
Green, James Brown, Ray Charles, George Clinton, Smokey
Robinson, Aretha Franklin, Curtis Mayfield, Van Morrison,
and Stevie Wonder.
• R & B/soul fell off somewhat in popularity with the dominance
of rock/pop in the 1970s, but had a resurgence in the 1990s,
concomitant with the rise of hip-hop.
the mid 1950s, R & B mashed up with country, resulting in a new genre, initially
called rockabilly, then rock ‘n’ roll, then rock. The early greats of rock were
both African American (Bo Diddley, Little Richard, Chuck Berry) and white (Bill
Haley, Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly).
DJ Alan Freed, who dared to play R & B on a white radio station in the early
1950s, popularized the term “rock 'n' roll.”
Bill Haley had some success with “Rock Around The Clock” and other seminal rock
singles, Elvis Presley’s astonishing talent and star power vaulted rock to the
forefront of popular music in just a few years, starting in 1956.
• Some racist white people, fearing further undermining of
white authority inherent in African American based music and
lyrics, staged record-smashing and burning events.
• Rock crested in the 1970s, then began a slow decline as two
new African American genres emerged, dance/electronica
has been so popular for so long that it’s unlikely to run out of steam any time
• The term "pop music" usually refers to light, safe, sanitized
• Reggae has roots in several Afro-Caribbean genres, notably
calypso (Trinidad and Tobago), mento, ska, and rocksteady
• For a few years in the late 1950s and early '60s, calypso
became quite popular outside the Caribbean, thanks to Harry
Belafonte and a few other artists who introduced calypso to
North American and UK audiences. But calypso did not
become established as a mainstream genre outside of the
• In the late 1960s, another genre did take hold beyond the
Caribbean, a slowed-down and somewhat altered style of
ska, known as reggae.
the Reggay” (early spelling) by Toots & The Maytals, released in 1968, marked
the breakout of reggae, much as “Rapper’s Delight” in 1979 marked the breakout
• Not long after, Bob Marley and The Wailers took the world by
crested in the 1970s, Marley’s brilliant decade. He died of cancer in 1981 at
the age of 36.
• Reggae and related genres such as ska remain popular and
influential in mainstream Western popular music.
God had to create disco so that I could be born and be successful.
• The culture of DJs playing records in clubs for dancing
patrons dates to the 1930s. In parts of Europe, where jazz
was banned at the time, jazz lovers established underground
clubs where they could play jazz records and dance to the
the 1960s, discotheques, having spread from Europe to America, had sprung up all
over, in cities large and small. In New York in the late 1960s and early ’70s,
African American and gay clubbers kept demanding funky R & B and soul tracks to
responded by releasing records that emphasized “four on the floor” bass drum and
relentless thumping electric bass, set against swirling synth strings.
as a musical genre broke out in the mid-1970s with the release of numerous disco
classics, such as “Love To Love You Baby,” “Disco Inferno,” “Lady Marmalade,”
“Kung Fu Fighting,” and “Dancing Queen.”
• Inevitably, there was a backlash against disco in 1979, partly
fuelled by racism and partly by homophobia (faggy and
unmasculine, they sneered). Disco reactionaries burned
records, as had happened in the racist backlash against rock,
a generation earlier.
• Although the popularity of disco declined (but did not
disappear), other sub-genres sprang up from the club dance
scene, and, over time, dance/electronica became a musical
genre in its own right, not just a dance fad.
probably crested in the 1990s, the heyday of numerous electronic sub-genres,
some of which had emerged in the 1980s, such as techno (Detroit), house
(Chicago), drum ‘n’ bass, trip-hop, and scores of others.
• Dance/electronica artists continue to experiment and
innovate. The clubs rave on.
hip-hop represents a genre that has come full circle. It’s as popular today in its
African homeland as it is everywhere else in the world.
• Hip-hop originated centuries ago in West Africa with the
advent of griot (pronounced GREE-oh) culture. Today, as in
the past, the Wolof griots of Senegal dance, recite poetry,
narrate epics, and play percussion instruments such as
drums and clappers. Their function is to impart stimulation
and energy to governing nobles.
• The slave trade brought the griot oral tradition to the
Caribbean and the American continents.
hip-hop’s immediate precursor was Jamaican sound
system culture—dance parties featuring DJs (rapping over the music) and toasters (rappers).
• Some Jamaican DJs, notably Kool DJ Herc, emigrated to
America (Brooklyn) and brought sound system culture with
• In the 1970s, hip-hop musicians introduced several key
innovations, such as separation of the roles of DJ and MC,
breakbeat DJing, and scratching.
hip-hop refers to the so-called “four elements” of African American urban
culture that first emerged in New York in the 1970s, namely, rapping (MCing),
scratching (DJing), break dancing, and graffiti art. It’s more accurate to refer
to the musical genre as “hip-hop” instead of “rap” because some hip-hop artists:
but don’t sing
but don’t rap
- Rap and sing
- Incorporate DJing in their act
have DJing in their act
and so forth.
1979, several rap records, especially “Rapper’s Delight,” became popular
nationally, marking the breakout of hip-hop. Within a decade, hip-hop had swept
yet another genre created by African Americans, has not crested yet, and
probably won’t for some years.
• Hip-hop is only the latest in a string of African American
popular music genres to have gone global.
White Rap: Talking
Rap n. A style of popular music characterized by rhythmic recitation of rhymed
lyrics to music with a pronounced beat or rhythm.
If you accept the above as a fair definition of rap, then white guys
independently created a genre of rap decades before the advent
More irony: white rappers were southerners who played
country music—probably the most reviled music among today’s hip-hop artists
and fans. Not only that, the white rappers co-opted a black-created musical idiom for their backing track: the 12-bar blues
form. Eventually, white folk musicians co-opted white rap and turned it
into a genre associated with leftist protest and social justice causes—anathema
to many if not most white southerners, who created white rap in the first place.
How did all this happen?
In 1927, a pipe-smoking
country singer-songwriter from South Carolina named Christopher Bouchillon had
written a country-blues song and played it for his record producer who liked the
lyrics but couldn’t stand Chris’s singing. So he directed Chris to
talk the lyrics while playing guitar in his usual rhythmic up-tempo
style. So he did. The record was called “Talking Blues,” and it became a
national hit. The year was 1927.
Soon, bunches of other
country acts got on the bandwagon and recorded their own talking blues records.
In the 1930s, one guy named Robert Lunn even billed himself professionally as
“The Talking Blues Man” and popularized the new genre on the Grand Ole Opry.
Then the great folk
singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie started writing and performing talking blues
with decidedly left-wing, pro-labor messages, such as “Talking Dust Bowl Blues,”
“Mean Talking Blues,” and “Talking Subway.”
In no time, folksingers
all over the United States—Pete Seeger, John Greenway, Rambin’ Jack Elliot—and
overseas (Lonnie Donegan, the Scottish skiffle pioneer, for instance) were
writing and performing talking blues songs.
Bob Dylan, who idolized
Woody Guthrie, began writing talking blues songs early in his career. One of his
best, “Talkin’ World War III Blues,” was first released on the album The
Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan in 1963. If you want to hear what it sounds like and
read the lyrics, go to www.bobdylan.com and click on “songs.”
Another of Dylan’s
great talking blues tunes got censored for political reasons. In 1963, Ed
Sullivan invited Dylan to play a song on his wildly popular television show. A
fantastic opportunity. It was The Ed Sullivan Show, after all, that had introduced The
Beatles, Elvis, and many other rock and pop acts to tens of
millions of Americans and Canadians.
Dylan agreed to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show
if he could perform a new talking blues tune called “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid
Blues.” Well, when the Ed Sullivan Show people heard
it, they told him he could perform another song, but not that one.
Apparently, the Ed Sullivan Show people didn’t want to offend the John
Birch Society, an organization of ultra right-wing extremists (which still
exists today). So Dylan told them to stuff it. He never did appear on The Ed Sullivan Show.
By today’s standards,
this would be the equivalent of refusing the opportunity to appear on the Super
Bowl half-time show. This no doubt baffles a lot of acts of dubious integrity,
who would do
anything to play for an audience of that size. Even sing the
company song of Enron or Haliburton.
Dylan’s record company
pulled “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues” from The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan
before they released the album. Fans who did not hear a bootleg tape of the song
had to wait until 1991, when an early live recording was finally “officially”
released on the album The Bootleg Series. You can hear the
song and read the lyrics at www.bobdylan.com.
The talking blues genre
lives on in folk music circles, although it’s not terribly popular.
Nevertheless, although it’s not known officially as “rap,” talking blues fits
the definition precisely: “a style of popular music characterized by rhythmic
recitation of rhymed lyrics to music with a pronounced beat or rhythm.”
Although “white rap”
antedates modern “black rap” by some 50 years, no evidence exists that talking
blues had any influence whatsoever on the African-American rap pioneers of the
1970s. Which means that white rappers and black rappers each came up with the
rap genre independently. Which happens with great ideas from time to time.
Newton and Leibnitz developed the mathematical branch called the calculus
independently of each other. Darwin and Wallace independently discovered
evolution by natural selection.
• There's no general agreement on what the term "world
music" means exactly, except that it refers to folk music.
music used to refer to the indigenous music of developing or third world
nations. However, a more accurate definition would include the folk music of all
nations whose people, whether indigenous or colonizing, don't share the language
of one’s own nation.
• For example, Australians or Canadians would consider the
folk music of developed countries such as Spain or Portugal
to be "world music." And vice-versa.
name “world music” may have originated with the first WOMAD festival (the World
of Music, Arts and Dance), organized by Peter Gabriel and others, which took
place in England in 1982.
• The proliferation of WOMAD festivals fired the musical
imaginations of some Western pop musicians who began to
incorporate elements of the traditional music of other nations
into their own music.
of the most famous and successful “world music” albums by an English-language
artist is Paul Simon’s Graceland
* * * * *
So much for biological and historical context. On to the nitty gritty
of technique. Yee-ha.