vvv Popular Music Prior To The Rock Era vvv

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Introduction

The predominant theme in early American popular music—one also prominent in the other arts—was the clash between European models and rapidly evolving indigenous styles. The enfranchised classes were generally committed to importing Old World genres, ranging from Protestant hymns to opera, orchestral works, song lieder, and other vestiges of the art music tradition. While these forms all found a place in American society, distinctly homegrown variants had already appeared during the Colonial Era, including Appalachian folk music, Negro spirituals, patriotic airs and marches, and work songs of every imaginable stripe.

The victory of native popular culture was assured when minstrelsy achieved institutional status in the 1840s. Minstrelsy’s ability to assimilate the full spectrum of American popular songs—from sentimental ballads composed by the likes of Stephen Foster to the coon and ragtime songs penned by early Tin Pan Alley tunesmiths—made it the preeminent theatrical tradition until the rise of vaudeville shortly before the turn of the twentieth century.

At the same time, rural southern cultures were responsible for nurturing those genres central to the rise of rock ‘n’ roll—Anglo-Saxon-derived country music, and the blues, performed by blacks while at work in the fields as well as in social settings. By the time jazz, the Broadway musical, bluegrass, western swing, rhythm and blues, and other indigenous styles had appeared in the twentieth century, the richness and vitality of American music would be acknowledged worldwide.