Rock ’n’ roll. Hip-hop. Rap. Heavy metal. These contemporary types of music may cause the older generation to be concerned about the popular music that youth listen to today. Did you know that the young people of the 1920s faced similar issues with their older generation? When the adults of the 1920s heard the blues and jazz being played, they expressed concern about the popular music that their youth were listening to, as well. Many of the cultural conservatives viewed the music as having a bad moral influence on youth. The decade of the 1920s was a particularly fertile time in the development of American music. 

The commercialization of radio and the growth of the record industry created a growing market for music.  As African-Americans from the Jim Crow South migrated to urban centres in the North they brought with them a wide variety of musical traditions. 

These included African-influenced folk music from both the Caribbean and the American South.  Gospel, blues, and minstrel songs all grew out of these influences. Finally, jazz, a brand new genre, resulted from the melding of these traditions with classical music, military marches, and a quick tempo music called ragtime. 

The music of the 1920s was the result of a complex interplay of cultural influences.  Formed in the crucible of ethnically diverse American cities, musicologists hail jazz and blues as uniquely American musical forms.

Whereas many of the first musical innovations emerged in African-American communities, they quickly became popular among whites as well.  White consumers hungry for something exotic quickly bought up "race records" (recordings made for African-American audiences) and streamed into African-American dance halls like the Apollo in Chicago and the Savoy in New York.  As jazz became more mainstream, white musicians like Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey also contributed to the development of jazz.

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The 20’s were a time when many Americans sought to escape their strict, puritanical roots, kick up their heels, and party. The First World War had ended in victory for the US and its allies, and a new sense of freedom was in the air. However the decade of the 20’s ended with a crash, leaving behind the legacy of its music, style, language, and behavior. Ragtime is an original musical genre which enjoyed its peak popularity between 1897 and 1918. Its main characteristic trait is its syncopated, or "ragged," rhythm.

The ragtime composer Scott Joplin became famous through the publication in 1899 of the "Maple Leaf Rag" and a string of ragtime hits that followed, although he was later forgotten by all but a small, dedicated community of ragtime aficionados until the major ragtime revival in the early 1970s. Jazz is a unique blend of western and African music, with its roots in spirituals, work songs and field holler, and blues. Much of jazz is improvised (because many musicians did not read music), meaning that musicians composed as they played. Until the ‘20s, it was played in the back alleys and basements of African-American communities in the South, especially New Orleans.

Then bands like King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band, with trumpet player Louis Armstrong, spread jazz to the rest of the nation, becoming popular in the late 1920’s. Armstrong’s Jazz began taking a different side into Blues music. Eventually jazz would influence music throughout the western world. Characteristics of Jazz music include breaks and riffs. A break is a very brief syncopated interlude of 2-3 bars between musical phrases. A riff is a musical phrase repeated over and over generally behind the main melody. Boogie Woogie is a genre of music consisting of Blues and Ragtime.

Trilling the treble notes and rolling the bass notes throughout the piece. This type of music came out of the Kansas City area. The “new” music was so filled with energy that anyone listening to it could not sit still – but couples could not waltz to it either. New dances were invented, for example, the Charleston. The Cotton Club in New York’s Harlem was the most famous nightclub in the country. Duke Ellington opened there in 1927. Marathon dancing became the rage.

The 20’s was a decade of motion, and dancing was very much part of the culture. Music was part of the movie houses as well. The “sound track” ranged from a piano player on the sidelines to a full orchestra in the pit. The movie industry started the Academy Awards in 1929. Not to be outdone by the movies, live entertainment became more lavish than ever. Florenz Ziegfeld’s Follies featured top stars, elegant sets, and lavish costumes. Popular items for kids at the time were metal roller skates, Lincoln Logs, Tinkertoys, Erector Sets, and multicolored Crayolas. Winnie-the-Pooh was brought to life in 1926 in a book written by Christopher’s father, A.A. Milne. Mickey Mouse was created in 1927 and starred in the first sound cartoon, “Steamboat Willie”. October 24, 1929, the stock market crashed.

By the beginning of 1930’s the economy was slow and The Great Depression set in. Music of the 1930’s was not one sound but many. However the main dominant genre of the 30’s was Jazz and Blues coming out of the lat 20’s. The “East Side Style” was dominated by the tenor sax, the romantic ballad, and the 64-bar show tune. Danceable and unchanging, it was meant to keep people on their feet. The “Crooner” was a jazz singer. Romance and smoothness was all in the music. The female jazz singer was known as the “torch Singer”. They sat atop their pianos and sang of broken hearts and love. Scat singing was a Harlem born style of music, using all the “hip” slang words of the alleys and streets. Swing music was popular from 1932-1940. It was danceable, fun and lively.

The 1930’s brought new change not only to music but also to our entire society. Parlor games and board games were popular, and people gathered around radios to listen to sports, music, and Franklin Roosevelt’s Fireside Chats. All this recreation was very inexpensive and kept the family unit together. Radio was for those who could not make it to the live clubs. Books also became very popular, as they were an inexpensive hobby.

Between 1929 and 1932 the average household income in America fell by 40%, from $2300 to $1500 per year. Movies were popular and moviegoers wanted to be entertained, to escape from their everyday troubles for a few hours. Shirley Temple became an overnight sensation with her tap dancing and singing. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were popular with their tapping and ballroom dancing. One of the top moneymakers of all times, “Gone With the Wind”, debuted in Atlanta, GA in 1939. And Walt Disney produced its first full-length animated movie “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” in 1937.

Many of the nation’s most memorable skyscrapers were complete in the early 30’s – the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, and the Rockefeller Center. Monopoly was introduced in 1935. Due to the economy, clothes had to last a long time so styles did not change every season. The simple, plain clothes replaced all the wild flapper attire of the 20’s. The use of the zipper became wide spread because it was cheaper than using buttons.

Men began wearing vests and sweaters and fewer suits. The trend of long dresses in the evening and mid-calf dresses for daywear became popular. Hats were a must for both sexes. In 1931 Congress designated “The Star Spangled Banner” as the national anthem. In 1938 Kate Smith sang Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America” and made it a hit.

The 20th century music world has seen the entry of light and easy listening music with African-American jazz music. Originating in southern USA, jazz music is a combination of African and European music traditions. It puts together the use of blue notes, improvisation, syncopation and swing notes. Jazz music was first used in reference to music from Chicago early in the 20th century. It has evolved in several other sub-genres such as New Orleans Dixieland, big band-style swing, bebop, Afro-Cuban jazz, Brazilian jazz, jazz-rock fusion, and the more recent acid jazz. The realm of jazz music was and still is predominantly associated with the American black community.

These black musicians transitioning from banjos and tambourines learned to play European instruments such as the violin. Black slaves from early America used to sing and play music as a form of spiritual or ritualistic hymns. After emancipation, employment opportunities for black slaves were very limited as segregation laws were still in force.

Most of these black slaves found themselves in the entertainment industry as piano players and instrumentalists. They became low-cost entertainers as minstrels, vaudeville players, piano bar players, and marching band members. Soon, this kind of jazz music called Ragtime Jazz spread from the southern USA to other areas in the western and northern cities in USA.

Ragtime jazz became very popular in the early part of the century. Musician Jelly Roll Morton published the first ever jazz arrangement in print in 1915 with the title Jelly Roll Blues. This printed arrangement brought forth a new breed of musicians playing ragtime.

Ragtime music moved on from red-light district bars and vaudeville shows to major concert locations such as the Carnegie Hall. The first jazz record was recorded in 1913 by Society Orchestra, the first black group to come out with a record. Another group that came up with their very own jazz music recording is the "Original Dixieland Jazz Band".

Other bands followed suit, releasing jazz music recordings starting in 1917. In 1922, the most famous blues singer of the decade, Bessie Smith, also released her first recording. Also in the 1920s, Jelly Roll Morton played with the New Orleans Rhythm Kings and made history as the first mixed-race recording collaboration.

Big bands like those of Fletcher Henderson, Duke Ellington and Earl Hines played the more prominent venues and paved the way for the development of big-band-style swing jazz. Louis Armstrong, a trumpeter, band leader and singer, came to be known as the Ambassador of Jazz, what with his early innovations in jazz music. Swing music is considered to be popular dance music and is played from printed musical arrangements.

Then came the bebop which focuses more on small groups and simple arrangements. Throughout the years jazz music has always been preferred music genre among those who enjoy light and easy listening. There are radio stations that play only jazz music. Jazz music can be heard most everywhere hotel lounges, salons, concert halls, wedding receptions, Jazz music is perhaps also the most unique form of music as there are no two jazz music performances are ever the same.

1920s Bands

You will discover multitudes of music genres in today's musical world. Country music is truly one of my personal favorites and so I thought I would provide a little bit of country history to the forefront. If you don't know a great deal about country music the reality is a large number of country songs tell a tale. It has been said most of these songs are about our lives, who we are and where we came from.

Country music generated a couple of the most notable selling solo musical artists in history in the US. Elvis Presley's early career was naturally country hillbilly music and he proceeded to become one of the defining figures in the birth of Rock n Roll. Garth Brooks is the second best selling solo artist in United States history and has a very popular show in Las Vegas. That's quite an amazing start. Going back in history, however, we find that Country music goes back to the early 1920's in America and it has its roots in classic folk music, Celtic music, Blues, Bluegrass and Gospel music.

Early country music was termed "Hillbilly" music although the words changed to Country Music in the early 1940's. In its beginnings, Country music was pure American; the country music audience was American, its musicians and singers were American and its sound was American. 1925 brought in the era of the "Singing Cowboy" when the first cowboy song was recorded by Carl T. Sprague. The full rise in popularity of the singing cowboy wasn't really defined until talking movies starring Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Tex Ritter and even a young John Wayne became popular in the 1930's. John Wayne, however, didn't in reality sing; he just played the movie part of the cowboy while some other person presented the singing voice. But he was off to an awesome movie career.

With the release of Television to the American people, the era of the singing cowboy movies ended in the 1950's. Gene Autry and Roy Rogers carried on their roles as "singing cowboys" in a few of the first western series produced for television. In the film Toy Story 2, "Woody's Roundup" was shown as a depiction of one of those first television series.

The 1960's introduced alterations and diversification to the country music genre as Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, June Carter Cash, Brenda Lee, Loretta Lynn, Marty Robbins, Eddie Arnold and others took over as Country music stars. Several of the country songs recorded in the 1960's crossed over to the Pop charts adding another music culture to the country sound. Many country music singers employed their songwriting skills for both themselves and other artists. Kris Kristopherson wrote many songs for country artists, however, he also wrote "Me and Bobby McGee" which Janis Joplin made popular before her untimely death.

A very popular Elvis song "Kentucky Rain" was written by Eddie Rabbitt; another really good country music songwriter. Eddie Rabbitt also wrote songs for films such as the title song for "Every Which Way but Loose" starring Clint Eastwood. The 70's and 80's brought different changes to the country music scene. With the recognition of the film "Urban Cowboy" in 1980 starring John Travolta, artists like Barbara Mandrell, Alabama, the Oak Ridge Boys, The Bellamy Brothers, Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton and George Strait became popular among many others in the country music field. Everybody wanted to be a cowboy. As the times have developed, country music has reinvented itself to fit to these changing times.

To name a few, vocalists like Tim McGraw, Alan Jackson, Kenny Chesney, Martina McBride, Reba McIntyre, Zac Brown Band, Keith Urban, Brad Paisley and Rascal Flatts are all making their mark on the country music scene. In closing, you should listen closely to the words of the country music songs…hear the stories about life and find out if you can locate a small amount of yourself and your life in these wonderful songs.

Marlon Quan.

Coober and the Kentuckians

Known for their polished perform ances of American popular music from the ‘20's, ‘30's and ‘40's, the Manhattan Rhythm Kings have gained a large and enthusiastic following across the country. W hile frequently compared with such musical greats as the Mills Brothers and Paul W hiteman’s Rhythm Boys, the trio has established a unique character of its own with a combination of close harmony singing, virtuosic instrumental work, and spectacular tap dancing.

The Rhythm Kings started performing together on the sidewalks of New York in 1980. From there these song and dance men graduated to playing cabarets, colleges and concert halls across the country. In fact, the King’s recent concert in Stowe, Vermont marked the 50th state the group has performed in!

It was their sparkling combination of song and dance that first attracted the attention of Broadway’s Tommy Tune. In 1984 Mr. Tune asked the trio to assemble an act based on the songs written by Fred Astaire. Their collaboration continues today and the act has performed together in venues as diverse as Carnegie Hall and Atlantic City’s Trump Plaza, and a tour of the former Soviet Union, where they commanded standing ovations in Moscow, Tblisi, and St. Petersburg.

The King’s are favorites at symphony pops concerts and have performed with over 70 orchestras, including the Boston Pops, The Pittsburgh Symphony, and the orchestras of Baltimore, Detroit, St. Louis, Cincinnati and Atlanta, among others.

The Rhythm Kings have made numerous appearances on TV, most notably “Evening at pops”, with John W illiams, Tommy Tune and the Boston Pops, as well as the Emmy Award-winning “Celebrating Gershwin” with conductor Michael Tilson-Thomas. In addition, they’ve starred in their own special for Nebraska Public Television, and were featured with Andrew Litton and the Dallas Symphony on their PBS special. Other TV credits include “The 1992 Tony Awards”, the “Today” show, “CBS, This Morning”, the 1992 “Kennedy Center Honors”, “Entertainment Tonight”, “As the World Turns”, as well as several appearances on “The Charles Grodin Show”.

In 1992, they were back on Broadway, this time indoors at the Shubert Theatre. They were featured as Mingo, Moose, and Sam, a trio of crooning bumpkins in the “new” Gershwin musical “Crazy for You”, winner of three Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Choreography.

The MRKs have shared the stage with Bob Hope, George Burns, Sandy Duncan, Liza Minelli, Leonard Bernstein, Judy Collins, Bette Midler and Gregory Hines, to name a few. They also appeared with the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall’s Easter Spectacular.
After two decades of perform ing together, the Manhattan Rhythm Kings look forward to more symphony pops dates, another tour of Italy and Europe, concert performances with Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks and their pal, Tommy Tune.

1920 Music swing bands

In the 1920s, talent scouts from northern record companies turned their attention to the South. They recorded black and white musicians, paid next to nothing, and made fortunes selling music to southern audiences. The varied and colorful strains combined to create a multitude of folk and popular music. They contributed to the development of jazz, one of America’s most unique and highly developed arts, and influenced the work of American classical composers. Jazz was born about the turn of the twentieth century in New Orleans, which was a crossroads of musical culture.

Jazz had its basis in the religious shouts and hollers, dances, work songs, and blues of African American people. The music heard in North Carolina in the 1920s was heard mostly in homes or in places of worship. However, with the arrival of the radio, and the recording of country and folk music, musical experiences and tastes changed during the decade. Today, with compact discs, television, MTV, and the many modern electronic devices, music has become more diverse and different than anyone could have imagined in the 1920s. Can you imagine how music will sound when your grandchildren are urging you to listen to a popular song of their day?

 Jazz has been known since the early 20’s and during those years there were jazz legendary musicians which remain as the best jazz musicians up to now. Named Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Paul Whiteman and Jelly Roll Morton.

Regardless of the huge numbers of middle and upper class people—mostly white—who were music enthusiasts, it is often argued the 1920's Jazz music has intensified the racial tension during the post war years. This is due to great success of these African American musicians who were popular as African American jazz musicians. During the time of intense segregation they mostly expressed of racial hatred. Those African American musicians recorded and marketed ‘racial hatred music’ towards the African American population. Amazingly those records made very huge amounts of money considering the time period. Nonetheless, jazz during those years was expressive and improvisational.

In the 1920's, Jazz bands were made up of three voices and a rhythm section. The voices consisted of the cornet, clarinet, and trombone. It was the New Orleans sound that began spreading throughout the United States, bringing incredible amounts of new listeners and fans.

Phonograph records

Phonograph records and musical programs on radio shows in the late 1920s helped make jazz popular in the urban areas. It became so popular, that it spread throughout the world. Jazz flourished as part of New York’s Harlem Renaissance. While much of urban America experienced an economic boom through much of the 1920s, the world community enjoyed little peace or stability. The aftershocks of World War I totally dominated the European landscape. Russia was experiencing a tumultuous period as Lenin consolidated his power, and communism consumed the nation.

A wary United States responded with the “Red Scare” and growing resentment of foreigners. Great Britain’s mighty empire was crumbling and cracks were appearing in India and Ireland. President Wilson was unsuccessful in his efforts to convince the United States to support his Fourteen Points and join the League of Nations. His attempts to ensure peace throughout the world and foster fledging democracies fell victim to totalitarianism which began to raise its ugly head in the form of Mussolini in Italy and Hitler in Germany. The 1920s were a decade dominated by personalities that varied from Babe Ruth and Charles Lindbergh to villains such as Al Capone.

People were entertained with Edison’s motion pictures and spectacles such as the Sacco and Vanzetti trial and the Scopes Monkey Trial. Conservatism in business and isolationism on the international scene dominated the American political scene. Euphoria reigned over the stock market until Black Tuesday in October of 1929, and the economy of the U.S. and the world collapsed. The roar of the 1920s became silent.

Delta Blues

Delta Blues specifically references the Delta region of Mississippi, in the Northern and Western part of the state, between Memphis and Vicksburg (not near where the Mississippi River meets the Gulf - that’s New Orleans).

Probably the best candidate for where the blues began, this rural, heavily populated area of  sharecroppers and farm laborers produced the greatest number of top notch blues pioneers, some of the earliest being Charlie Patton and Son House. Here guitars are usually played chorded, with slide guitar common.

This style of playing seems to have originated in North western Mississippi on a folk instrument known as a diddly-bow,” made by stretching broom or baling wire along the wooden wall of a house. Sometimes a whole shack served as a resonator, with a nail on a rock for a bridge.

Players would pluck the string or use a worn glass bottle or knife to slide along its surface, producing a glissando. This home made instrument was often a learning tool to many Delta bluesmen. Work songs are associated with Mississippi Delta work farms or prison gangs. Work songs have short phrases, vocal pauses and natural, strong regular rhythms derived from physical activity.

Escape and love gone bad are major themes of these songs punctuated with familiar set phrases, wordless vocalizations and variation on a theme improvisations. Many work songs have a call-and -response form. Charlie Patton was an innovator in that often his themes were about natural disasters and a few of his own personal ones. Perhaps the best known Country Blues artists, more famous through his Black folk repertoire than any blues associations, was Leadbelly (Huddie Ledbetter).

Delta Blues band 1920

In 1919, writer/director John Murray Anderson launched the first edition of The Greenwich Village Follies, which was a such a hit that it soon transferred from a theatre in the Village to Broadway. The 1920 edition repeated that pattern, opening in the Village and then transferring to Broadway. Subsequent editions—in 1921, 1922, 1923, 1924, 1925, and 1928—never played in Greenwich Village at all; by then, The Greenwich Village Follies was such an established success that each new edition opened in a top Broadway musical house, such as the Shubert  theatre and the Winter Garden. These were lavish, opulent, carefully crafted revues, designed to give The Ziegfeld Follies and George White's Scandals a run for their money. They featured major stars of the era, including Ted Lewis, Joe E. Brown, Martha Graham, Irene Franklin, Benny Field and Blossom Seeley, and introduced such enduringly popular hit songs as "When My Baby Smiles at Me" and "Three O'Clock in the Morning."

Country music (or country and Western) is a blend of popular musical forms originally found in the Southern United States and the Appalachian Mountains. It has roots in traditional folk music, Celtic music, gospel music and old-time music and evolved rapidly in the 1920s. The term country music began to be used in the 1940s when the earlier term hillbilly music was deemed to be degrading and the term was widely embraced in the 1970s, while Country and Western has declined in use since that time.

In the South western United States a different mix of ethnic groups created the music that became the Western music of the term Country and Western. The term "country music" is used today to describe many styles and sub genres most of which, with a few exceptions, have little merit, and bare not much resemblance to the master works of the 1930's to the 1960's.

In 1922, a radio station based in Georgia (WSM) was the first to broadcast folk songs to its audience. A little later, a radio station from Fort Worth, in Texas (WBAP), launched the first "barn dance" show. In june 1923, 55-year old Georgia's fiddler John Carson recorded (in Atlanta) two "hill-billy" (i.e., southern rural) songs, an event that is often considered the official founding of "country" music (although Texas fiddler Eck Roberton had already recorded the year before).

The recording industry started dividing popular music into two categories: race music (that was only black) and hillbilly music (that was only white). The term "hill-billy" was actually introduced by "Uncle" Dave Macon's Hill Billie Blues (1924). In 1924, Chicago's radio station WLS (originally "World's Largest Store") began broadcasting a barn dance that could be heard throughout the Midwest.

Goebel Reeves record poster

With When The Work's All Done This Fall (1925), Texas-bred Carl Sprague became the first major musician to record cowboy songs (the first "singing cowboy" of country music). And, finally, in 1925, Nashville's first radio station (WSM) began broadcasting a barn dance that would eventually change name to "Grand Ole Opry". Country music was steaming ahead. Labels flocked to the South to record singing cowboys, and singing cowboys were exhibited in the big cities of the North.

Among the most literate songwriters were Texas-born Goebel Reeves, who penned The Drifter (1929), Blue Undertaker's Blues (1930), Hobo's Lullaby (1934) and The Cowboy's Prayer (1934), i.e. a mixture of hobo and cowboy songs, and Tennessee-born Harry McClintock, the author of the hobo ballads Big Rock Candy Mountain (1928) and Hallelujah Bum Again (1926).

Country music was a federation of styles, rather than a monolithic style. Its origins were lost in the early decades of colonization, when the folk dances (Scottish reels, Irish jigs, and square dances, the poor man's version of the French "cotillion" and "quadrille") and the British ballad got transplanted into the new world and got contaminated by the religious hymns of church and camp meetings.

The musical styles were reminiscent of their British ancestors. The lyrics, on the other hand, were completely different. The Americans disliked the subject of love, to which they preferred pratical issues such as real-world experiences (ranching, logging, mining, rail-roads) and real-world tragedies (bank robberies, natural disasters, murders, train accidents).

The instrumentation included the banjo, introduced by the African slaves via the minstrel shows, the Scottish "fiddle" (the poor man's violin, simplified so that the fiddler could also sing) and the Spanish guitar (an instrument that became popular in the South only around 1910). Ironically, as more and more blacks abandoned the banjo and adopted the guitar, the banjo ended up being identified with white music, while the guitar ended up being identified as black music. For example, Hobart Smith learned to play from black bluesman Blind Lemon Jefferson, but went on to play the banjo while Jefferson played the guitar.

Musical Literacy and Jazz Musicians in the 1910s and 1920s By David Chevan In 1988, I conducted a telephone interview with the African American New Orleans clarinet player Willie James Humphrey about his tenure from 1925 to 1932 in the riverboat band led by Fate Marable. During our conversation, I asked Humphrey if Marable had hired him because of his skills as a jazz musician. Although we were talking by phone I could feel the mood of the conversation change.

Humphrey sounded irritated as he replied, "You had to be a musician [his emphasis], 'cause that's the only way you could get on there. You had to know how to read." Humphrey caught me off guard. I had been working under the assumption that Marable would have hired New Orleans musicians because of their skills at playing hot solos.

I could never have imagined Marable engaging Humphrey, a downtown musician, because he "knew how to read." What was I to make of such a strongly-voiced statement? One need only think of how Humphrey's words complicate our reading of literature on jazz history, which so often describes the historical tensions and the social and musical disparities between the downtown blacks and the "Creoles of Color" in Humphrey's native New Orleans.

According to most histories, it was the "Creoles of Color" who were the formally educated and musically literate group,1 while the downtown blacks were, allegedly, trained by ear. Willie James Humphrey came from a family of former slaves with no known Creole blood.

Yet his father was a respected music teacher in the New Orleans area who taught young players how to read music as well as how to play their instruments. Humphrey's words, and especially his annoyed tone, served as a catalyzing agent that prompted me to reconsider the early history of jazz from the perspective of musical literacy as well as musicianship and musical training.

Many African American jazz artists were studied musicians who might have chosen different career paths if the doors to certain working environments had not been closed to them. We could well speculate about the unrealized concert careers of Coleman Hawkins, a trained cellist who turned to the tenor saxophone, or of bassist Milt Hinton, who spent most of his youth playing violin and was one of the youngest high school students of his day to make the All-City Orchestra in Chicago (Chilton 1990:4, 6-7; Hinton 1988:24-25). These trained musicians sought environments that would challenge all of their musical skills, as readers, interpreters, and improvisers.

Barney Bigard best of jazz

Barney Bigard received his first musical training from his uncle, Emile Bigard, a violinist and the leader of Kid Ory's Creole Ragtime Band. Emile began his nephew's musical education by tutoring him from the Lazarus Music Book, purchased from Sears and Roebuck. It was not until the young Barney had learned to recognize the note names and values that he was deemed ready to even begin playing an instrument, at which point he purchased a second hand El> clarinet (Bigard 1985:10-11).

There were many ways for a young musician to obtain training on their instrument. Some early jazz musicians were self-taught, or relied on informal instruction. Others studied privately with teachers, either in school or at home. Most African American communities in urban centers seem to have had at least one general music teacher who taught many different instruments and was responsible for the training and musical skills of entire generations of players.

Singleton Palmer was one of many African American musicians from St. Louis who came of age in the 1910s and 1920s and studied music with P. B. Langford. In addition to giving private instruction, Langford led the Odd Fellows Brass Band. At rehearsals, Langford saw to it that young musicians had an opportunity to learn their craft by sitting alongside more seasoned players.

The earliest documentation of European music in the New World says, “The Pinta leads the procession, and her crew is singing the Te Deum [a religious chant]. The crews of the Santa Maria and the Nina join in the solemn chant, and many of the rough sailors brush tears from their eyes.” Christopher Columbus wrote these words in his journal on October 12, 1492, as his three ships landed in America.Cornwallis’s surrender at Yorktown in 1781 was accompanied by music. Colonial fifeand- drummers tootled “Yankee Doodle,” and the British played an appropriate folk tune, “The World Turned Upside Down.” In the South, the fiddle tradition flourished. It was influenced by the rhythmic music of enslaved people. It laid the basis for later styles such as bluegrass and country-and western music.

From Scotland and Ireland, successive waves of migrations have kept alive traditions in many communities throughout North Carolina and the United States, where protest songs and ballads can still be heard. Music for dancing was an essential ingredient in communal activities such as corn husking, quilting bees, tobacco curing, apple stringing, log rolling, and wood chopping.

Music served other important functions. The traditional ballads were the storybooks, radios, and news flashes of isolated rural life. New songs told stories of local events, famous happenings, and legendary heroes and outlaws. Songs detailed the ups and downs of farming and rural life.

There were sentimental songs, love songs, and many songs about the railroad. The railroad in the nineteenth century helped break down the isolation of rural communities and to many people held out hope of adventure and freedom. In the early 1900s, some southern rural communities grew to be less isolated as they became industrialized, and major social and technological developments changed the way of life for many people.

The radio came to many isolated rural areas in the 1920s. It brought popular commercial music from northern cities. It also made possible a venue for country musicians to broadcast throughout the South, on programs such as the National Barn Dance.

Slaves sitting on porch

In the 1840s black communities from Mississippi, Memphis, Saint Louis, and other southern rural areas were fighting against a lack of opportunities to progress in society. Between 1880 and 1916, about one million black Americans migrated from southern rural areas to the big cities of the north, especially Chicago. Social conditions and economic opportunities had deteriorated for blacks.

The existence of the Black Codes (1800-66), which had restricted the civil rights and civil liberties of African-Americans, or the Jim Crow Laws (1876-1965) ― state and local laws enacted in the Southern and border States of the United States that mandated “separate but equal” status for African Americans but in reality led to treatment and accommodations that were almost always inferior to those provided to white Americans ― has a special role in this matter.

During this era black Americans found themselves in a world of injustices, where they were declared culpable of a crime without any proof and confined to hard labor (a leasing system very attractive for the white man and not so different from the old slavery system). Those were times of humiliation and no education where black society had to conserve its traditional black cosmology.

The diaspora from the south did not find a better life in the north. The conditions in the northern cities were not so different from those in the rural south. Black Americans had no possibilities to join the unions, and they always had to accept the least desirable jobs. They had no opportunities to advance, and they began to settle in isolated communities due to hostility from European immigrants like Irish, Italians, or Polish. In spite of this, it can be said that life in the city was still better.

The European wars left the industrial north without enough labor and the black community was a good source of workers. David Evans (1982) emphasizes the fact that during slavery times, black men had well-defined roles as anonymous members of a slave society with their basic physical needs taken care of by their masters, but in the new era of “freedom,” black men were unprepared for new responsibilities and racial discrimination.

It is in these living conditions in the city where the music performers and the bluesmen struggle to reflect suffering, and this is why the basic theme of blues music does not change too much from rural areas to the city. But in the city the music and instrumentation varies and is inspired and enriched by influences from other musical styles.

Fiddlin’ John Carson poster

In the early 1900s, some southern rural communities grew to be less isolated as they became industrialized, and major social and technological developments changed the way of life for many people. The radio came to many isolated rural areas in the 1920s. It brought popular commercial music from northern cities. It also made possible a venue for country musicians to broadcast throughout the South, on programs such as the National Barn Dance. Another important innovation was the phonograph. When the phonograph became popular in the South, country people could buy records only of northern entertainers.

However, in 1923 Fiddlin’ John Carson, an old-time fiddler, political campaigner, and moonshine maker, became one of the first of the southern musicians recorded when he played the song “The Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane.” The unprecedented success of  this record in rural areas launched the “hillbilly” recording industry.
Much of the “country music” recorded in the 1920s and 1930s drew its sound and lyrics from the folk music of the South. Commercial recordings made country music available to everyone.

The Carter Family of Tennessee sang historic ballads in a traditional fashion and became enormously popular in the 1920s. The Carters also sang religious tunes, original songs, and popular and sentimental ballads. Their harmony singing, and Maybelle Carter’s lead guitar work, had a great influence on future stars of country music. Uncle Dave Macon, who traveled through North Carolina and the South, was a very colorful performer, singing everything from traditional folk songs to community satire to medicine show novelty songs. He became the first big star of the Grand Ole Opry, the first national country music show.

Charlie Poole and his North Carolina Ramblers were among the many popular string bands of the 1920s. The band featured fiddle, guitar, and banjo, and combined traditional dance tunes with the latest offerings from the New York song industry. The most popular country music star of the 1920s was the “singing brakeman,” Jimmie Rodgers.

Originally from Mississippi, Jimmie Rodgers spent many years in Texas, and his association with the West led to the increasing popularity of western and cowboy music. Authentic cowboy music was, like the music of the Southeast, rugged and traditional and often sung unaccompanied. Rodgers was one of a long line of country musicians influenced by southern black music.

His combination of blues with a high pitched yodel earned him the name Blue Yodeler. Nationwide, the early years of country music recording reflected the effects of the Great Depression. Many people were driven off their farms and became migrants looking for work.

They often ended up in the bread lines of the cities. Country musicians used commercial success as a way to escape poverty. However, as they tried to keep up with the new fads, traditional music was neglected. Though traditional music did continue, the Depression’s disruption of rural life contributed to the decline of such music in the South.

As blues developed in Mississippi after the 1900s and into the 1920s, it began to emerge into the mainstream of popular music. For some time it had been described as the devil=s music and was performed mostly in juke joints and local parties. Black and white musicians in Mississippi did things together in the 1920s that even in the 1960s would have been unheard of. Jimmie Rodgers, for example, invited Ishmon Bracey and Tommy Johnson, both black blues artists, to perform with him at the King Edward Hotel in Jackson. This was after Rodgers heard them playing on the street in front of the hotel. The blues influence on Jimmie Rodgers can be heard in many of his songs, such as Train Whistle Blues, recorded in 1929.

Jimmie Rodgers came to Jackson in 1926 to record a demo tape for RCA Victor with then talent scout H. C. Speir. Speir had a music store on Farish Street and had discovered many great blues artists in the 1920s and 1930s. For that, he is called the Godfather of Delta Blues. But after hearing Rodgers play, Speir said, AJimmie, you=re not ready to record right now.@ Speir told Rodgers to go back to Meridian, work up some more songs, and come back later. Six months later, Rodgers found another way to get his songs on Victor. The rest is history.

1920s Paris street scene

In the 1920s, Paris was the place to be! Paris’ allure was great in spite of the fact that the world was between two great wars and had seen destruction that was previously beyond all comprehension. So many men died that male populations in some areas of the world were completely decimated. In the United States, we had the “Roaring Twenties.” Exuberance, a thriving stock market, enthusiasm in dance, art, and music was evident. Harlem attracted people as never before, and experienced a Renaissance of its own.

Skyscrapers in Chicago and New York reached new heights, as did hemlines. Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic, and people were doing the Lindy Hop. They also danced the Charleston, played jazz, and could buy a Ford for $290.

July 16, 1920, the beginning of the “Roaring Twenties,” was marked by the passage of the Volstead Act – i.e. Prohibition. Even one half-ounce of the “Demon Rum” was outlawed, and proponents imagined empty jails and happy homes in a society where alcohol, the root of all evil, would be no more. Proponents of Prohibition “even claimed that nearly three thousand infants were smothered in bed each year by drunken parents”  In fact, it was thought that the sale of alcohol increased crime of all types.

This very Act may have produced a decade of unprecedented lawlessness in the United States. Organized crime, with characters such as Al Capone and Dutch Schultz, flourished as the supplier for the great demand for alcohol. Speakeasies were just one of the alternatives people found to get their much desired liquor. They could not be supplied legally, so gangsters took this opportunity and filled the gap. The money earned from the sale of illegal alcohol financed Organized Crime, which found bigger and better fields of endeavor once Prohibition ended.

They quickly expanded their enterprise to include “prostitution, gambling, and extortion. In the process, they became involved in turf wars that, combined with their extortion rackets, made many northern cities dangerous places to live”  Of course, between the bathtub gin produced at home, the speakeasies, doctors prescribing alcohol as frequently as they chose, and the fact that common people did not really consider drinking a crime, the attempt to ban liquor was a failed endeavour from the start.

Prohibition 1920s

The 1920s was a decade of change, when many Americans owned cars, radios, and telephones for the first time. The cars brought the need for good roads. The radio brought the world closer to home. The telephone connected families and friends. Prosperity was on the rise in cities and towns, and social change flavored the air. A substantial growth of industry occurred in North Carolina, especially in the areas of tobacco, textiles, and furniture. Some rural farmers were leaving their farms in order to receive a regular pay-check in the factories. Unions were on the rise.

Women shortened, or “bobbed,” their hair, flappers danced and wore short fancy dresses, and men shaved off their beards. In 1920 the average life span in the United States was about fifty-four years, whereas today it’s about seventy-seven years. In 1920 the average time a student spent in school each year was 75 days, and today it’s about 180 days. In 1920 the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed, creating the era of Prohibition.

The amendment forbade the manufacture, sale, or transportation of alcoholic beverages. Many people ignored the ban, however. In 1933 the amendment was abolished, and it became the only Constitutional amendment to be repealed. The 1920s began with the last American troops returning from Europe after World War I. They were coming back to their families, friends, and jobs. Most of the soldiers had never been far from home before the war, and their experiences had changed their perspective of life around them. After seeing Europe, they wanted some of the finer things in life for themselves and their families.

Musical styles were also changing in the 1920s. In 1922 Louis Armstrong started improvising and adding personal musical variations with his trumpet, playing in a style known as jazz. In 1925 the flappers found a new dance craze, called the Charleston. In 1927 The Jazz Singer became the first successful “talking picture.” Before that time, motion pictures had been silent. In 1928 Mickey Mouse first appeared in the cartoon Steamboat Willie, and in 1929 Popeye first appeared in the comic strip Thimble Theater.

Aviation represented another area in which things were changing quite rapidly, helped by advances and improvements in aircraft during World War I. Up to this time only a few daredevils and barnstormers had flown. In 1924 the United States Air Service circumnavigated the world in airplanes, just twenty-one years after Orville Wright flew the first powered plane for only forty yards here in North Carolina.

On May 20–21, 1927, Charles Lindbergh flew solo from New York to Paris, and on June 17, 1928, Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean. Before the decade was over, commercial passenger air travel had begun. In 1924 Congress passed a law that made all American Indians citizens of the United States. The Fourteenth Amendment had already given African Americans citizenship in 1866. Yet segregation, or separation of the races, continued to be practiced in North Carolina and in the South. Modern civil rights laws for minorities were still many years away.

The Carter Family record cover


Authentic cowboy music was, like the music of the South east, rugged and traditional and often sung unaccompanied. Rodgers was one of a long line of country musicians influenced by southern black music. His combination of blues with a high pitched yodel earned him the name Blue Yodeler. Nationwide, the early years of country music recording reflected the effects of the Great Depression.

Many people were driven off their farms and became migrants looking for work. They often ended up in the bread lines of the cities. Country musicians used commercial success as a way to escape poverty. However, as they tried to keep up with the new fads, traditional music was neglected.

Though traditional music did continue, the Depression’s disruption of rural life contributed to the decline of such music in the South. Around the turn of the twentieth century, a new type of African American music had begun to be heard throughout the South.

Whether slow and mournful, harsh and driving, or light and naughty, these solo songs became known collectively as the blues. The early years of the twentieth century saw a continuous migration of southern blacks from rural areas to cities and from the South to the North. By the 1920s, a number of large urban African American populations existed throughout the country. As a result, Memphis, St. Louis, Atlanta, Indianapolis, Detroit, and Chicago became blues centres.

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