The History Of Music In The United States

The History Of Music In The United States

The History Of Music In The United States

For the past week or so now the internet has been buzzing about the interview with Quincy Jones by David Marchese from

If you don’t know what I’m talking about take a look at the interview here! It got me to thinking about the history of music in the united States.

It is a read worth reading! In the interview entitled “In Conversation: Quincy Jones”, he (Quincy) spilled the tea on the secret Michael Jackson, his relationship with the Trumps, and the problem with modern pop.

Quincy Jones is one of the key persons in helping to shape American rhythm and blues, funk, soul, big band, swing, bossa nova, jazz, hip hop, rock and roll, pop music. Quincy Jones doesn’t shy away from saying how he really feels especially about the current state of modern Pop music!

Quincy Jones

music history united states
Quincy Jones

Quincy Delight Jones Jr. a Chicago, Illinois native(born March 14, 1933), also known as “Q”, is an American record producer, actor, conductor, arranger, composer, musician, television producer, film producer, instrumentalist (trumpet, french horn, drum, vocals, piano), magazine founder, entertainment company executive, and humanitarian.

His career spans six decades in the entertainment industry, a record 79 Grammy Award nominations, and 28 Grammys, including a Grammy Legend Award in 1991.

Raised in Seattle, Washington, Jones developed interest in music at an early age, and attended the Berklee College of Music.

He came to prominence in the 1950s as a jazz arranger and conductor, before moving on to work prolifically in pop music and film scores.

The Conversation

In the interview, Marchese asked Q…

“Is there innovation happening in modern pop music?”

Q answered…
“Hell no. It’s just loops, beats, rhymes and hooks. What is there for me to learn from that? There ain’t no fucking songs. The song is the power; the singer is the messenger. The greatest singer in the world cannot save a bad song. I learned that 50 years ago, and it’s the single greatest lesson I ever learned as a producer. If you don’t have a great song, it doesn’t matter what else you put around it.”

They continue with Marchese asking Q…

“What would account for the songs being less good than they used to be?”

Q’s response…
“The mentality of the people making the music. Producers now are ignoring all the musical principles of the previous generations. It’s a joke. That’s not the way it works: You’re supposed to use everything from the past. If you know where you come from, it’s easier to get where you’re going. You need to understand music to touch people and become the soundtrack to their lives.”

My favorite part of the interview is this question by Marchese…

What’s something positive you’ve been feeling about music lately?”

Q’s Response…
“Understanding where it comes from. It’s fascinating. I was on a trip with Paul Allen a few years ago, and I went to the bathroom and there were maps on the wall of how the Earth looked a million-and-a-half years ago. Off the coast of South Africa, where Durban is, was the coast of China. The people had to be mixing, and you hear it in the music — in the drums from both places. There are African qualities to Chinese music, Japanese music, too, with the Kodo drumming. It all comes from Africa. It’s a heavy thing to think about.”

Q’s observation became the muse for this article! If music came from Africa we must acknowledge the obvious in America about the nation’s music history. The United States is known worldwide for their music.

They are also known for the disrespectful nature and racist actions toward the American citizens of African descent within their own country.

Like Q said, “Understanding where it comes from.” is the thing that many Americans do not have the true knowledge of. There has always been a dismissal of the influence of Africa within this nation.

But the truth is there would be no Great United Sates of America without the assistance or influence of Africans/African Americans (slave or free)! And the United States of America would not have great music if it wasn’t for the influence of Africans.

music history jimmy webb
Jimmy Webb author of Tunesmith

I am reading a book entitled “Tunesmith” written by Jimmy Webb who is a platinum-selling American songwriter, composer, and singer.

In the book he explains the truth about American Music.

He stated how “It has been accepted that Foster’s position (Stephen Foster) as the father of all American musical things one being that is commonly supposed that he inventented the “form of the American popular song.

Specifically it is stated that he originated the so called A/B structure simply spoken the verse/chorus.

Stephen Foster is often credited as one of the first who made professional songwriting profitable.

Fosters’ songs were the first genuinely American in theme, characterizing love of home, American temperament, river life and work, politics, battlefields, slavery and plantation life.

Superficial interpretation of Foster’s compositions in modern times could be considered reproachful to African Americans in current cultural contexts.

However, Foster unveiled the realities of slavery in his work while also imparting dignity to African-Americans in his compositions, especially as he grew as an artist. Foster was the first to refer to an African-American woman as “a lady” in his composition “Nelly Was a Lady.”

american pop history

To Purchase Tunesmith Click Here!

The Truth About Music In The United States!

history of music in united states
Stephen Foster

Some major irritation that Webb unveiled is that perhaps Foster only reinvented or imitated the verse/chorus structure of the Irish folk Song.

What Foster was without embellishment was the first famous American songwriter and creator of the first truly “native” American songs.

Foster was also a political activist, becoming a writer of anti separatist propaganda ditties as tensions between the North and South increased.

It is widely accepted that his “native” quality which presumably owed a great deal to the work songs, chants and spirituals of Negro laborers all but disappeared with Foster’s death (January 13, 1864, in New York City) and did not reappear in American musical culture until the 1880s.

Another major irritation regarding Foster’s preeminence as the “Father of American Pop Music” is that such hero worship for the most part ignores the contributions of the great numbers of black poets and country singers who either preceded or paralleled his heyday and without doubt put their stamp on him.

During the late 1800s black performers began to copy white minstrel shows which are in themselves  copies of black minstrel shows.

history of african american music
James A. Bland

It is said that many white people got their first taste of real black music in whorehouses, but the breakthrough into the white world of music publishing was first accomplished by a northern Negro named James A. Bland, who composed more than seven hundred songs for black minstrel shows.

Another African American forerunner, Ben Harney, was always assumed by blacks and whites alike to be a white man.

The Scots, Irish and English ballads and reels transplanted to the Deep South, cunningly altered by African and Christian laments, pounding rhythms and field hollers that the roots of modern American songwriting dwell.


America’s Music – An African Legacy

history of african americans
Ben Harney

Although the musical cultures of West Africa during the slave trade period varied from nation to nation, the cultures shared enough features to constitute an identifiable heritage for Africans in the New Worlds.

From the accounts of explorers and traders, to which can be added evidence concluded from modern oral traditions, we learn of the primary of music as an integral part of everyday life, of unique performance practices, and of the customary musical instruments.

Moreover, it is possible to imagine how the music might have sounded since many instruments of the past are still used today, a number of songs were persevered in notation, and much music has been transmitted orally through the generations.

Music making was generally a communal activity involving the interaction of soloists or leaders with the group as the chorus.

Music served not only in the conventional roles of enhancing worship rituals and providing recreational outlets, but also offered a means of communication and a way of sharing in collective experiences, whether of the past or present.

The integration of music with dance and/or dramatic elements was a characteristic feature of the cultures.

The African Diaspora

The precise number of Africans transported to the New World via slave ships on the so-called Middle Passage is unknown; it has been estimated by some to be ten millions, by others fifteen million or more.

Although black men entered the New World as early as 1501 with the first explorers, and slavery became established in the West Indies during the second decade of the century, it was not until the seventeenth century that Africans were imported into the mainland colonies.

From Indentured Servitude to Slavery’s

history of music in the united statesAccording to reliable estimates there were 1,980 colonists on the mainland of America in 1625-1800 in the Plymouth Colony and 1,800 in Virginia. The records do not indicate the number of black people included in the population figures for Virginia at that time; it is not likely that Plymouth had any at all.

By 1649, Virginia population had increased to 15,000 whites and 300 blacks. In 1626 the Dutch West India Company brought eleven black men from Angola into New Amsterdam, a settlement at the mouth of the Hudson River, to work as the “Company’s Negroes” about the village as builders, domestics, and farm hands.

Two years later three black women were brought in from Angola. Sometime before 1638 New England saw its first black men, and by the middle of the century black folk on the streets of colonial America were common.

The earliest African arrivals in the colonies had the status of indentured servants, as did many whites and Native Americans of the period.

Already by 1644 Governor Kieft of New Amsterdam had manumitted (released from bondage) the original eleven men of Angola and their wives for long and faithful service; and the records show that black indentured servants in Virginia began to secure their freedom in the 1650s, having served out their time.

During the second half of the seventeenth century, the importation of Africans into the colonies increased. More and more black captives were given contracts that made them servants for life instead of servants for a time. Eventually, they received no indentures at all.

It was during this period that black slavery became established, at first by custom, then by law. From North to South the colonists began to enact laws ensuring that the incoming Africans would be held in lifetime servitude.

Although a Massachusetts law of 1641 prohibited enslavement, it was easy to evade the law; slave traders had only to see to it that the Africans they imported were captured in wars or sold to them by others.

During the 1660s the codes of the colonies giving statutory recognition to black slavery came swiftly: Virginia in 1661, Maryland in 1663, New York and New Jersey in 1664. Later the colonies of Pennsylvania, Delaware, New England, and the Carolinas followed suit. By 1700 the “peculiar institution” of slavery was a reality throughout the thirteen colonies.

The Beginning of Racsim in America

The concept of race is a social invention that blossomed during the late 17th and early 18th centuries (Fields, 1990; Jordan, 1968; Omi & Winant, 1994; Winant, 2009).  The advent of the American colonies and the ideology of race occurred simultaneously and were used as a way to describe differences in humanity.

Historian Barbara Fields (1990) noted, “American racial ideology [was] as original an invention of the Founders as [was] the United States itself” (p. 101).

According to the American Anthropological Association (1998): Race was a mode of classification linked specifically to peoples in the colonial situation. It subsumed a growing ideology of inequality devised to rationalize European attitudes and treatment of the conquered and enslaved peoples…

The ideology magnified the differences among Europeans, Africans, and Indians, established a rigid hierarchy of socially exclusive categories underscored and strengthened unequal rank and status differences, and provided the rationalization that the inequality was natural or God-given .

Along with physical features, cultural and behavioral traits became markers for racial identities.  Whiteness and its cultural characteristics became the standard of being human and the apex of civilization.

Non-Whites were classified as religious heathens, naturally savage, and docile. These concepts placed them in the lowest classification of human being or sub-persons (Mills, 1998).

The racial classification of Africans as the lowest form of humanity was justification for race-based slavery, which was seen ultimately as the appropriate institution to civilize Black people (Jordan, 1968).

To Purchase The Music of Black Americans

The African Retention in The New World

Song In A Strange Land

Africans were taken to the New World in chains, stripped to the bare skin, and those that came to the mainland colonies generally were separated from their families and communities.

But though they could bring no material objects with them, they retained memories of the rich cultural traditions they had left behind in the motherland and passed these traditions down to their children.

The importance given to music and dance in Africa was reflected among slaves in the colonies, as will be seen-in the songs they sang, in their dancing and folk festivals.

In addition, there were specific customs that persisted throughout their long years of acculturation into the lifestyle of the dominant society in the United States. (To be sure, the African experience was reflected as well in other areas, particularly in folk literature and religion.)

The function of music as a communal activity, for example, led to the development of slave song repertories that provided some measure of release from the physical and spiritual brutality of slavery.

Despite the interaction of African and European cultural patterns in black communities, with the consequential emergence of new, African-American patterns, there persisted among black folk musicians a fondness for certain performance practice, certain habits, certain musical instruments, and certain ways of shaping music to meet their needs in the new environment that had roots in the African experience.

Together the blended cultures created what would become a melting pot of American Music!

The Beginnings of Popular Music

beginnings of popular musicThe first field of American music that could be viewed as popular rather than classical or folk, was the singing of the colonial New England choirs, and travelling singing masters like William Billings.

The Great Awakening of the 1730s and ’40s was a period of religious fervor, among whites and blacks (both slave and free), that saw passionate, evangelical “Negro spirituals” grow in popularity.

During the 19th century, it was not spirituals that gained truly widespread acclaim, but rather peppy comic songs performed by minstrels in blackface, and written by legendary songwriters like Stephen Foster and Daniel Emmett.

During the Civil War, popular ballads were common, some used liberally by both the North and the South as patriotic songs.

Finally, late in the century, the African American cakewalk evolved into ragtime, which became a North American and European sensation, while mainstream America was captivated by the brass band marches.

history of african american musicThe first few decades of the 20th century also saw the rise of popular, comic musical theater, jazz and blues, two distinct but related genres, began flourishing in cities like Memphis, Chicago and New Orleans and began to attract some mainstream audiences.

Blues and jazz were the foundation of what became American popular music.

The history of American music is hugely diverse and rich, some of the most influential music across the world to date.

Whether you’re a fan of the blues, rock and roll, hip-hop r&b soul or jazz, many genres of music found their origins in the United States, and it is important to absorb yourself fully in the American culture, by understanding the importance of music to the country.

History of American Music

The music you will hear in there videos is not necessarily preformed by people who played during the time their type of music was created (especially the early stuff).

However they are respective and true members of the musical forms they represent. It can also be argued that early forms of some of these forms began at the end of the decade that proceeds the one in which they are placed. Enjoy!

The Characteristics Of Music in the United States

The music of the United States reflects the country’s multi-ethnic population through a diverse array of styles.

The country’s most internationally renowned genres are jazz, blues, gospel country, bluegrass, rock, rhythm and blues, soul, ragtime, hip hop, barbershop, pop, experimental, techno, house, dance, boogaloo, salsa, and rock and roll.

The United States has the world’s largest music market and its music is heard around the world.

The music of the United States can be characterized by the use of syncopation and asymmetrical rhythms, long, irregular melodies, which are said to “reflect the wide open geography of (the American landscape)” and the “sense of personal freedom characteristic of American life”.

Some distinct aspects of American music, like the call-and-response format, are derived from African techniques and instruments.

Social identity

Music intertwines with aspects of American social and cultural identity, including through social class, race, ethnicity, geography, religion, language, gender, and sexuality.

The relationship between music and race is perhaps the most persuasive determiner of musical meaning in the United States.

The development of an African American musical identity, out of distinct sources from Africa and Europe, has been a constant theme in the music history of the United States.

Little documentation exists of colonial-era African American music, when styles, songs, and instruments from across West Africa commingled with European styles and instruments in the melting pot of slavery.

African American musical styles became an integral part of American popular music through bluesjazzrhythm and blues, and then rock and rollsoul, and hip hop; all of these styles were consumed by Americans of all races, but were created in African American styles and idioms before eventually becoming common in performance and consumption across racial lines.

Economic and social classes separates American music through the creation and consumption of music, such as the upper-class patronage of symphony-goers, and the generally poor performers of rural and ethnic folk music.

Musical divisions based on class are not absolute, however, they are sometimes perceived as actual; popular American country music, for example, is a commercial genre designed to “appeal to a working-class identity, whether or not its listeners are actually working class”.

Country music is also intertwined with geographic identity, and is specifically rural in origin and function; other genres, like R&B and hip hop, are perceived as inherently urban.

The process of transplanting music between cultures is not without criticism. The issue of cultural appropriation has also been a major part of racial relations in the United States.

music history in united statesThe use of African American musical techniques, images, and conceits in popular music largely by and for white Americans has been widespread since at least the mid-19th century like songs of Stephen Foster and the rise of minstrel shows.

The American music industry has actively attempted to popularize white performers off African American music because they are more pleasant to mainstream and middle-class Americans.

This process has been related to the rise of stars as varied as Benny GoodmanEminem, and Elvis Presley, as well as popular styles like blue-eyed soul and rockabilly.

It is high time the United States of America totally gave honor where honor is due. There would be no distinct sound of music in the United States if it weren’t for the citizens of African descent and their ancestors. Not to knock the validity of other diverse cultural practices. But, one cannot ignore the obvious!

Back to the Interview…

David Marches asked Q “If you could snap your fingers and fix one problem in the country, what would it be?”

Q’s response …

“Racism. I’ve been watching it a long time —
the ’30s to now. We’ve come a long way but we’ve got a long way to go. The
South has always been fucked up, but you know where you stand. The racism in
the North is disguised. You never know where you stand. That’s why what’s
happening now is good, because people are saying they are racists who didn’t
used to say it. Now we know.”

In Conclusion…

I personally feel racism is one of the dumbest and inconvenient inventions in America but Understanding where it comes from has been fascinating to say the least!

As I pondered the words of Q in this interview it was important for me to know as a singer/musician where it all comes from.

The music, rhythms, styles, characteristics, melodies, skill and technique comes from one of the greatest gifts in America… The Africans and their decedents.

We could argue this reality, but let’s face it there is no need. However, you are welcome to leave your comments in the forum below!

To learn more about the origins of music in America you can purchase the books Tunesmith by Jimmy Webb and The Music of Black American’s by Eileen Southern.

It is technically BlackHistory Month in which we are supposed to take the time to acknowledge the black struggle and a time to celebrate black excellence.

I want to acknowledge the struggle and celebrate the excellence of people of African Descent. Although we have come a long way as American’s we have such a long way to go!

Given the obvious issues this country has with Race in America!

Music is said to be a universal language, because of the happiness that it provides to people. Music is hope, music is brotherly love, music is something everyone in the entire world can believe in.

history of music in the united states

Every human culture has music, just as each has language. So it’s true that music is a universal feature of the human experience.

At the same time, both music and linguistic systems vary widely from culture to culture. In there lies the beauty of the history of music in the United States.

I hope this article was enlightening to you as it was for me gathering the information to prepare this piece.

Please leave your comments in the forum below and follow me on any of my social media sites! Also, don’t forget to sign up to Soulful Chicago Blog email list for updates!

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4 Replies to “The History Of Music In The United States”

  1. This article is really good. I did learn a fair amount of music history within your single post. I love Quincy Jones but never knew much about him.
    American music is definitely influenced by black music and with the ancestry of Africa. Even the musicians today should always be thankful to these pioneers whom without them the music will not be where it is today.
    Fantastic article and very touching.

    1. Ladi Soul says:

      Yes we should honor our pioneers of music in the United States! I’m glad you were inspired and learned something! lol Thanks for your comment!

  2. Ladi Soul,

    Your background and history of music are simply astounding and reading about all the different histories are wonderful. What do you think about the way pop culture has adapted to the newer music we listen to? What is your favorite music genres as well? Thanks! I will be coming back often to check up on your content.

    1. Ladi Soul says:

      Hi Ryan!

      My favorite music genre is r&b soul! Pop culture today… regarding music I think they are starting to open their eyes to the history of music a little but I think the light bulb is coming on a little bit. I must say that you can tell the artist that have adapted the skill to make better whats already been done. At the end of the day there is nothing new under the sun.  

      As far as the consumer of pop culture I think we repeat history as well. Some love it and some hate it! lol

      Please come by and see me again!

      Thanks for commenting!

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