Music history of the United States (1940s and 50s)

From Academic Kids

American art
Architecture - Comics - Cuisine - Dance - Folklore - Literature - Movies - Painting - Poetry - Sculpture - Television - Theater - Visual arts
Music of the United States
History (Timeline) Ethnicities
to 1900 African American
1900-1940 Native American: Inuit and Hawaiian
40s and 50s Latin: Tejano and Puerto Rican
60s and 70s Cajun and Creole
80s to the present Other immigrants: Irish and Scottish
Genres (Samples): Classical - Hip hop - Rock - Pop - Folk
Awards Grammy Awards, Country Music Awards
Charts Billboard Music Chart
Festivals New Orleans Jazz Festival, Lollapalooza, Lilith Fair, Ozzfest, Woodstock Festival, Monterey Jazz Festival
Media Spin, Rolling Stone, Vibe, Downbeat, Source, MTV, VH1
National anthem "The Star-Spangled Banner" and forty-nine state songs
Local music
AK - AL - AR - AS - AZ - CA - CO - CT - DC - DE - FL - GA - GU - HI - IA - ID - IL - IN - KS - KY - LA - MA - MD - ME - MI - MN - MO - MP - MS - MT - NC - ND - NE - NH - NM - NV - NJ - NY - OH - OK - OR - PA - PR - RI - SC - SD - TN - TX - UT - VA - VI - VT - WA - WI - WV - WY

Many musical styles flourished and combined in the 1940s and 1950s, most likely because of the influence of radio had in creating a mass market for music. World War II caused great social upheaval, and the music of this period shows the effects of that upheaval.


Birth of Rock n Roll

In the 1940s, the major strands of American music combined to form what would eventually be coined as rock and roll. Based most strongly off an electric guitar-based version of the Chicago blues, rock also incorporated jazz, country, folk, swing, and other types of music; in particular, bebop jazz and boogie woogie blues were in vogue and greatly influenced the music's style. The style had developed by 1949, and quickly became popular among blacks nationwide (see 1949 in music). Mainstream success was slow to develop, though (in spite of early success with Bill Haley & the Comets' "Rock Around the Clock"), and didn't begin in earnest until Elvis Presley ("Hound Dog"), a white man, began singing rock, R&B and rockabilly songs in a devoted black style. He quickly became the most famous and best-selling artist in American history, and a watershed point in the development of music.


By far the most influential development in jazz in the middle of the 20th century, bebop arose in New York City with artists like Charlie Parker and Thelonius Monk. Complex harmonies and chord changes, dissonance, syncopation and edgier improvisation became hallmarks of the new style, which soon became associated with the Civil Rights Movement and other African American social movements. Among the artists to emerge from this period were Dexter Gordon, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, J. J. Johnson, Johnny Griffin and Freddie Hubbard. Bebop underwent numerous evolutions in the 1950s, and styles like soul jazz, cool jazz and hard bop emerged.

Cool jazz

Beginning in the late 1940s, especially after Miles Davis' Birth of the Cool (1948), a smoother form of jazz based on Lester Young's swing tenor sound developed. This was called cool jazz, and included legendary musicians like Chet Baker, Dave Brubeck, Stan Getz, Paul Desmond, Gerry Mulligan and Claude Thornihill.

In the 1950s, West Coast jazz developed out of cool jazz, using European-derived contrapuntal lines and complex solos. Influential players include Bud Shank, Jimmy Giuffre, Art Pepper, Shorty Rogers and Shelly Manne. The same period saw Detroit, New York and Philadelphia producing a heavier form of bebop called hard bop, which was strongly influenced by the blues and included more prominent solos. Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, formed in 1955 by Blakey and Horace Silver, set the stage for the genre's development. Other performers eventually came to include Johnny Griffin, Wynton Marsalis, Donald Byrd, Woody Shaw, Lee Morgan, Hank Mobley and Wayne Shorter.


In 1938, Bill Monroe formed the Blue Grass Boys (named after his native state of Kentucky, the blue grass state) and combined diverse influences into Appalachian folk music. These include Scottish, Irish and Eastern European folk, as well as blues, jazz and gospel. Monroe became the father of bluegrass music, and his band was a training ground for most of bluegrass' future stars, especially Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. Scruggs and Flatt popularized bluegrass as part of the Foggy Mountain Boys, which they formed in 1948. Though bluegrass never quite achieved mainstream status, it did become well-known through its use in several soundtracks, including the T.V. theme song for The Beverly Hillbillies and the movies Bonnie and Clyde and Deliverance. In the 1950s, bluegrass artists included Stanley Brothers, Osborne Brothers and Jimmy Martin's Sunny Mountain Boys.

Close harmony and a folk revival

Close harmony duets had grown popular in the 1940s, and were made mainstream in the mid-1950s by the Louvin Brothers. This inspired Pete Seeger's brother, Mike Seeger, who formed the New Lost City Ramblers who played traditional Appalachian folk music and helped popularize it. This became known as old-time music, and paralleled the rise of "folk singers", singer-songwriters who played updated versions of the same music. The old-time phenomenon also led to the rediscovery of musicians like Doc Watson, Dock Boggs, Roscoe Holcomb and Clarence Ashley. Some, including Watson, got their career revitalized after the 1961 Newport Folk Festival.

Country music

The 1950s also saw the popular dominance of the Nashville sound in country music, and the beginning of popular folk music with groups like The Weavers. Country's Nashville sound was slick and soulful, and a movement of rough honky tonk developed in a reaction against the mainstream orientation of Nashville. This movement was centered in Bakersfield, California with musicians like Buck Owens ("Act Naturally"), Merle Haggard ("Sing a Sad Song") and Wynn Stewart ("It's Such a Pretty World Today") helping to define the sound among the community, made up primarily of Oklahoman immigrants to California, who had fled unemployment and drought. A similarly hard-edged sound also arose in Lubbock, Texas (Lubbock sound).

Roots revival

By the late 1950s, a revival of Appalachian folk music was taking place across the country, and bands like The Weavers were paving the way for future mainstream stars like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. Bluegrass was similarly revitalized and updated by artists including Tony Rice, Clarence White, Richard Green, Bill Keith and David Grisman. The Dillards, however, were the ones to break bluegrass into mainstream markets in the early 1960s.


Following World War 2, gospel began its golden age. Artists like the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi, The Swan Silvertones, Clara Ward Singers and Sensational Nightingales became stars across the country; other early artists like Sam Cooke, Dionne Warwick, Dinah Washington, Johnny Taylor, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett began their career in gospel quartets during this period, only to achieve even greater fame in the 60s as the pioneers of soul music, itself a secularized, R&B-influenced form of gospel. Mahalia Jackson and The Staple Singers were undoubtedly the most successful of the golden age gospel artists. yeah

Doo wop

In addition, doo wop achieved widespread popularity in the 1950s. Doo wop was a harmonically complex style of choral singing that developed in cities like Chicago, New York, and, most importantly, Baltimore. Groups like The Crows ("Gee"), The Orioles ("It's Too Soon to Know") and Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers ("Why Do Fools Fall in Love") had a string of hit songs that brought the genre to chart domination by 1958 (see 1958 in music).

Latin music

Cuban mambo, chachachá and charanga bands enjoyed brief periods of popularity, and helped establish a viable Latin-American music industry, which led the way to the invention of salsa music among Cubans and Puerto Ricans in New York City in the 1970s. The 50s also saw success for Mexican ranchera divas, while a Mexican-American mariachi scene was developing on the West Coast, and Puerto Rican plena, Brazilian bossa nova and other Latin genres became popular.

Mexican-Texans had been playing conjunto music for decades by the end of World War 2, female duos created the first popular style of Mexican-American music, música norteña. Mexican romantic ballads called bolero were also popular, especially singers like the Queen of the Bolero, Chelo Silva. In the mid-1950s, when Mexican ranchera was used in Hollywood film soundtracks and the upper-class enjoyed stately orquestas Tejanas and conjunto evolved into a distinctively Mexican-American genre called Tejano. Artists of this era include Esteban Jordan, Tony de la Rosa and El Conjunto Bernal.

Cajun and Creole music

The 1940s saw a return to the roots of Cajun music, led by Irvy LeJeune, Nathan Abshire and other artists, alongside musicians who incorporated rock and roll, including Laurence Walker and Aldus Roger. In the late 1940s, Clifton Chenier, a Creole, began playing an updated form of la la called zydeco. Zydeco was briefly popular among some mainstream listeners during the 1950s. Artists like Boozoo Chavis, Queen Ida, Rockin' Dopsie and Rockin' Sidney have continued to bring zydeco to national audiences in the following decades. Zydeco shows major influences from rock, and artists lke Beau Jocque have combined other influences, including hip hop.


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