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Music and History in America

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Submitted By courtneycart
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Shakespeare once wrote, “if music be the food of love, play on”. Hundreds of years later, music continues to be a influential part of society. Although music affects the lives of many, culture is the largest influencer of music itself. As wars are fought and history is made, music continues to allow the majority and minority voice to be heard. The progression of cultural viewpoints in America created many musical compositions expressing varying opinions of their respective era.
During a time of impending war, patriotism was at an all time high, but an underlying tone of unrest among civilians became prominent as well. Much of the early 20th century was structured around the first World War. While they attempted to boost morale both on the frontlines and at home, songs like “You’re a Grand Old Flag” began to spread across the country (Cohan, “You’re a Grand Old Flag” 1906 http://www.loc.gov/teachers/lyrical/songs/old_flag.html ). With catchy lyrics claiming “every heart beats true for the red, white, and blue,” people began to feel pride and supported any endeavors to protect their flag’s reputation. And while many people fell into this norm of patriotism and hoo-rah mentality, many began to fear the havoc the war could bring. This was evident in songs like “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to be a Soldier,” a ballad where a mother expresses her concern and uneasiness at the thought of her son at war (Bryan, Piantadosi, “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to be a Soldier” 1915 http://www.archeophone.com/features/march_to_war/songs/cd1/05.php ). At the time, young men were being drafted into the military. This song voiced the fear of many parents whose children were forced to take part. As the war came to a close in 1918, “The Great World War” echoed the melancholy feeling of the American population (Foster, “The Great World War” 1918 http://lccn.loc.gov/2013563711). Mothers had indeed lost their sons, and while many deemed the war necessary, the cost was apparent. Although there had been varying opinions on the war as it began, the grief of lives lost was felt across the nation.
While many American’s embraced the lavish mindset of the Roaring 20’s, others were still deeply connected to the controversy surrounding the Civil War. As America began to rebuild its economy after the first World War, a new wave of exuberance and energy came across the population. Songs like “The Original Charleston” boosted to immense popularity (Johnson, Mack, “The Original Charleston” 1923 http://jass.com/charleston1.html ). People were no longer purchasing sheet music and playing the songs themselves, but rather witnessing the magic of big bands and live performance. With the Charleston came a new era of women who embodied the confidence and feminism of the flapper dancers. As leisure became more prominent in culture, so did heartbreak. Jimmie Rodgers became a blues icon for his collection of 13 Blue Yodels. His first song, “Blue Yodel No. 1”, or popularly known as “T for Texas”, sold more than half a million copies (Rodgers, “Blue Yodel No. 1” 1927 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DYG9Q2oO_3Q). A number that high was the direct result of a society based around leisure, and his unique yet familiar sound. Rodgers often sang of heartbreak and other struggle, which could easily be related to by all. Other songs of the era served a more specific crowd, such as “We Are All Loyal Klansmen” of 1923 (McMahon, “We Are All Loyal Klansmen” 1923 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ku_Klux_Klan ). Although the Civil War took place many decades earlier, the South still remained an extremely segregated and racist area. With a culture of its own, songs began to come about expressing the feelings of their community as well. While this music never reached the level of popularity that “The Original Charleston” and “Blue Yodel” achieved, it still tells an important piece of history from the era.
As media became more massive and widespread, varying genres of music began to evolve to more separately reflect opinions of American people. As radio and television became more successful, so did the music that was played. With the nightmare of World War II behind them and the Cold War causing distress, music was the perfect distraction. As the country attempted a return to normalcy, a new country sound began to emerge from the popular blues genre. Patsy Cline became a country music icon, especially famous for songs like “Honky Tonk Angel” (Nassour, “Honky Tonk Angel” 1954 http://www.patsy.nu/). Her lyrics outlining infidelity claim “there always was a man to blame”. This perfectly portrays the surge of power women felt after they took over the home front during the war. A feminist movement was just beginning and the popularization of her opinion helped to guide the way for many women. While Patsy Cline remains one of the most famous women of the 1950’s, Elvis Presley is by far the most famous man in Rock and Roll history. His song “Jailhouse Rock” ignited a musical revolution. Not only was he a heartthrob, as can be seen in the photos of him performing, but he also created a new rock sound that defined the era (Metro-Goldwin-Mayer, Inc., “Elvis Presley Jailhouse Rock” 1957 http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Elvis_Presley_Jailhouse_Rock.jpg ). Other musicians began to follow his lead, producing legendary hits like “Rock Around the Clock” (Freedman, Myers, “Rock Around the Clock” 1954 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZgdufzXvjqw). These songs describing dancing and music fanned the rock and roll flame. With mass media to popularize artists and their lives, music became more of a lifestyle and less of a hobby. Greater access to music resulted in more genres and success for musicians, although rock and roll prevails as the most influential genre of the 1950’s.
As history continues to write itself, music will continue to reflect the opinions regarding it. An artist draws inspiration from experience, and thus music will always be a first hand look into the human experience. Although the sounds and language may change over time, music will continue to play on.

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