Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The History of American Music by Marion Ekholm





What is your favorite music? I’ll bet you still favor those songs you listened to back when you were a teenager or in your early twenties. My in-laws loved the swing era, something I’m learning about now in my latest music history class at the Glendale Community College where I work. They danced to the big bands with Benny Goodman and Jimmy Dorsey. Whenever we attended a wedding or similar social event, they would do a perfect Lindy hop while everyone else stood, watched and clapped.


My History of American Music started with the Native American music of the Navajo and Cree Nations. They both use drums in their chants, but the voice, which dominates their music, is quite different. The Cree is very high pitched and piercing.


From there we went to folk. Did you know George Washington’s favorite song was Barbara Allen? There are dozens of renditions on YouTube if you’ve never heard it before.


Folk music is my favorite, something we barely touched on when I took other classes in music history. Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger wrote and played topical/political songs. Another protest folk artist, who hated that label, was Bob Dylan. He’s known for some wonderful music filled with poetic power. Several of his songs including Blowin’ in the Wind, The Times They are a Changing, and Like a Rolling Stone are often covered by other artists. Possibly you’ve heard his songs sung by Simon and Garfunkel, Peter, Paul and Mary, or Sonny and Cher.  


 My all-time preference is the folk group America. Do you remember A Horse with No Name which is still popular today? At some of America’s concerts that I’ve attended, they usually play that song as an encore. Folk music, with its simple lyrics and easy to remember melodies, was the precursor to the Beatles and Rock and Roll.



A few of my CDs from left to right: The Mamas and the Papas, Gordon Lightfoot, Beck, Charlie Parker, England Dan & John Ford Coley, The Beach Boys, Guster, Miles Davis, The Kingston Trio, The Eagles, America, Dave Brubeck. Not all are folk. Some are easy listening and Guster is alternate rock. The three on the right are jazz.
Besides listening to the music, we watched videos by Ken Burns about prohibition and discrimination and how those eras influenced music. It’s given me a different perspective on our history. I never realized America was a nation of drunks prior to the Civil War and how essential it was to change that. The Prohibition experiment didn't work, but it did shine a light on the problem.


Minstrel shows were totally American in origin where white men in black faces depicted plantation life. Based on negative and/or derogatory stereotypes of black characters starting around 1830-1840. It continued to the 1900s, the forerunner of burlesque, vaudeville and ragtime. Mable Leaf Rag by Scott Joplin is a fantastic ragtime piano composition. His song The Entertainer was used long after his death in the movie “The Sting” with Paul Newman and Robert Redford. I pulled up his songs on YouTube but could only tolerate a few minutes before I needed something different.


Some of the greatest big band music during the Roaring Twenties came from men like Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong who often couldn’t stay in the hotels where they performed due to segregation laws. Those laws, often referred to as Jim Crow laws, regulated African Americans to second class citizens and were finally repealed in 1965. However, the origin of Jim Crow was actually a persona created by an actor, Thomas Dartmouth Rice, known as Daddy Rice, a white man who played in the minstrel shows in the 1830s.


We’re studying jazz now, and I’m playing my favorite recording of Take Five by Dave Brubeck while I’m writing this blog. We’ve so much more to cover before the semester is over in May.


What is your favorite? Was it something I mentioned, or are you into country, hard rock, R & B, opera, gospel, rap, musicals or something else? I hope we cover all of them.


 

30 comments:

  1. Marion, love the post. I like a variety of music, but find myself listening mostly to country. Just the other day I heard some show on TV playing: "The Times They Are a Changing" and thought, boy are they ever.

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    1. Bob Dylan really hit the mark with that one.

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  2. That is so interesting. I'd love to take an American music class. Folk and 60s Rock are my favorites. My kids are really loving the blues, but I just don't enjoy it.

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    1. We're doing the blues this week. My enjoyment of any music helps when the teacher explains it.

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  3. Marion, great post! I would love to take this class! I find it so interesting how varied tastes are in music. My favorites are country music and classic rock (1970s and earlier). Blue Grass music was one of my dad's passions and I grew up attending blue grass and country music festivals. My granddaughter listens to something called techno dance music and I can barely tolerate it - it just sound like noise to me.

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    1. I have a friend who has a blue grass band, and I try to see his group whenever he plays. I enjoy some of the newest music out there but not when it gets too loud.

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  4. I love music from the 50's, 60's, 70's and 80's. The great thing about music, at least for me, is that each time I hear a song, it triggers a memory from my past. You sparked a memory with this post, Marion. I'll never forget, while in high school, seeing America perform at an outdoor venue. It was the perfect summer evening.

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    1. I'm hoping America comes to our area again. I love going to their shows.

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  5. Thank you for the interesting music history lesson. I like all different types of music, but honestly I've been listening to so many audiobooks lately I'm not sure what's going on today. I'm with Carol though regarding some of this generation's music - sounds like noise. I remember listening to music with my dad. We liked Karen Carpenter, Stevie Wonder, The O'Jays, The Temptations, The Manhattans, George Benson, stuff like that. He loved Jazz too. I like some country and classical. Just depends on my mood. One music movie I LOVED was Mr. Holland's Opus. I cry at the end every time. ( :

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    1. Oh, man, me, too! And when they find out Cole is deaf.

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    2. I always liked Karen Carpenter and was so upset when she died at such an early age.

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  6. I like a variety of music...from blue grass and zydeco, to classical. Also the songs of the 50s and 60s. I'd love to take a class on American Music!

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    1. I'm not familiar with zydeco. I'll have to look into that. I don't think I even mentioned classical in my list and I should have because I love Tchaikovsky.

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  7. Terrific post, Marion! My husband is more into music than me, but I think I would have loved to have lived in during the big-band era! I found myself smiling just reading about your in-laws.

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    1. Dancing was a big thing for them and they went whenever they could.

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  8. I still like classic rock but also folk, country, ballads, and often go to the opera with my husband. I'm not a good pianist but The Entertainer is a lot of fun to play! Zachary Richard's zydeco music is great. And--shameless plug-- my brother in law has a great new album just out called Blues Convocation. Very interesting post, Marion!

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    1. If you can play The Entertainer, you have to be good.

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  9. Growing up, I was a rock-n-roll girl. The bigger the hair the better. I listen to pop music these days, with two teenagers and one pre-teen in the house it's kinda hard to listen to anything else! My shameless plug is my new series for Heartwarming will be based around a country music record company! I don't really listen to country music, but I think I better start. Great post, Marion. :)

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    1. I rarely listen to country but there's one song I really like by Carrie Underwood - Before he cheats. I can just feel that key digging into the red car's paint.

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  10. Marion - your post was so interesting. I love country music and now with a 13 and 12 year old in the car, we listen to a lot of pop music just like Amy. My husband has much more varied interests in music and he listens to just about anything. I remember I used to study to classical music when I was in college. Hope you'll fill us in on the rest of the semester.

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    1. In college my roommate listened to Beethoven's 5th and I never liked that piece. I do like classical sometime when I just want music and no singing. It can be very relaxing.

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  11. I love the Motown sound. Even now, whenever I hear the Four Tops or Supremes, I can't help but start dancing.

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    1. I like Motown, too. All those dance moves in their matching outfits.

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  12. Marion, I wish I was there to borrow your notes! My parents lived in and loved the Big Ban Era and could do some complicated step that involved a lot of criss-crossing to a perky beat - fox trot, maybe. (Was that earlier?) I grew up with Folk and loved Somebody St. Marie, "I was an oak, now I'm a willow; I can bend." Love Dixieland, the Blues, Show Tunes and Country. They're all such good story-telling. Thanks for the interesting blog!

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  13. A friend came by and told me about the Nitty Gritty Dirt which plays blue grass and country folk. Listened to it and I really like it. Especially the banjo. I'll bet your parents did the Lindy.

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  14. I remember listening to Ferlin Husky with my mom. All the songs seemed to be sad.
    She was okay with my early favorites like Bread and the Bay City Rollers, but when I got into rock, like Ted Nugent, she twitched a little. Luckily, I went to college in Texas and fell in love with Country. I still miss listening to Alabama on the radio.

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    1. Bread is one of my favorites. It helped inspire one of my stories.

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  15. Thank you for your great post. I love the oldies!

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    1. I think the best songs were written and played before 1985.

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  16. Great blog, Marion! I'm very eclectic in the music I like. I love rock and roll, hymns, spirituals, gospel,classical, R and B, Celtic, Jewish, Indian, popular, country-western, musicals, instrumentals, choral, mariachis, big band, swing, etc. I like some jazz--Take Five, which you mentioned, is my favorite. I like a lot of the new songs. But folk music has a special place in my heart. It was the soundtrack of the 60s. Of social change. A time when people cared and were trying to do the right thing.

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