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.
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.