The minstrel show was an indigenous form of American entertainment consisting of comic skits, variety acts, dancing, and music, usually performed by white people in blackface. Minstrel shows used African American elements in musical performances, but only in simplified ways; storylines in the shows depicted blacks as natural-born slaves and fools, before eventually becoming associated with abolitionism.
After minstrel shows' popularity faded, coon songs , a similar phenomenon, became popular. The composer John Philip Sousa is closely associated with the most popular trend in American popular music just before the start of the 20th century. Formerly the bandmaster of the United States Marine Band , Sousa wrote military marches like " The Stars and Stripes Forever " that reflected his "nostalgia for [his] home and country", giving the melody a "stirring virile character". In the early 20th century, American musical theater was a major source for popular songs, many of which influenced blues, jazz, country, and other extant styles of popular music.
The center of development for this style was in New York City, where the Broadway theatres became among the most renowned venues in the city. Theatrical composers and lyricists like the brothers George and Ira Gershwin created a uniquely American theatrical style that used American vernacular speech and music. Musicals featured popular songs and fast-paced plots that often revolved around love and romance. The blues is a genre of African American folk music that is the basis for much of modern American popular music.
Blues can be seen as part of a continuum of musical styles like country, jazz, ragtime, and gospel; though each genre evolved into distinct forms, their origins were often indistinct. Early forms of the blues evolved in and around the Mississippi Delta in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The earliest blues music was primarily call and response vocal music, without harmony or accompaniment and without any formal musical structure. Slaves and their descendants created the blues by adapting the field shouts and hollers, turning them into passionate solo songs.
Modern gospel began in African American churches in the s, in the form of worshipers proclaiming their faith in an improvised, often musical manner testifying. Composers like Thomas A. Dorsey composed gospel works that used elements of blues and jazz in traditional hymns and spiritual songs.
Ragtime was originally a piano style, featuring syncopated rhythms and chromaticisms. Ragtime is a refined and evolved form of the African American cakewalk dance, mixed with styles ranging from European marches  and popular songs to jigs and other dances played by large African American bands in northern cities during the end of the 19th century.
The most famous ragtime performer and composer was Scott Joplin , known for works such as "Maple Leaf Rag". Blues became a part of American popular music in the s, when classic female blues singers like Bessie Smith grew popular. At the same time, record companies launched the field of race music , which was mostly blues targeted at African American audiences.
The most famous of these acts went on to inspire much of the later popular development of the blues and blues-derived genres, including the legendary delta blues musician Robert Johnson and Piedmont blues musician Blind Willie McTell.
Some styles of electric, piano-driven blues, like boogie-woogie , retained a large audience. A bluesy style of gospel also became popular in mainstream America in the s, led by singer Mahalia Jackson. The seminal blues musicians of these periods had tremendous influence on rock musicians such as Chuck Berry in the s, as well as on the British blues and blues rock scenes of the s and s, including Eric Clapton in Britain and Johnny Winter in Texas. Jazz is a kind of music characterized by swung and blue notes , call and response vocals, polyrhythms and improvisation.
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Though originally a kind of dance music, jazz has been a major part of popular music, and has also become a major element of Western classical music. Jazz has roots in West African cultural and musical expression, and in African American music traditions including blues and ragtime, as well as European military band music. The earliest jazz bands adopted much of the vocabulary of the blues, including bent and blue notes and instrumental "growls" and smears otherwise not used on European instruments.
Jazz's roots come from the city of New Orleans, Louisiana , populated by Cajuns and black Creoles, who combined the French-Canadian culture of the Cajuns with their own styles of music in the 19th century. Large Creole bands that played for funerals and parades became a major basis for early jazz, which spread from New Orleans to Chicago and other northern urban centers. Though jazz had long since achieved some limited popularity, it was Louis Armstrong who became one of the first popular stars and a major force in the development of jazz, along with his friend pianist Earl Hines.
Armstrong, Hines, and their colleagues were improvisers, capable of creating numerous variations on a single melody. Armstrong also popularized scat singing , an improvisational vocal technique in which nonsensical syllables vocables are sung. Armstrong and Hines were influential in the rise of a kind of pop big band jazz called swing.
Swing is characterized by a strong rhythm section, usually consisting of double bass and drums, medium to fast tempo, and rhythmic devices like the swung note, which is common to most jazz. Swing is primarily a fusion of s jazz fused with elements of the blues and Tin Pan Alley. Swing became a major part of African American dance, and came to be accompanied by a popular dance called the swing dance.
Jazz influenced many performers of all the major styles of later popular music, though jazz itself never again became such a major part of American popular music as during the swing era. The later 20th-century American jazz scene did, however, produce some popular crossover stars, such as Miles Davis. In the middle of the 20th century, jazz evolved into a variety of subgenres, beginning with bebop. Bebop is a form of jazz characterized by fast tempos, improvisation based on harmonic structure rather than melody, and use of the flatted fifth.
Bebop was developed in the early and mids, later evolving into styles like hard bop and free jazz.
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Country music is primarily a fusion of African American blues and spirituals with Appalachian folk music , adapted for pop audiences and popularized beginning in the s. The origins of country are in rural Southern folk music, which was primarily Irish and British, with African and continental European musics. Early hillbilly also borrowed elements of the blues and drew upon more aspects of 19th-century pop songs as hillbilly music evolved into a commercial genre eventually known as country and western and then simply country.
The roots of commercial country music are generally traced to , when music talent scout Ralph Peer recorded Jimmie Rodgers and The Carter Family. After World War II , there was increased interest in specialty styles like country music, producing a few major pop stars. Producers like Chet Atkins created the Nashville sound by stripping the hillbilly elements of the instrumentation and using smooth instrumentation and advanced production techniques. By the early part of the s, however, the Nashville sound had become perceived as too watered-down by many more traditionalist performers and fans, resulting in a number of local scenes like the Bakersfield sound.
A few performers retained popularity, however, such as the long-standing cultural icon Johnny Cash. In the early s, Haggard was also part of outlaw country , alongside singer-songwriters such as Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. The s also saw the development of alternative country performers like Uncle Tupelo , who were opposed to the more pop-oriented style of mainstream country.
At the beginning of the s, rock-oriented country acts remained among the best-selling performers in the United States, especially Garth Brooks. By the end of the s, he had had several hits, and helped pave the way for contemporaries like Wynonie Harris and John Lee Hooker. Motown Records became highly successful during the early and mids for producing music of black American roots that defied racial segregation in the music industry and consumer market.
Music journalist Jerry Wexler who coined the phrase "rhythm and blues" once said of Motown: "[They] did something that you would have to say on paper is impossible. They took black music and beamed it directly to the white American teenager. Visual representation was central to Motown's rise; they placed greater emphasis on visual media than other record labels.see
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Many people's first exposure to Motown was by television and film. Motown artists' image of successful black Americans who held themselves with grace and aplomb broadcast a distinct form of middle-class blackness to audiences, which was particularly appealing to whites. Soul music is a combination of rhythm and blues and gospel which began in the late s in the United States. It is characterized by its use of gospel-music devices, with a greater emphasis on vocalists and the use of secular themes.
The s recordings of Ray Charles , Sam Cooke ,  and James Brown are commonly considered the beginnings of soul. Charles' Modern Sounds records featured a fusion of soul and country music, country soul , and crossed racial barriers in music at the time.
By the late s, Atlantic recording artist Aretha Franklin had emerged as the most popular female soul star in the country. The social and political ferment of the s inspired artists like Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield to release albums with hard-hitting social commentary, while another variety became more dance-oriented music, evolving into funk.
Despite his previous affinity with politically and socially-charged lyrical themes, Gaye helped popularize sexual and romance-themed music and funk,  while his 70s recordings, including Let's Get It On and I Want You helped develop the quiet storm sound and format. Scott-Heron's Proto-rap work, including " The Revolution Will Not Be Televised " and Winter in America , has had a considerable impact on later hip hop artists,  while his unique sound with Brian Jackson influenced neo soul artists.
By the end of the s, most music genres, including soul, had been disco -influenced. By , the concept of popular music crossover became inextricably associated with Michael Jackson. Thriller saw unprecedented success, selling over 10 million copies in the United States alone.
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By , the album captured over gold and platinum awards and was recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the best-selling record of all-time , a title it still holds today. Janet Jackson collaborated with former Prince associates Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis on her third studio album Control ; the album's second single " Nasty " has been described as the origin of the new jack swing sound, a genre innovated by Teddy Riley.
Hip hop soul and neo soul developed later, in the s. Typified by the work of Mary J. Blige and R. The latter is a more experimental, edgier, and generally less mainstream combination of s and s-style soul vocals with some hip hop influence, and has earned some mainstream recognition through the work of D'Angelo , Erykah Badu , Alicia Keys , and Lauryn Hill.
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Rock's exact origins and early influences have been hotly debated, and are the subjects of much scholarship. Though squarely in the blues tradition, rock took elements from Afro-Caribbean and Latin musical techniques. Black-performed rock and roll had previously had limited mainstream success, but it was the white performer Elvis Presley who first appealed to mainstream audiences with a black style of music, becoming one of the best-selling musicians in history, and brought rock and roll to audiences across the world.
The s saw several important changes in popular music, especially rock. Many of these changes took place through the British Invasion where bands such as The Beatles , The Who , and The Rolling Stones ,  became immensely popular and had a profound effect on American culture and music.
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