American Music

Louis Armstrong, 1946. Photo: U.S. Department of State.

Musik fylder meget i USA. Fordi USA hovedsageligt består af indvandrere fra hele verden, er amerikansk musik også præget af stor diversitet. Alle folkeslag har deres egne genrer, og hver ny generation af amerikanere – med flere indvandrere – fortolker og blander alle disse genrer til nye unikke udtryk.

Traditionelle amerikanske genrer er Jazz, Country og Rock ‘n’ Roll. I de senere år er det dog især inde for Hip Hop, R ‘n’ B og den tunge rock, at amerikansk musik har gjort sig bemærket internationalt.

I afsnittene herunder kan I læse om alle de forskellige genrer.

Hvordan lyder de forskellige genrer?

Under hver genre er der links til nogle af de vigtigste kunstnere indenfor deres respektive genrer. Vi har linket til, der er en netbaseret musiklånetjeneste, som danske biblioteker har lavet. Derfra kan du låne eller streame numre i et begrænset tidsrum – præcis ligesom når du låner en bog på biblioteket. Du skal bruge de samme oplysninger, som når du låner bøger eller CD’er på dit lokale bibliotek.

Hvis I har spørgsmål om specifikke genrer, der ikke er på sitet, skal I bare sende dem til CopenhagenIRC@State.Gov, så finder vi et svar!

There are dozens of ways to organize a visit to the United States—you can tour its major cities, hike the national parks, or sightsee the famous monuments. In this essay, Dr. John Hasse suggests a more unique way: explore America by touring its many and varied musical shrines which can be found in every region of the country.

Even people who have never visited the United States are familiar with its music. During its more than 230 years as a nation, this country has developed an enormous amount of original music that is astonishing in its variety, vitality, creativity, and artistic accomplishment. Running the gamut from the humblest banjo tunes and down-home dances to the haunting blues of Robert Johnson and the brilliant jazz cadenzas of Charlie Parker, American music is one of the most important contributions the United States has made to world culture.

Arguably, no nation in history has created such a wealth of vibrant and influential musical styles as has the United States. American music reflects the energy, diversity, spirit, and creativity of its people. You don’t have to understand English to feel the power of Aretha Franklin, the plaintiveness of Hank Williams, the joie de vivre of Louis Armstrong, the directness of Johnny Cash, the virtuosity of Ella Fitzgerald, or the energy of Elvis Presley.

These musicians and their musical genres are available to people around the world via recordings, downloads, Internet radio, Voice of America broadcasts, and television and video. But to really appreciate and understand them, there is nothing like visiting the places where they were born, and where their musical creations evolved and are preserved.

This article offers visitors a unique tour of the United States by surveying music museums and shrines across the country. Other musical traditions brought here by more recent immigrants—such as salsa and mariachi—and other new U.S. styles, including grunge, rap, and hip-hop, have yet to be associated with dedicated museums or historical landmarks. They are, though, easy to find in nightclubs and festivals, or by searching the World Wide Web. Nightclubs come and go at a dizzying pace, and new festivals pop up all the time, so the emphasis here is on those locations that are likely to be around in the years ahead.

This syncopated, quintessentially piano music is one of the roots of jazz. A small display of artifacts from Scott Joplin, “The King of Ragtime Writers,” is at the State Fair Community College in Sedalia, Missouri—the town where Joplin composed his famous Maple Leaf Rag. Sedalia hosts the annual Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival. In much larger St. Louis, you can visit one of Joplin’s homes, the Scott Joplin House State Historic Site.

  • The most well-known example of ragtime is Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer”. You can listen to it here.

The twelve-bar blues is arguably the only musical form created wholly in the United States; and the state of Mississippi is often considered the birthplace of the blues. Certainly the state produced many leading blues musicians, including Charley Patton, Robert Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, and B.B. King. Most came out of the broad floodplain known as the Mississippi Delta, which runs 200 miles along the Mississippi River from Memphis, Tennessee south to Vicksburg, Mississippi. This part of Mississippi boasts three modest blues museums: the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, the Blues & Legends Hall of Fame Museum in Robinsonville, and the Highway 61 Blues Museum located in Leland.

Highway 61 is a kind of blues highway, the road traveled by blues musicians heading north to Memphis, Tennessee. In Memphis, there is a statue of W.C. Handy, composer of “St. Louis Blues” and “Memphis Blues,” on famed Beale Street  as well as a B.B. King’s Blues Club.

  • Click here if you want to listen to famous blues musician B.B. King’s “The Thrill Is Gone”.

Of all genres of popular music, none has spurred more vigorous public debate than rap music. Rap has been characterized as a vital link in the centuries-old chain of cultural and musical connections between Africa and the Americas; as the authentic voice of an oppressed urban underclass; and as a form that exploits long-standing stereotypes of black people. In fact, each of these perspectives tells us something about the history and significance of rap music.

Rap draws on African musical and verbal traditions. Its deep continuities with African-American music include an emphasis on rhythmic momentum and creativity; a preference for complex tone colors and dense textures; a keen appreciation of improvisational skill (in words and music); and an incorporative, innovative approach to musical technologies.

Much rap music does constitute a cultural response to historic oppression and racism, a system for communication among black communities throughout the United States (“black America’s CNN,” as rapper Chuck D once put it), and a source of insight into the values, perceptions, and conditions of people living in America’s beleaguered urban communities. And finally, although rap music’s origins and inspirations flow from black culture, the genre’s audience has become decidedly multiracial, multicultural, and transnational. As rap has been transformed from a local phenomenon located in a few neighborhoods in New York City, to a multimillion-dollar industry and a global cultural phenomenon, it has grown ever more complex and multifaceted.

Rap initially emerged during the 1970s as one part of a cultural complex called hip-hop. Hip-hop culture, forged by African-American and Caribbean-American youth in New York City, included distinctive styles of visual art (graffiti), dance (an acrobatic solo style called break-dancing and an energetic couple dance called the freak), music, dress, and speech. Hip-hop was at first a local phenomenon, centered in certain neighborhoods in the Bronx, the most economically disadvantaged area of New York City.

The release of Public Enemy’s second album in 1988 – It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back – was a breakthrough event for rap music. The album fused the trenchant social and political analyses of Chuck D – delivered in a deep, authoritative voice – with the streetwise interjections of his sidekick Flavor Flav, who wore comical glasses and an oversized clock around his neck. Their complex verbal interplay was situated within a dense, multilayered sonic web created by the group’s production team, the Bomb Squad (Hank Shocklee, Keith Shocklee, and Eric “Vietnam” Sadler). Tracks like “Countdown to Armageddon” (an apocalyptic opening instrumental track, taped at a live concert in London), “Don’t Believe the Hype” (a critique of white-dominated mass media), and “Party for Your Right to Fight” (a parody of the Beastie Boys’ hit “Fight for Your Right (to Party),” from the previous year) turned the technology of digital sampling to new artistic purposes and insisted in effect that rap music continue to engage with the real-life conditions of urban black communities.

During the 1990s, a number of important rap artists achieved mainstream success, among them M.C. Hammer (Stanley Kirk Burrell, b. 1962), whose Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em, held the Number One position for 21 weeks and sold over 10 million copies, becoming the bestselling rap album of all time, and the white rapper Vanilla Ice (Robert Van Winkle, b. 1968). Regional hip-hop dialects emerged, notably in southern California, where a smoother, more laid-back style of rapping gained traction.

Today, rap music and hip-hop culture continue to influence and inspire musicians and audiences around the world.

  • If you want to hear an example of 1980s rap by Chuck D, click here for his song: “Don’t Believe the Hype”.
  • Another example of rap at this time is N.W.A.’s “Express Yourself“, from the album “Straight outta Compton”.

Bluegrass music—syncopated string-band music from the rural hills and “hollers” (hollows or valleys) of the eastern U.S. Appalachian mountain range—has found a growing audience among city-dwellers. You can visit the International Bluegrass Music Museum in Owensboro, Kentucky and the smaller Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Hall of Fame in Bean Blossom, Indiana.

A newly-designated driving route, the Crooked Road: Virginia’s Music Heritage Trail, is a 250-mile route in scenic southwestern Virginia that connects such sites as the Ralph Stanley Museum, the Carter Family Fold, the Blue Ridge Music Center, and the Birthplace of Country Music Museum.

  • For an example of bluegrass music, listen to The Stanley Brothers’ “Mountain Dew

Long the epicenter of country music, Nashville, Tennessee boasts the Grand Ole Opry, home of the world’s longest-running live radio broadcast, with performances highlighting the diversity of country music every Friday and Saturday night, and the impressive Country Music Hall of Fame. Its permanent exhibit, Sing Me Back Home: A Journey Through Country Music, draws from a rich collection of costumes, memorabilia, instruments, photographs, manuscripts, and other objects to tell the story of country music.

Nearby are Historic RCA Studio B, where Elvis Presley, Chet Atkins, and other stars recorded, and Hatch Show Print, one of the oldest letterpress print shops in America whose posters have featured many of country music’s top performers. In Nashville, you can also see Ryman Auditorium [], former home to the Grand Ole Opry, as well as many night spots, such as the Bluebird Café, one of the nation’s leading venues for up-and-coming songwriters. In Meridian, Mississippi, the Jimmie Rogers Museum pays tribute to one of country music’s founding figures.

  • Dolly Parton is the most honored female country artist of all times, and a great example of how far a career in country music can take you in the United States. Click here, and listen to one of her most popular songs: “9 to 5”.

Rock ‘n’ roll music shook up the nation and the world, and more than 50 years after emerging, it continues to fascinate and animate hundreds of millions of listeners around the globe. Memphis, Tennessee, is home to Elvis Presley’s kitschy but interesting home known as Graceland, the Sun Studio where Elvis made his first recordings (and many other famous musicians have subsequently recorded), the Stax Museum of American Soul which covers Stax, Hi, and Atlantic Records, and the Memphis and Muscle Shoals sounds.

The Memphis Rock and Soul Museum features a superb Smithsonian exhibition tying together the story of Memphis from the 1920s to the 1980s with blues, rock, and soul—from W. C. Handy through Elvis and Booker T. and the MGs.

Detroit, Michigan offers the Motown Historical Museum with memorabilia from the Supremes, Temptations, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin and other soul singers who recorded for Motown Records.

If you’re a big Buddy Holly fan, you might trek to the Buddy Holly Center in Lubbock, Texas.

The formidable Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio fills a stunning building designed by renowned architect I.M. Pei with hundreds of rock and roll artifacts and audio-visual samples. In Seattle, Washington, The Experience Music Project in the Frank Gehry-designed building is a unique, interactive museum, which focuses on popular music and rock.

  • You probably have heard of Elvis Presley before; but here are two examples of how different the King of Rock’n’Roll sounds on different tracks: The first one is “Can’t Help Falling In Love” from 1961, and “Jailhouse Rock” from 1957.

Most nations have their own indigenous music—in Europe and the United States it is often categorized as “folk music.” Folk music is passed along from one person to the next via oral or aural tradition, i.e., it is taught by ear rather than through written music. Typically the origin of the songs and instrumentals is shrouded in mystery and many different variants (or versions) of each piece exist, honed through the ears, voices, fingers, and sensibilities of many different performers. The easiest way to find live folk music is at one of the many folk music festivals held throughout the United States. The biggest is the annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival held every June and July on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The 40th annual festival will be held in 2006.

Of course, the United States is a “New World” country of immigrants and each new ethnic group that arrives brings its own musical traditions which, in turn, continue to inevitably change and evolve as they take root in their non-native soil. Hispanics now account for the largest minority group in the United States, and they practice many musical traditions.

Played by ensembles of trumpet, violin, guitar, vihuela, and guitarrón, Mexican mariachi music can be heard in many venues in the American Southwest; the closest thing to a mariachi shrine is La Fonda de Los Camperos, a restaurant at 2501 Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, which in 1969 pioneered in creating mariachi dinner theater. Bandleader-violinist Nati Cano has been honored with the U.S. government’s highest award in folk and traditional arts, and his idea of mariachi dinner theater has spread to Tucson, Arizona; Santa Fe, New Mexico; San Antonio, Texas; and other cities.

The vibrant dance music called salsa, which was brought to New York City by Cuban and Puerto Rican émigrés, can be heard and danced to in nightclubs of New York, Miami and other cosmopolitan cities. A museum exhibition called ¡Azúcar! The Life and Music of Celia Cruz, featuring the Queen of Salsa who spent the majority of her career in the United States, has been mounted at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. It will be on display through October 31, 2005. An on-line exhibition may viewed at

The Prairie Acadian Cultural Center in Eunice, Louisiana (about a three-hour drive west of New Orleans) tells the story of the Acadian, or Cajun, peoples —who emigrated here after being evicted from Canada in the 1750s—and their distinctive Francophone music and culture.

The nearby Liberty Theater is home to a two-hour live radio program, Rendez-vous des Cajuns, featuring Cajun and zydeco bands, single musical acts, and Cajun humorists every Saturday night. Eunice is also home to the Cajun Music Hall of Fame, and the Louisiana State University at Eunice maintains a web site devoted to contemporary Creole, zydeco, and Cajun musicians.

No tour of music in the United States would be complete without mentioning two other great offerings: show tunes and classical music. Although the latter originated in Europe, native composers such as Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein brought an exuberant American style to the classical genre. The Lincoln Center and historic Carnegie Hall in New York City are the best-known venues for classical offerings, although excellent performances by some symphony orchestras can be found throughout the country.

For show tunes enthusiasts, Broadway is America’s shrine to live theater. Broadway is the name of one of New York City’s most famous streets. It also refers to the entire 12-block area around it, known as “The Great White Way” of theater lights. In the United States, revivals of Broadway musicals appear throughout the year at regional theaters.