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Features of the 1950‘s

The Blues

Origin and Characteristics

   The blues has deep roots in American history, particularly enslaved African-American history. The blues originated on Southern plantations in the 19th Century, specifically from Mississippi the Delta Blue.  The Blues came from the negroes work songs and talks about the troubles and trials in this world. One element of the Blues traces its roots back to the fields and plantations. The pattern the slaves used in their work songs were called call-and-response. In this singing, the leader sings a line then the group answers. You may hear a singer call and the other singers respond, a performer sing a call and then respond with an instrument, or a musician perform a call-and-response entirely with instruments. Also, a very common blues chord progression is the 12-bar blues. The progression is I, IV, and V; those three cords are repeated in this order: I-I-I-I-IV-IV-I-I-V-IV-I-I.

Social Implications, Commodification, Influence of Genres, & Key Performers

The Blues music was created for people to dance at the dance halls. Blues and jazz have always influenced each other, and they still interact in countless ways today. Blues also gave birth to rock n’roll. Sheet Music and Records made money from the Blues music, specifically Race Records. Race Records were created and performed by African Americans for Black audiences. Two vital artists during the Blues period are Ma Rainey and B.B. King.

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Rhythm and Blues (R&B)

Origin: Rhythm and blues (R&B) was the most popular music created by and for African Americans between the end of World War II (1941-45) and the early 1960s. Billboard magazine coined the term rhythm and blues to rename its “race records” chart in 1949, reflecting changes in the social status, economic power, and musical tastes of African Americans. Promoted by new, independently owned record labels and radio stations marketed to blacks, R&B also captured the imagination of young white audiences and led directly to the popularity of rock and roll.

Characteristics: R&B combines soulful singing and a strong backbeat. Love/relationships are typically the most popular lyrical theme of the genre and were primarily conveyed with a solo male lead vocal. In regard to structure, the A-B-A-B-C-B form was the most popular (verse – chorus – verse – chorus – bridge – chorus).  All of the songs contain an intro, the majority feature a bridge, half contain a pre-chorus and outro, and none contain a prominent instrumental and/or vocal break within the mix.

Social Implications: R&B was used to raise awareness of racism, poverty, and social violence as well as endorsing Black Nationalism. R&B “originated during a time of great change in the black community.” The Black community was beginning to move into urban areas and their social and economic status began to change as a result.

Key Artists: During the ’50s, R&B was dominated by vocalists like Ray Charles James Brown, Fats Domino, Etta James, and Ruth Brown, as well as vocal groups like the Drifters and the Coasters just to name a few.

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Commodification: In the music industry, music is mainly means of enhancing their profits and popularizing their business in the marketing. In order to maintain relevancy, the industry targets the sect of people who are most vulnerable to follow, and during this time it was young people. Young people, especially those in the midst of adolescence, are either starting or continuing their progress in finding who they are. They were heavily in the mix of all activity during the 50s ranging from the Civil Rights Movement to participation in music evolution.

Influences on Future Genres: R&B played as a big influence on Rock and Roll, modern versions of soul and funk-influenced pop music that originated as disco.

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Rock and Roll

Origin: Fats Domino, one of the most essential first-generation rock & roll stars, was asked about the music’s origins in a Fifties television interview. In his response, he said, “Rock & roll is nothing but rhythm & blues, and we’ve been playing it for years down in New Orleans.” All Fifties rockers, black and white, country born and city-bred, were fundamentally influenced by R&B, the black popular music of the late Forties and early Fifties.

Characteristics: Rock and Roll is known for its sophisticated rhythm patterns and intense beat. It is generally used as dance music. In its purest form, Rock & Roll has three chords, a strong, insistent back beat, and a catchy melody. Early rock & roll drew from a variety of sources, primarily blues, R&B, and country, but also gospel, traditional pop, jazz, and folk.

Social Implications: Rock and roll influenced daily life, fashion, attitudes, and language in a big way. Beginning in the early 1950s, rock songs and acts began to be used in a few television commercials; within a decade this practice became widespread, and rock music also featured in film and television program soundtracks. In the cross-over of African American “race music” to a growing white youth audience, the popularization of rock and roll involved both black performers reaching a white audience and white performers appropriating African-American music. Rock and roll appeared at a time when racial tensions in the United States were entering a new phase. The coming together of white youth audiences and black music in rock and roll, inevitably provoked strong white racist reactions within the US, with many whites condemning its breaking down of barriers based on color. Many observers saw rock and roll as heralding the way for desegregation, in creating a new form of music that encouraged racial cooperation and shared experience. Many authors have argued that early rock and roll was instrumental in the way both white and black teenagers identified themselves.

Key Artists: Two important musicians in Rock and Roll are Little Richard and Chuck Barry.

Commodification:  Rock and Roll’s popularity among the youth along with its unifying abilities made it a very popular and highly demanded genre of music during this time. Rock and roll music had the ability to cross-over with most other genres. During the emergence of rock and roll, it was intertwined with different genres like country and R&B, depending on who was playing and the region they were living in.

Influences on Future Genres: Rock and Roll music influenced pop music in the 1950’s as well as pop music today. The Beatles are an example of a band who took rock and roll and turned it into their own type of sound. In today’s rap music, there is a large wave of performers who call themselves “rockstars” and include certain drum and guitar tracks that give their music a pop-rock feel. The rapper, Future, even calls himself “Future Hendrix” to mimic the rock guitarist, Jimi Hendrix.

 

Jazz

Origin: Jazz originated in New Orleans during the early 20th century. Jazz is said to be a combination of African and European music. Jazz’s rhythm, blues sound, and the tradition of playing an instrument as an extension of your voice all came from Africa. Jazz’s instruments (horns, piano, etc.) and commonly used chords all came from European traditions. Jazz was first influenced by ragtime and blues music.

Characteristics: Jazz music is heavily dependent on the ability to improvise while playing music. Jazz performers would often only have a small portion of their set rehearsed so that they had the chance to improvise the next part of the song while they were performing, allowing for more emotion to be conveyed. Members of a Jazz ensemble understand that they must always fulfill their responsibility to the song by keeping the structure of the tune, but they still have the freedom to venture off and do their own thing. Jazz music follows the form A-A-B-A.

Social Implications: Many black Jazz artists were alienated from the genre for a long time because there were too many white performers trying to do the same thing as them. The main difference between white and black Jazz musicians, however, was that the black musicians were more skilled at improvisation, and this was the desired skill. Like many genres, black people felt that jazz got stolen from them, so there was some tension because of this.

Key Artists: Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington

Commodification: Only a few jazz musicians had the opportunity for upward mobility, and only when there was a white demand for their presence in that musical community. Benny Goodman, a white jazz bandleader, brought to stardom Teddy Wilson, Lionel Hampton, and Charlie Christian, but still encountered criticism for capitalizing off of their talents. A few other black jazz musicians such as Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington made a lot of money. Jazz music eventually got drowned out by the growing popularity of rock and roll.

Influences on Future Genres: Since Jazz usually follows a strict AABA form, any music made today in the age of pop that does NOT follow verse-chorus form (ABAB), and instead follows AABA is said to have Jazz roots. Hip-Hop music is probably the genre that is most influenced by Jazz history. According to whosampled.com, Miles Davis’s music has been sampled 146 times, George Benson’s 176, and Herbie Hancock’s 282 times.

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