Influential Music of the 20th Century

1900 to 1909

One song to describe the decades view is Bird in a Gilded Cage by Harry Antony, because it conveys the idea of women and their role in society. Another famous song was Meet me in St. Louis, by Bill Murray. This period song stressed the joy caused by the Louisiana Purchase Exploration. This form of fervent longing for the time of expansionism explains the thoughts of the decade.

1910 to 1919

One important song in 1913 was There is Power in a Union. This song was used as rally call for the Populist movement to promote the idea of forming industrial unions to make and enforce changes such as added safety for workers and better pay. A song expressing the feelings of pacifism is I Didn’t Raise My Boy to be a Soldier. This message was popular in the 1910-1920, before and leading up to WWI.

1920 to 1929

A very popular song of 1927 was Ol’ Man River by Roger and Hammerstein from the musical Showboat. This song emphasized the struggle for African Americans not only social stature but also employment. A unique song of 1924 was Goodbye, My Coney Island Baby, because it was the first introduction of barbershop quartets in mainstream music.

1930 to 1939

Puttinon the ritz contrasts other songs of the depression. Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? portrays the broken system that abandons the past veterans and all the destitution of the American people caused by the Great Depression. Also, Life is like a bowl of cherry shows the effect of depression causing people to lose their money, but with an up-beat attitude.

Louis Armstrong was influential due to his unique style of jazz and blues. This was influential to the African American culture.

1940 to 1949

The Andrew Sisters, swing and boogie-woogie close harmony singers were important musical icons. Often depicted in military uniforms, during World War II, their music was used to promote patriotism - even entertaining overseas for American and allied troops.  

Other important musicians included Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, and Billie Holiday - all famous for their influence on jazz.

1950 to 1959

One of the most well known Big Band artists of this age is Sinatra, who experienced much success in the forties, but continued influence into the fifties.

The 1950's were a time of social change. This is seen very clearly in musical transition. In the latter half of this decade, more distinct musical styles arose, branching away from the long popular "Big Band" seen primarily before. Music was quickly evolving as people were influenced by older styles and making it their own. The youth of this age were rebelling against tradition, and birthed from this rebellion was the controversial musical style, Rock 'n' Roll.

Elvis Presley, named the "King of Rock" shocked audiences- especially the older generations- with his music and dance moves. Much of his music was crafted from old blues songs, an example of society building off of old styles and making it their own.

Sam Cooke however, continued an older style popular in the African American Community. He is known as the King of Soul, contributing to the upcoming of Aretha Franklin, Al Green and popularized artists such as James Brown and Otis Redding. He was also one of the first black artists to also handle business of his career, founding a musical label and a publishing company.

On top of all of this, he was an active participant in the Civil Rights Movement.

1960 to 1969

Just as seen in the 50’s, previous decades styles remained for the first half then revolutionized half way through. Rock began to take on more forms than just “pop rock”. The “British Invasion” including bands such as The Beatles had a big influence on the American Rock scene, starting a trend still seen today of European (mostly English) bands making their name in the United States. At the same time, on the West Coast, “Surf Rock” gained momentum from 61-66 with bands such as the The Beach Boys.

Inspired by the roots of rock -blues - artists such as Janis Joplin put their own twist on rock 'n' roll and created what is known today as "Blues Rock", which combines clear elements of both. This style was known for being "harsher" and eventually lead to the creation of hard rock and heavy metal.

Halfway through the decade, thanks to the popularization of drugs such as LSD with the Hippie Movement, "progressive rock"  and "psychedelic rock" bands, namely Pink Floyd, formed. Pink Floyd was another English band who had influence on American Culture.


1970 to 1979

As the 70's began, so did the prominence of Hard Rock with musical groups like Led Zeppelin(another English Band) and Black Sabbath who embraced their blues roots of classic riffs and long improvisations...just with an "edge".

As well, a genre derived from R&B/soul emerged - Disco. Disco mixed in "funky" beats and techno sounds with traditional R&B music to create songs suitable for accompany club dancing. Although actual "discos" were not enduring, the musical style lived on. Although many artists contributed to the disco genre, The Bee Gees are known for being especially prominent performers of the style in the late 70's.

Lastly, as yet another counter culture formed , having a voice found in music - Punk Rock. The Ramones are recognized for "kicking off" the sub-genre, despite having a softer sound than their later counter parts. Punk Rock was associated with a specific clothing style, attitude, and lyrical humor.

1980 to 1989

The 1980's, much like the previous decades, brought two major new styles: Alternative Rock and Hip-hop/rap.

Alternative rock came into being as many artists signed with independent record labels, taking styles particularly from 1960's rock. Artists of the genre remained relatively unknown, thus giving them the label of "underground". However, their musical approach greatly influenced the rise of the "grunge scene" in the 90's. Particularly notable Alternative rock bands are The Pixies and Sonic Youth.

Just like alternative rock, the emergence of hip hop and rap artists was not recognized as significant until later on. RUN DMC is practically a household name today, even if not everyone actually knows their music. They helped open the doors to make rap and hip hop mainstream. The Beastie Boys, three white boys from NYC, changed the perception that the hip hop/ rap culture only existed for the Black Community, and instead for everyone.

Artists such as Madonna and Michael Jackson are regarded as pop artists. Generally, pop music is catchy simple music directed at a young audience and receives the most attention over all the other genres- hence its name. In this era pop artists embraced the synthesizer.

1990 to 1999

Gangster Rap, Grunge Rock, New Punk Rock, and Heavy Metal were all significant genres in this decade.

Gangster Rap made it big with the East-West rivalry of this era. The two figure heads of this rivalry were The Notorious B.I.G. of the East Coast and Tupac or 2pac representing the West. Although a lot of this "rivalry" was played up for marketing, in reality there WAS violence occurring between gangs. Both artists ended up being murdered- supposedly due to gang affiliations.

A new "wave" of music based out of Washington, Grunge Rock was a label given to a number of bands who were associated yet not necessarily sounding the same. Without a doubt, Nirvana was the face of Grunge rock thanks to the practically over-night fame gained from their album, Nevermind.

New Punk Rock was a resurgence of the genre beginning with the Ramones in the 70's that went "underground" in the 80's. One of the mainstream bands representing this style of music was and still is Green Day, thanks to having a more "poppy" sound than most other "punk" bands.

Yet another subcategory of Rock, Heavy Metal took a new shape in the 90's. After an age of "glam rock", Heavy Metal in the 90's became very raw and well, heavier. They formed before the 90's, but Metallica was one of the most popular "metal" bands in this era.

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