Popular Music

Popular music is: "music that is enjoyed by the largest possible audience." It includes country music, folk music, rhythm and blues ( R & B), musical comedy, jazz, marches, rock n' roll, and ragtime. Popular music is primarily listened to by young people. In his book, Sound Effects, Simon Frith said that popular music has been about growing up, and that it has been like this since the beginning of the century.1 However, the popular music industry is based largely on the sale of records. However, popular music can also do many great things for society. Harry Belafonte once said "A funny thing happened to the world in 1985, it cared."2 In the 1980's, many benefit concerts such as Live Aid and USA for Africa were held to raise money for people who were in need of help. Other benefits such as Hands Across America and Farm Aid showed that the listeners could get involved too. Popular music reflects the outlook of the listeners of that time period.
The death of friends and family members during the first world war hardened people very much and this was reflected in the lifestyle of the twenties. There was much women's suffrage during this time. People began to smoke and drink more often, and generally became more irresponsible. Jazz had much musical freedom. It represented the way many people were feeling.
Not everyone was smoking and drinking too much though. Many people still continued to lead highly respectable lives. For these people were the conventional songs. The big stage musical of 1921 was 'Blossom Time' which hit song was called 'Song Of Love.' This kind of song made people happy, something that was much needed in this post- war time.3
The teenagers of the twenties, on the other hand, were said to be carefree. 'Ain't We Got Fun?' by Dick Whitings was said to be a perfect theme song for that generation.4 The young people of that time were not experiencing the same kind of grief as the slightly older people.
Many things happened in the 1920's. First of all, radio was beginning to gain much power. Many things were happening in baseball. And fun- loving Ouija boards were becoming very popular.
Most of the songs of the 1920's were considered proper, however there was protest over the song "If I Met The Guy Who Made This Country Dry," by Jerome- Harry ven Tilzer. There were also the conventional songs with ballads and old-fashioned waltzes. Overall, the 1920's had good songs and lyrics in popular music with much emphasis on the musical stage.6
The great depression started in the 1930's. Because of this not many people could afford to buy records. But something new emerged out of the darkness. It was the radio. People could listen all they wanted, for free. People began to stop listening to the records and depended on their trusty radio. And not only could they tune into their favorite songs, but also hear the news and other forms of entertainment. During the 1920's, at least 40 million records were sold each year. During the early 30's, about one fourth of that amount had been sold.
During this time big groups of jazz musicians started to play together. It was during the swing era and was known as the Big Band era. The songs were very optimistic and could bring up the mood of the listeners, who, at this time were very depressed.7 Swing music had a very loose feeling sound. It became more popular with the popularity of the radio. Duke Ellington once said in a song "It don't mean a thing if it ain't got swing." The soloists in Duke Ellington's band were said to be "Very individualistic, playing clarinet cries, saxophone moans, and trumpet grows to his hundreds of compositions."8
One of the leaders of swing was Fletcher Henderson who organized a successful
"big commercial" band. In his bands were both white and black musicians. This took away many racial tensions many people were having, by making everyone equal.9
During the thirties many people immigrated to the United States. With them they brought the music from their country. This had great influence on American music. Some immigrant composers taught music or performed in orchestras. Some even worked in films, so it also influenced American films.10
Overall, the music of the thirties was very upbeat, something the people really needed to take their mind off of their