USA - Music
New York and Los Angeles are the current day capitals of the American
music industry, it is half way between the two of them, in the Mississippi
that the roots of American popular music are to be found.
Presley - surely the most famous musician to have his roots in the
There are six classic forms of American
popular music; jazz, the blues, bluegrass, soul, rock 'n' roll, and
country and western.
With the exception of bluegrass and
country and western, the Mississippi valley is the birthplace of them
Like American culture in general,
American music has evolved
out of the different traditions that reached
the New World from the old. But out of all the different types of music
that reached the New World - from England, Ireland, Spain, France,
Germany, Africa and many other places - one was to have a particularly
significant impact: African music.
While European influences provided
melody and a lyric
tradition, African influences added a new sense of
rhythm and new harmonies, which were to give rise to
of music that were different from anything European.
New American forms of music developed
among the slave
communities working in the cotton fields near the mouth
of the Mississippi; Christianized slaves developed gospel
Negro Spirituals, which soon became popular far beyond the rural states
of the South.
more opportunity to develop their musical talents, and many did exactly
that, adding instrumentation to the essentially vocal tradition of the
From the Spanish musical tradition they
added the guitar, a popular instrument in the southern states which had
been originally colonized by the Spanish. From a more general European
tradition they added brass
instruments such as trumpets, which were
popular with the marching bands used at all kinds of ceremonial events
in the American states.
It was thus in the late nineteenth
century that two new forms of American music began to develop, both of
them in the Mississippi valley.
Firstly there was the blues. In the
cotton-growing Delta region of the state of Mississippi (not to be
confused with the Mississippi Delta), the blues appeared in the 1870's,
sometimes as a purely vocal tradition, at other times using the guitar
as accompaniment. It was a form of music through which poor exploited
Blacks expressed their sadness and their problems, their "blues". The
sadness of the blues is evident both in the music itself, and in the
titles of countless
popular blues songs, such as Poor
and many many others.
Jazz, on the other hand, developed in
and around New Orleans
as a type of music for festive moments and
dancing. The most famous jazzman of all, Louis Armstrong (Satchmo) was
born in New Orleans.
Both of these forms of music migrated up
the Mississippi valley with the Blacks who went north in search of work
in the early twentieth century. Satchmo was one of them; he went north,
ending up in Chicago, where his "New Orleans Jazzmen" soon established
a national reputation, thanks to the development of both radio and the
In the 1920's, many of the Blacks who
migrated north went looking for jobs in the booming American automobile
industry, in and around Detroit, and it was here in "Motown",
i.e. mo(tor) town, that soul music and other new varieties evolved.
With the advent of radio and records,
all varieties of black music became increasingly popular. In the north
Detroit became the capital of soul music; in the south New Orleans
remained the capital of jazz; and between the two, at the heart of the
Mississippi valley, Memphis became the center for an exciting new type
of music; rhythm 'n' blues.
This music soon attracted the attention
not just of Blacks but of Whites too; and with very little change, R
& B evolved into yet another new type of music; rock 'n' roll.
The man who did most to help rock 'n'
roll conquer first America, then the world, was in fact not a black
musician, but a white boy from rural Mississippi, by the name of Elvis
Aaron Presley. Elvis's family were poor, very poor; as a kid, Elvis
lived in a two-room shack
in Tupelo, Mississippi. There was not much to
distinguish the lifestyle of his poor white family from that of the
equally poor black families in the region, and young Elvis had plenty
of contact with black culture and music.
After making his first records in
Memphis, Elvis became the biggest rock star the world had ever seen;
"the King". Yet he never abandoned his Mississippi valley roots, and it
was in Memphis that he established his famous home, Graceland.
In the space of the last forty years,
rock 'n' roll has become the basis of popular music worldwide. In this
respect, it could be argued that the Mississippi valley is the source
of the greatest cultural phenomenon of the twentieth century.
develop - lyric
: music that
tells a story - give
create - slave
unpaid worker - gospel
parts of the bible - emancipation
freeing of the slaves - brass
a yellow metal - countless
innumerable - shack
Gras in New Orleans
► Mighty Mississippi
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ADVANCED ENGLISH - STUDENT
Mississippi Music - Exercises
Read through the article, then decide if these statements are right (R)
or wrong (W). Rewrite
any wrong statements, correcting them as necessary.
1. The roots of American popular music
are mainly African and Caribbean. R W
2. Gospel music first developed in the
south of the United States. R W
3. American slaves often played the
guitar as they sang in the fields. R W
4. Some of the first blues musicians sang
unaccompanied. R W
5. Jazz originated with Louis Armstrong
in Chicago. R W
6. Many Blacks headed north to Detroit
because it was the capital of soul music. R W
7. Elvis Presley invented rock 'n'
roll. R W
8. The city of Memphis can claim to be
the birthplace of modern rock music. R W
2R, 3W, 4R, 5W, 6W, 7W, 8R.