The Birth of American Music
As the Industrial Revolution gave rise to a larger and more affluent middle class, music became an affordable hobby for more people. Music was becoming a business, and a brisk trade evolved in the selling of printed sheet music for popular songs. This meant that the writers of those songs could actually make money for licensing their work to be reproduced.
Some of the first known contracts between a songwriter and a publisher were for the songs of Stephen Foster, the most popular songwriter of his time and arguably the first modern songwriter. Foster received only a tiny fraction of what his songs would have earned today, and he was often the victim of piracy by publishers and performers alike. At age thirty-seven, he died with the clothes on his back and thirty-eight cents in his pocket.
But the American music industry continued to change and grow. The twentieth century saw the most dramatic changes in songwriting of any period in history. The invention of affordable devices that could record, duplicate, broadcast, and amplify music completely changed the industry, as the average person gained more access to music.
The first national anthem of record is that of Great Britain, “God Save the King” (or “Queen”), which dates back to at least 1745. The idea quickly spread throughout Europe and the rest of the world. These days, nearly every country, state, province and, in some cases, city, has an official song.
Birth of the Blues
The blues was born of work songs that combined African rhythms and melodies with those of American and European folk and sacred music. The blues first appeared around the time of the Civil War and became a recognized style around 1900. Early blues writers seldom received credit for their work — publishers, record executives, and recording artists often falsely claimed authorship of songs. The importance of the blues in American music is undeniable; it influenced the development of rock, R&B, country, jazz, and many other forms of music.
Ragtime and Jazz
Ragtime, a mixture of classical music with blues and folk idioms, emerged just before the turn of the twentieth century with the works of composer Scott Joplin. Ragtime's bouncy rhythms and fresh, new sound quickly made it popular in the United States and abroad. “Tin Pan Alley” songwriters soon picked up on the popularity of the new form; Irving Berlin's “Alexander's Ragtime Band” became a huge hit and propelled ragtime to the forefront of popular music.
An offshoot of ragtime, jazz took a sophisticated compositional approach and applied it to other emerging forms of American music. This allowed jazz to capture the ear of the upscale crowd, while its raucous, improvisational nature also made it a natural fit for the wild times of prohibition. Though it was later overshadowed by more mainstream styles, jazz evolved with the times and has retained a steady share of the music market over the years and into the new millennium.