Author: Reebee Garofalo
(excerpt from: Rockin’ Out Popular Music in the USA, Fifth Edition)
“The institution of slavery has been such a defining feature of U.S. history that it is hardly surprising to find the roots of our
popular music embedded in this tortured legacy. Indeed, the first indigenous U.S. popular music to capture the imagination of a broad public, at home and abroad, was blackface minstrelsy, a cultural form involving mostly Northern whites in blackened faces, parodying their perceptions of African American culture. Minstrelsy appeared at a time when songwriting and music publishing were dispersed throughout the country and sound recording had not yet been invented. During this period, there was an important geographical pattern in the way music circulated. Concert music by foreign composers intended for elite U.S. audiences generally played in New York City first and then in other major cities. In
contrast, domestic popular music, including minstrel music, was first tested in smaller towns,then went to larger urban areas, and entered New York only after success elsewhere.
Songwriting and music publishing were similarly dispersed. New York did not become thenerve center for indigenous popular music until later in the nineteenth century, when the previously scattered conglomeration of songwriters and publishers began to converge on the Broadway and 28th Street section of the city, in an area that came to be called Tin Pan Alley after the tinny output of its upright pianos. These talented songwriters and indefatigable publishers, who would go on to dominate mainstream popular music until the post–World War II period, were attuned to every nuance of cultural variation the United States had to offer. And during their reign, they would encounter all of the new technologies—sound recording, talking films, radio, and television—that would come to define mass culture”
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