Early American Song

Early American Song Photo

Early American song began with the first settlers and continued through the Age of Reconstruction. Songs written during these years were inspired by political events and transcended their era to become the soundtrack of American history.

Traditionally, music had been limited to the region in which it developed. Until 1825, only a few popular songs had achieved permanence in the fabric of American popular music. The primary reason for this was a lack of distribution means--no radio or phonograph, an immobile population, and no machinery for plugging or producing a written reference for the song. With its creation in the mid-1800s, sheet music provided songs with an outlet for distribution and merchandising and introduced Americans to different sounds previously isolated to their regions.

In Colonial America, inspirations for song depended heavily on English, Irish and Scottish ballads as well as the hymnals of the religious society. Americans of the Colonial period sang of events and people of current interest. They introduced the musical style that would later adapt itself to documenting patriotism, politics and heroism.

With the Declaration of Independence, patriotic marches were introduced, and these dominated the American song until the late 1700s.) dominated the American song until the late 1700s. Despite this dominance, other musical styles eventually began to surface along with the diversifying American culture. Negro songs were introduced in the late 1700s, and popular music adopted simple melody--a balance between text and tune and a sameness of rhythm.

The period before the Civil War is widely recognized as the period of the torch song and minstrelsy. Minstrel shows showcased songs and acknowledged songwriters individually for the first time, and as the shows traveled, more American regions were exposed to the songs. By the late 1850s, printed sheet music was available and transformed the way Americans were exposed to music. Fans were able to play and hear their favorite songs anywhere--not just at a minstrel show or concert or by word of mouth, but right in their homes.

With the start of the Civil War, American songwriting once again voiced patriotism and sentiment. During the Age of Reconstruction, American music reverted back to the old themes of sentimentality, comedy and religion. During that time, the epicenter of the music publishing and songwriting business was being established in New York. All regional melodies and genres were converging and musical influences previously segregated regionally, were combining to create the American popular song.

Featured Inductee

Katharine Lee Bates

“America the Beautiful” first appeared in print in the weekly journal The Congregationalist, on July 4, 1895. The lyrics were written while on an 1893 summer lecture series at Colorado College in Colorado Springs.

Looking at the view of the Rockies from Pikes Peak, its author, Katharine Lee… more

Discography Highlights