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Americana refers to artifacts of the culture of the United States. Examples of this culture include baseball, apple pie, jazz, Superman, the Diner, George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, the music of Aaron Copland (notably his Fanfare for the Common Man), and American folk art, such as that of Norman Rockwell.
In music, Americana is a loose subset of American folk music, that is perhaps best defined as “classic American music”—ranging in style from roots-based bluegrass to alternative country, blues, zydeco, and other native forms. Americana music is the focus of the bi-monthly U.S. magazine No Depression. One of the main reasons Americana is used to describe such a wide variety of musical genres is because of the diverse range of cultural influences which we call American. For example, traditional Bluegrass instrumentation consists of the banjo which originated on the African continent, guitars from Europe, and fiddling styles which have their roots in traditional Irish and other Gaelic fiddling techniques. The 1960s group The Band is often cited as the biggest modern influence on Americana, especially in rock and roll.
In the visual fine arts, Americana usually indicates a concern with the marginal aspects of historic American culture; carnivals, popular amusements such as side-shows, vernacular typography and signage, old horror movies in the ‘haunted house’ genre, the old West, and the backwoods cultures. It has increasingly veered off into a dark Gothic approach to Americana that was first visualised by U.S. writers such as Edgar Allan Poe and Ray Bradbury.
Americana is also a small town in the countryside of the state of São Paulo, Brazil. It is notable due to the 1866 influx of American Confederate refugees who fled the Southern U.S., including Senator William H. Morris.
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The folk music revival is sometimes said to have begun with Pete Seeger. The Weavers, formed in 1947 by Seeger, had a big hit in 1949 with Lead Belly’s “Goodnight, Irene”. This hit was probably one of the first glimmerings of the folk music revival.
Although carried along by a handful of artists releasing records, the folk-music scene’s development was still only as a sort of cult phenomenon in bohemian circles in places like New York City (especially Greenwich Village), North Beach, and in the college and university districts of cities like Boston, Denver, Chicago and elsewhere. It was hip, but not terribly widespread.
In the 1950s and after, acoustic folk-song performance became associated with the coffee houses, private parties, open-air concerts and sing-alongs, and college-campus concerts. It blended, to some degree, with the so-called beatnik scene, and dedicated singers of folk songs (as well as folk-influenced original material) traveled through what was called “the coffee-house circuit” across the U.S. and Canada.
Country music is a blend of popular musical forms originally found in the Southern United States and the Appalachian Mountains. It has roots in traditional folk music, Celtic music, gospel music, and old-time music and evolved rapidly in the 1920s. The term country music began to be used in the 1940s when the earlier term hillbilly music was deemed to be degrading, and the term was widely embraced in the 1970s, while country and Western has declined in use since that time, except in the United Kingdom and Ireland, where it is still commonly used in the United States.
In the Southwestern United States a different mix of ethnic groups created the music that became the Western music of the term country and Western.
Country music has produced two of the top selling solo artists of all time. Elvis Presley, who was known early on as “The Hillbilly Cat” and was a regular on the radio program Louisiana Hayride, went on to become a defining figure in the emerging genre of rock ‘n roll. Contemporary musician Garth Brooks, with 128 million albums sold, is the top-selling solo artist in U.S. history.
Old-time music is a form of North American folk music, with roots in the folk musics of many countries, including England, Scotland, Ireland and Africa. This musical form developed along with various North American folk dances, such as square dance, buck dance, and clogging. The genre also encompasses ballads and other types of folk songs. It is played on acoustic instruments, generally centering on a combination of fiddle and plucked string instruments (most often the guitar and, more generally in regions outside of the Northeast U.S. and Canada, banjo).
Jazz is an American musical art form which originated in the beginning of the 20th century in African American communities in the Southern United States from a confluence of African and European music traditions. The style’s West African pedigree is evident in its use of blue notes, improvisation, polyrhythms, syncopation, and the swung note.
From its early development until the present, jazz has also incorporated music from 19th and 20th century American popular music. The word jazz began as a West Coast slang term of uncertain derivation and was first used to refer to music in Chicago in about 1915; for the origin and history, see Jazz (word).
Jazz has, from its early 20th century inception, spawned a variety of subgenres, from New Orleans Dixieland dating from the early 1910s, big band-style swing from the 1930s and 1940s, bebop from the mid-1940s, a variety of Latin jazz fusions such as Afro-Cuban and Brazilian jazz from the 1950s and 1960s, jazz-rock fusion from the 1970s and late 1980s developments such as acid jazz, which blended jazz influences into funk and hip-hop.
Singer-songwriter is a term that refers to performers who write, compose and sing their own material including lyrics and melodies. They often provide the sole accompaniment to an entire composition or song, typically using a guitar. The term is also sometimes used for a genre of music that is often performed in this manner. A number of other well-known musicians may write some of their own songs, but are usually referred to as singers instead.
Bluegrass music is a form of American roots music, and is a sub-genre of country music. It has its own roots in Irish, Scottish and English traditional music. Bluegrass was inspired by the music of immigrants from the United Kingdom and Ireland (particularly the Scots-Irish immigrants in Appalachia), as well as jazz and blues. In bluegrass, as in jazz, each instrument takes a turn playing the melody and improvising around it, while the others perform accompaniment. This is in contrast to old-time music, in which all instruments play the melody together or one instrument carries the lead throughout while the others provide accompaniment. Traditional bluegrass is typically based around acoustic stringed instruments, such as mandolin, acoustic guitar, banjo, fiddle, and upright bass, with or without vocals.
Gospel music is music that is written to express either personal or a communal belief regarding Christian life, as well as (in terms of the varying music styles) to give a Christian alternative to mainstream secular music.
Like other forms of Christian music the creation, performance, significance, and even the definition of Gospel music varies according to culture and social context. Gospel music is composed and performed for many purposes, including aesthetic pleasure, religious or ceremonial purposes, and as an entertainment product for the marketplace. However, a common theme of most Gospel music is praise, worship or thanks to God, Christ, or the Holy Spirit.
The Blues is a vocal and instrumental form of music based on the use of the blue notes. It emerged as an accessible form of self-expression in African-American communities of the United States from spirituals, work songs, field hollers, shouts and chants, and rhymed simple narrative ballads. The use of blue notes and the prominence of call-and-response patterns in the music and lyrics are indicative of African influence.
The blues influenced later American and Western popular music, as it became the roots of jazz, rhythm and blues, bluegrass and rock and roll. In the 1960s and 1970s, a hybrid form called blues rock developed from the combining of blues with various rock and roll forms.