Timeline of music in the United States (1920–49)

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Timeline of music in the United States
Music history of the United States
Colonial erato the Civil WarDuring the Civil WarLate 19th centuryEarly 20th century40s and 50s60s and 70s80s to the present

This is a timeline of music in the United States from 1920 to 1949.


  • Vaudevillean Mamie Smith records "Crazy Blues" for Okeh Records, the first blues song commercially recorded by an African-American singer,[1][2][3] the first blues song recorded at all by an African-American woman,[4] and the first vocal blues recording of any kind,[5] a few months after making the first documented recording by an African-American female singer,[6] "You Can't Keep a Good Man Down" and "That Thing Called Love", which were successful enough for Okeh to commission "Crazy Blues".[3] Stylistically, it resembles other vaudeville music of the era, but it borrows a poetic and melodic form from African-American folk music, as well as elements of unrelated "field-holler" vocal practices. More than its traditional predecessors, this mixture would come to define and epitomize the blues for later generations. The song[7] becomes a surprising commercial success that would open up the market for African-American music[1][8] by selling more than 8,000 copies a week for several months.[3] It is followed by a string of hits by African-American women singers.[9][10][11]
  • A paper shortage contributes to a cost increase and a downturn in the sheet music publishing industry.[12]
  • Joseph Patek forms a family band that will become one of the longest-lasting and most influential Czech-Texan groups.[13]
  • KDKA in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania claims to be the first radio station with regularly scheduled programs.[2][14][15]
  • Michigan and Wisconsin organize their first state-sponsored band contests.[16]
  • Carl Fischer Music publishes the first full band music scores in the United States.[16]
Early 1920s music trends
  • In jazz bands, the cornetist becomes more and more frequently assigned to the melody of a piece, rather than shifting that responsibility among various instrumentalists.[17]
  • American audiences begin to turn away from predominantly German classical music towards works by the like of Frenchman Erik Satie and the Russian Alexander Scriabin.[18]
  • An organized country music industry begins to evolve, through commercial recording and radio broadcasting.[19]
  • Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg begins advocating serialism, a composition technique that will come to dominate American classical music later in the 20th century.[20]
  • The creative peak of jazz in Chicago.[21]
  • A printers strike and paper shortage decimates the music publishing industry by raising costs, as customers are beginning to focus more on recordings than sheet music.[22]
  • The golden age of the "black female blues singer" begins and ends.[23]
  • American public schools begin offering music instruction for band and orchestra.[16]
  • The Flanagan Brothers begin recording prolifically with great success. Mike Flanagan is the most popular Irish banjoist of the era.[24]


  • The Army Music School at Fort Jay is moved to the Army War College in Washington, D.C.[25]
  • Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle's Shuffle Along is an influential work in the history of African American theater, re-establishing the black musical theater tradition.[26][27][28] It is the first black musical to achieve major success.[29]
  • The Norfolk Jazz Quartet begins recording for OKeh, becoming "one of the earliest and most popular group to emerge" from the Tidewater area of Virginia, a fertile region for African-American singing quartets.[30]
  • The National Baptist Convention's Gospel Pearls, a compilation of hymns, collected by Lucie Campbell, is released in its second edition, becoming so popular it remains in print, without a new edition, into the 1990s.[31] It is an influential landmark in African-American church music,[32] and is the first use of the term gospel in a collection of songs by a black church to describe the music later known as gospel music.[33]
  • Vincent Lopez's dance band makes first live broadcast of a performance on the radio.[34]
  • Thomas A. Dorsey moves to Chicago for the second time in his life, this time hoping to make his way in the burgeoning blues and jazz scenes; he is electrified by the singing of W. M. Nix, thus beginning his career as a pioneering gospel singer.[35] He also composes his first song, "If I Don't Get There".[36]
  • The Penn Hotel becomes the first African-American-owned hotel in Baltimore; it is on Pennsylvania Avenue, then a major center for black culture and business, and where the Douglass Theater, later more famously known as the Royal Theatre, is opened as one of the finest African-American theaters in the country. The Royal Theatre will become one of the major stops on the black entertainment circuit.[37]
  • Canadian-born black composer Robert Nathaniel Dett is the first to arrange a spiritual in a motet, with "Don't Be Weary Traveler", which won the Francis Boott prize, given out by Harvard University.[38]
  • W. C. Handy and Harry Pace start Black Swan, the first black-owned record label.[8][39]
  • Paul Gosz forms the Empire Band, which will become one of the major Czech American bands of the Midwest.[13]
  • Black Swan Records, founded and led by Harry Pace, becomes the first African-American-owned record label, specializing in what was then known as "race music".[40] Ethel Waters records the label's first hits, "Down Home Blues" and "Oh, Daddy",[23] and will be the label's biggest star.[41]
  • Ford Dabney's orchestra ends their eight-year run on Broadway, in the Ziegfeld Midnight Frolic Show at the New Amsterdam Theatre. They are the first "black orchestra to fill such a long engagement".[42]
  • OKeh Records becomes the first major record company to realize the commercial potential of the African American market, creating a line, called the Original Race Records with Clarence Williams as director, to produce what was then called race music.[43]
  • Thomas A. Edison, Inc. sends out a survey to more than 20,000 phonograph owners, one of the very few primary sources from this era on the characteristics of people who actually listened to recorded music.[44]
  • Kid Ory's Sunshine Orchestra becomes the first African-American jazz ensemble to record.[45]
  • In Chicago, a group of young white students listen to recordings of the New Orleans Rhythm Kings on a jukebox. They decide to play music in that style, and became known as the Austin High School Gang, consisting of Jimmy McPartland and others.[46]
  • Bennie Moten's orchestra becomes the earliest major jazz band in Kansas City.[47]


  • Eck Robertson and Henry Gilld show up at Victor Records offices, dressed in Confederate Army uniforms, and demand to record their music. The first recording to be released from the subsequent sessions will be Robertson's "Sallie Gooden", which is the first recording of what is now called country music.[48][49][50]
  • The Four Harmony Kings, a jubilee group, are invited to join the Broadway production of Shuffle Along; they include a version of a spiritual entitled "Ain't It a Shame to Steal on a Sunday".[51]
  • Francis La Flesche begins producing an important musicological study of the Osage tribe, entitled The Osage Tribe.[52]
  • The Grand Street Follies in Greenwich Village is the first revue "to be controlled largely by women", specifically director Agnes Morgan and composer Lily Hyland. This is the beginning of 'intimate revue', a type of show that is "literate, sophisticated, witty, amusing, satirical, and topical".[53]
  • General Pershing creates the United States Army Band, which soon becomes a prominent performing group.[54]
  • James D. Vaughan forms a record label to expand the audience for the gospel quartets he manages, an influential point in the early history of the gospel industry.[55]
  • The New Orleans Rhythm Kings, the "most significant and influential of the early white jazz bands", record for Gennett, producing records that "had a direct impact on the young white musicians who developed what became known as the 'Chicago Style'."[56]
  • OKeh Records begins using the term race music, which soon becomes the standard referent for African-American popular music.[57]
  • Trixie Smith, a popular blues singer, recorded "My Man Rocks Me (With One Steady Roll)", one of the earliest uses of the terms rock and roll together in secular music.[58]
  • The first Southern radio station to broadcast rural white music is WSB in Atlanta.[59]
  • Rural folk performers begin to perform for local radio stations in Atlanta and Fort Worth.[19][60]
  • Kid Ory and his Sunshine Orchestra record "Ory's Creole Trombone" and "Society Blues". These are the first instrumental jazz recording of an African-American group,[61] and marks the beginning of the record industry focusing on "the instrumental ensemble as a source of entertainment in its own right rather than as accompaniment for singers".[62]
  • Clarence Jones & His Sunshine Orchestra becomes the first local jazz dance band to broadcast in Chicago.[63]
  • A legend states that comedian Ed Wynn is responsible for creating the first studio audience when he refuses to perform without an audience watching.[64]



  • The end of the Tin Pan Alley-led fad for blues and blues-like songs among mainstream listeners.[1]
  • George Gershwin premiers Rhapsody in Blue, an historically significant piece[83] that fused three strands of American music: modernist classical music, instrumental jazz and popular blues; the piece "played a role in defining American musical modernism" in the 1920s,[84] though it was "probably the most successful work in the movement to bring jazz into the concert hall", it is "better known today through lush arrangements for full symphony orchestras that have necessarily smoothed out the vernacular idiosyncrasies of its original performance style.[85]
  • Ed Andrews' "Barrelhouse Blues" is the first recording of rural blues.[39] It is still among the "most popular of American compositions".[86]
  • Serge Koussevitzky becomes the conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra; under his tenure, he will influentially promote new works by American and European composers.[87]
  • The Fletcher Henderson Orchestra, with Louis Armstrong, begins performing at the Roseland Ballroom in Manhattan; this is considered the first big jazz band that used written arrangements to achieve the rhythm and intensity of swing.[88][89]
  • George and Ira Gershwin's Lady, Be Good opens on Broadway; the musical, the duo's first hit,[53] was a "groundbreaking... absorption of Jazz Age lingo (and the composers') felicitous skill at setting vernacular speech to music".[90]
  • Herbert Léonard becomes the first known bluesman to record using "first position".[91]
  • Juanita Arizona Dranes begins recording for OKeh, making her a "much in-demand artist at black churches and revivals".[92]
  • Ma Rainey becomes a wildly popular blues singer across the country, with her band the Jazz Wild Cats.[93]
  • The Music Corporation of America is founded by Billy Stein, the first booking agency specializing in popular music performers.[94]
  • Ernö Rapée's Motion Picture Moods for Pianists and Organists is an important reference work used by writers to choose music for film.[22]
  • The last Big House ceremony among the Delaware Native Americans is held.[95]
  • The most popular of the early Lithuanian American performers, Antanas Vanagaitis, comes to the United States with a performance group.[96]
  • Immigration Act of 1924 formally enacts a restriction on Japanese immigration that had effectively been in place since 1908; this is said to constitute the end of issei, or the first generation of Japanese immigration.[97] The same bill has similar effects in other communities, making it a common marker separating different forms of immigrant culture and music, such as among Arab Americans.[98]
  • Bascom Lamar Lunsford, a regionally famous passionate advocate for Appalachian music, becomes the first person to record old-time banjo music, with "Jesse James" and "I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground", both for Okeh.[99]
  • WLS begins broadcasting the National Barn Dance, a popular radio program that exposes new audiences to traditional Southern and Appalachian music.[100] This will become the first major country music radio program, lasting until 1970 (by then called National Barn Dance and broadcast on WGN).[101] Bradley Kincaid is the show's first star; he will later be the first country star to profit from the sale of mail-order songbooks.[102]
  • Riley Puckett and Gid Tanner are the first to record country music for Columbia Records, and Puckett became possibly the first to yodel on record, with "Rock All Our Babies to Sleep".[103]
  • Rudolf Friml's Rose-Marie is an "immensely successful operetta that (marks) a turning point in the American musical theater". It will be the largest-grossing show until Oklahoma! in the 1940s.[104]
  • Vernon Dalhart, one of the first popular country singers,[105] records "Wreck of the Old 97" and "The Prisoner's Song", the latter of which becomes the first country record to sell a million copies.[106][107] It is the best-selling song of country music's first decade.[108]
  • Bix Beiderbecke joins the Wolverine Orchestra, making his first recordings; he will be more influential than any white composer or performer in Chicago in the era,[70] and will be perhaps the first white jazz performer to be widely respected by African-American jazz audiences.[109][110] Beiderbecke was also the "first important jazzman to be inspired by contemporary classical music".[111] His Wolverine Orchestra is the first white group to play jazz in an authentically African American style.[112]
  • James P. Johnson's musical Runnin' Wild introduces the Charleston dance.[113]
  • Enric Madriguera becomes director of the Havana Casino Orchestra, and begins introducing the Cuban danzón to American audiences.[114]


Mid-1920s music trends
  • Henry Ford helps usher in what he refers to as a "square dance revival".[115]
  • Scholars and collectors of folk songs become increasingly concerned about the authenticity of the blues they were recording and describing.[116]
  • Hall Johnson and Eva Jessye lead a number of professional choirs to fame, bringing media attention to the concert-arranged African-American spiritual.[38]
  • Sylvester Weaver, Lonnie Johnson and Papa Charlie Jackson are among a number of male solo vaudeville performers to begin recording attempts at popular blues, but Blind Lemon Jefferson's recordings in 1925 kicked off a wave of like-minded acts.[10]
  • Record companies begin recording and marketing to Mexican Americans in California.[117]
  • A more traditional sound in Finnish-American commercial recordings supplants the earlier format, which was based around semi-classical performance.[96]
  • With the advent of national radio broadcasting companies, large businesses begin to sponsor a single show in its entirety. By 1927, as much as half of the total budget at major advertising companies is spent on radio.[118]
  • The Aeolian Company's Pianola, a barrel organ, becomes widespread. The barrel organ will do more to spread musical knowledge in the United States than anything until the gramophone.[119]
  • John Harrington Cox, archivist and editor for the West Virginia Folklore Society, publishes a collection of folk songs called Folk-Songs of the South: Collected Under the Auspices of the West Virginia Folk-Lore Society.[120]
  • Barn dance programs become a major part of the radio industry, led by the WSM Barn Dance in Nashville,[19] which will later become the Grand Ole Opry.[59][60][121] Other barn dance programs during the era are broadcast by WBAP in Fort Worth and WSB in Atlanta.[122]
  • Louis Armstrong begins recording with his Hot Five and Hot Seven bands, for OKeh in Chicago. These resulting records are widely influential and establish the early jazz style,[123][124] and helped launch Armstrong's career, which will eventually make him "one of the best-known and best-loved entertainers in the world".[125] Music historian Richard Crawford has called these recordings "an enduring contribution to music history (that transcend) categorical boundaries to introduce a powerful new, utterly American mode of expression".[126] The recordings establish Armstrong's career as the first virtuoso soloist in jazz, and move the field from one based on collective improvisation among all members of an ensemble to one in which one or more individual performers lead the performance through improvising.[127][128][129] The Hot Five was Kid Ory, Johnny Dodds, Lil Hardin and Johnny St Cyr, while the Hot Seven added Pete Briggs and Baby Dodds, replacing Ory with John Thomas.[130]
  • Ralph Peers names Al Hopkins' band The Hillbillies, the first documented usage of the word hillbilly in a Southern rural musical context.[131]
  • Lonnie Johnson begins his performing career after winning first prize at a blues concert. He will become "probably the first improvising guitarist to base his style on cleanly articulated single-string lines rather than heavily strummed chords"[132]
  • Paul Robeson performs at a critically acclaimed concert, his debut, as a bass baritone, in Greenwich Village; his performance is the first "program consisting entirely of Negro spirituals".[133]
  • Bennie Moten's territory band releases "South", a classic hit recording that helps establish the band's career as one of the most successful and prolifically recording territory band.[134]
  • Fred Waring & the Pennsylvanians release a hit recording called "Collegiate", in a style associated with both jazz and the then-prominent flapper culture.[135]
  • James Weldon Johnson's Book of Negro Spirituals is an important reference work that contains clues "about how long and how pervasive the penchant for harmonizing was among African Americans".[136]
  • The Scopes Trial is discussed in a ballad, whose broadside is sold outside the courthouse during the trial, selling more than 60,000 copies. Music historian claims that this publication brought the broadside up to date for the new media of the time.[137]
  • The first African-American preacher to be recorded is Calvin P. Dixon.[138]
  • Charles Henry Pace forms the Pace Jubilee Singers, which become the first to record both Pace's songs and those composed by Charles Albert Tindley.[51]
  • The Yugoslavian Tamburitza Orchestra is founded by the Popovich Brothers; it will come to popularize the tambura throughout the United States.[139]
  • Florence Price is the first female African American to gain international renown as a composer, winning her first of two Holstein Awards this year.[38]
  • Charlie Poole leads a group recording several songs, most successfully including "Deal", which will inspire numerous rural performers to imitate this repertoire and three-finger banjo style.[140]
  • Dock Walsh becomes one of the first to record three-finger banjo picking.[141]
  • Students at the Moody Bible Institute broadcast the first gospel music on the radio, on student station WNBL.[142]
  • George Antheil's Ballet mécanique is finished; it was intended to accompany a Fernand Léger film, but was later adapted into a complete composition, using "eight pianos, pianola, eight xylophones, two electric doorbells, percussion, wind machine, and 'airplane propellor', (described as) 'an adapted fan with a forty-eight-inch reach, six vicious blades, and a capacity of 4,000 revolutions per minute'". The piece will make Antheil "internationally notorious".[143] The work may also be the "first use of (long periods of silence) for all instruments".[144]
  • Blind Lemon Jefferson begins making his first recordings, for Paramount Records, which include his first two hits, "Booster Blues" and "Dry Southern Blues". He will become "one of the most important and influential of the early bluesmen",[145] and his success will inspire record companies to search for more authentically rural styles of the blues.[146]
  • The American Society of Ancient Instruments is founded by Ben Stad, a Dutch violinist, in Philadelphia. It is the "first American ensemble known to have performed on period instruments". The original ensemble included a harpsichord, viols, Baroque violins and cellos.[147]
  • Roba Stanley becomes the first woman to record a solo country song, her most popular this year being "Single Life".[148]
  • Sam Wooding & His Orchestra begin performing outside the United States. Wooding will become one of Philadelphia's first internationally prominent jazz musician, and he will be the first African American to tour with a jazz band outside the country, and the first American to play jazz in the Soviet Union, tour South America and record in Europe.[149]
  • Ernest Van "Pop" Stoneman's "The Titanic" is one of the first major hits of what is now called country music. In this same year, Al Hopkins & the Hill Billies become the first country recording artists to record in New York, make a short film, base themselves in Washington, D.C., play for a president (Calvin Coolidge) and use a piano and Hawaiian guitar.[150]



  • Carl Sandburg publishes The American Songbag. He, along with compatriots like Edna Thomas, will become among the first major American urban folk performers.[170]
  • The United Booking Office of America on the East Coast combines with the Orpheum Circuit in the West.[171]
  • The second major radio network, CBS, is formed, followed by several minor regional networks, the Yankee Network and Don Lee Network among them.[64]
  • The Federal Radio Commission is formed.[64]
  • OKeh executive Ralph Peer records a wave of old-time musicians after letting it slip that Pop Stoneman had earned more than three thousand dollars in royalties the previous year; among those who come to seek their own fortune are the Carter Family, who will become wildly popular in the burgeoning country music industry,[19][172] and Jimmie Rodgers, who was the most influential figure in what was then known as hillbilly music.[173] These legendary recording sessions are often considered the historical foundation for country music.[2][174][175][176] Peer's codified the standard contractual arrangements between music publishers and performers with regards to session fees and songwriting remuneration.[177]
  • Roger Pryor Dodge begins transcribing the jazz solos; these transcriptions will be performed onstage, proving "that a sympathetic reading of hot solos from notation... lost nothing of the intrinsic beauty of the melodic line".[178]
  • Carl McVicker, Sr., a trumpeter, begins teaching at Westinghouse High School in Pittsburgh. He will teach Erroll Garner, Ahmad Jamall, Billy Strayhorn and Mary Lou Williams, all of whom help establish Pittsburgh as a center for the piano and home for many of the country's top pianists.[179]
  • Bix Beiderbecke makes a series of recordings with Frank Trumbauer; though Beiderbecke would remain fairly obscure during his lifetime, he will go on to be remembered as perhaps the first "legendary jazz musician". This reputation will be helped by the fact that he was white, rather than black, as were most respected jazz musicians of the time.[180]
  • Henry Cowell founds the quarterly periodical New Music, which helped expose, introduce and organize European and Russian music to American composers.[85]
  • Jerome Kern's musical Show Boat is a "watershed (that leaves) earlier, more loosely constructed musicals far behind".[26] Its major innovation is in using a well-developed plot, based on a novel by Edna Ferber, rather than appealing primarily in showy dancing, sets and catchy songs. It has been called the "first great American musical show".[181]
  • Blind Willie Johnson, one of the most legendary of blues singers, records for the first time.[182]
  • Jim Jackson's "Kansas City Blues" becomes one of the biggest early blues hits; both its melody and lyrics would influence later rhythm and blues and rock and roll records.[183]
  • The Federal Radio Commission is formed to regulate the fledgling radio industry.[59]
  • The WSM Barn Dance is renamed the Grand Ole Opry, which will become one of the major country music shows.[59]
  • Duke Ellington's career begins when he is hired a whites-only nightclub called the Cotton Club in Harlem. He will go on to develop one of the most distinctive styles in early jazz, combining elements of "sweet" dance bands, ragtime, stride and other genres. Trumpeter Bubber Miley creates a "growling" sound that becomes a characteristic element of Ellington's style, an element later adapted for the trombone by Tricky Sam Nanton.[124]
  • Flautist Alberto Socarras comes to New York, where he will become an important part of jazz history by bringing Afro-Cuban musical elements to the American jazz scene.[184]
  • A recording of "Blue Ridge Mountain Blues" by Al Hopkins & His Buckle Busters may be the first recording of twin fiddles in the field then known as hillbilly music, though the song is now considered an early classic of bluegrass.[185]
  • Arthur Smith begins performing for WBT, going on to become one of the most successful and innovative fiddlers of the era, the first to record the fiddle for listening rather than dancing.[186]
  • The Jazz Singer becomes the first motion picture with sound,[187] beginning the connection between music and cinema.[12] The film sets a historical precedent for the commercializing potential of a music star in a movie.[188]
  • The composer George Antheil is the subject of a concert, billed as "The Biggest Musical Event of the Year", and promoted by Ezra Pound and Donald Friede, which features his ultramodern works, ending with the "presumptive piece de resistance", Ballet mécanique, which turns out to be a "colossal flop". One review said that no piece had ever "(flopped) to earth with a more sickening and merited thud".[189]
  • Meade Lux Lewis records "Honky Tonk Train Blues", the first boogie woogie hit and an enduring classic of the piano blues.[62]
  • A major flood in Mississippi will become one of the most musically notable natural disasters in American history, subject of many blues and gospel songs, most famously Charley Patton's "High Water Everywhere" and Elder Edwards' "The 1927 Flood". This year's "Explosion in the Fairmount Mines" by Blind Alfred Reed, referring to a mining accident in West Virginia that resulted in more than 300 deaths, is perhaps the most popular of many songs about mining disasters released during this era.[190]
  • The Harry Fox Agency is founded to administer the royalties from mechanical rights, such as in the sale of piano rolls and gramophone records.[191]
  • The first car manufactured in the United States with a radio installed is created.[192]


Late 1920s music trends
  • Louis Armstrong becomes one of the most renowned and iconic figures in the world of jazz. His work during this period is a synthesis of African American folk song, the music of the cabarets and the veneration of virtuosity in the Chicago music scene.[193]
  • With the rise of talking pictures, the first movie musicals are released.[194]
  • The term skiffle comes into vogue to describe the blues played by jug bands.[195]
  • Interest in traditional American square dances peaks.[115]
  • Woody Guthrie spends time performing in Pampas, Texas, where he is exposed to Mexican and Tejano music. He will leave lasting influences on American folk and country music from these fields.[196]
  • The Communist International officially defines jazz as a "proletarian music", leading to an association between jazz and leftist politics in the United States.[197]
  • Jackson, Mississippi music store owner H. C. Speir becomes a talent scout for all the major record labels, and will be responsible for signing many of the major Mississippi bluesmen who will become famous later in the century.[198]
  • Spanish-language radio broadcasting begins, targeting Mexican Americans in California.[117]
  • A large accordion with twenty-one buttons and double rows becomes the standard equipment in the Tejano conjunto.[199]
  • Pianist Mary Lou Williams begins her professional performing career. She will be the first woman to be fully accepted in jazz circles.[200]
  • Both Italian American theater and vaudeville cease to dominate the musical life of Italian Americans.[201]
  • Viola Turpeinen begins recording commercially, making her the most successful of the early Finnish American entertainers.[96]
  • Though polka had commonly been performed in urban areas of the East and Midwest, the earliest organized, large polka bands are formed in this era.[13]
  • Mac and Bob, performers on the WLS radio station, popularize a style of duet singing accompanied by mandolin and guitar.[202]
  • Walt Disney begins releasing a series of cartoons, which will include the Silly Symphony series and Steamboat Willie, which are collectively one of the major elements in early film scores.[187]
  • A wave of influential blues performers move to urban areas, especially Chicago, from the rural South. These include Memphis Minnie, Scrapper Blackwell and Leroy Carr.[203]
  • Most radio broadcasting switches from locally produced material to nationally broadcast network programming, causing a decrease in the diversity of music on American radio.[204]\
  • Variety shows, a mixture of music, light entertainment and vocal music, becomes the most popular form of radio program in the country, led by the show of Ed Cantor.[205]



Early 1930s music trends
  • The creative peak of jazz in Kansas City,[21] as the "city becomes a magnet for black musicians", including touring bands from across the country, Delta and urban blues singers, and jazzmen from New Orleans and elsewhere. Major characteristics of the Kansas City jazz style include the use of repeated riffs, "short melodic ideas -- repeated again and again by the full ensemble, often in unison by the brasses and sometimes by the rhythm section to support solo improvisation", and the accenting of all four beats equally, rather than the first and third as in New Orleans jazz. The Kansas City style also influences the blues, which becomes "lustier and more powerful".[252]
  • Eva Jessye becomes one of the first "professional female choral conductors, black or white, in the United States", leading a choir on NBC and CBS.[38]
  • Chicago becomes the center for the blues record industry.[10]
  • Frank Sinatra begins performing; he will go on to become one of the first musical superstars and the first teen idol, and inspires a legion of Italian American performers.[201]
  • The end of the golden age of Finnish American entertainment, which was dominated by solo troubadours.[96]
  • Richard Ranger begins work on an organ, using photoelectric cells. This is one of the earliest electronic instruments created in the United States.[253]
  • Benjamin F. Miessner patents an electric piano, several models of which begin going into production in about 1935.[254]
  • Charles Davis Tillman sings his "Life's Railway to Heaven" coast-to-coast on the NBC Radio Network. He had originally published the song in 1910.[255]





Mid-1930s music trends
  • The era of greatest success for commercially recorded jubilee quartets begins.[304]
  • Ballroom-style polka becomes the dominant form of the music among Polish-American communities.[13]




Late 1930s music trends
  • The radio industry matures, beginning to more successfully focus on increasing market share rather than "abstract cultural good", diminishing the "demand for fine-art music and correspondingly (increasing) the demand for popular music".[59]
  • Big band swing music makes jazz a part of mainstream American pop. The popularity of swing ensembles inspires many jazz enthusiasts to focus on the improvisation and innovation, rather than the danceable pop sound of swing. This is the first form of popular music to be divided into separate realms of commercial and artistic success.[354] A number of jazz music journals also begin documenting the burgeoning genre of swing.[257]
  • Early record companies specializing in jazz appear, like Commodore HRS and Blue Note, as do the first of a steady stream of American books on jazz, including Frederic Ramsey and Charles E. Smith's Jazzman, Wilder Hobson's American Jazz Music and Henry Osgood's So This Is Jazz.[317]
  • Chicago becomes a "center for blues performance" in the city's large African-American community,[355] while a kind of piano-based blues called boogie-woogie becomes the most popular form of the blues.[10]
  • The Golden Gate Quartet becomes one of the most popular recording artists in the country, beginning the era of greatest popularity for gospel music.[356]
  • The term gospel comes to be applied to the genre now known as gospel music.[357]
  • Greenwich Village becomes a center for a burgeoning American folk music revival, and is home to renowned performers like Aunt Molly Jackson, Sarah Ogan and Jim Garland.[358]
  • The Hollywood musical settles on a format based around a "romantic comedy" with "four or five songs and a dance or two".[359]
  • The town of Lindsborg, Kansas begins holding public celebrations of Swedish culture; the town will become a center for Swedish American music later in the century.[96]
  • The piano accordion reaches its height of popularity, with many schools teaching the instrument and its repertoire, which depends in large part on Italian-derived music.[201]
  • The bands of Lu Watters, Eddie Condon and Bob Crosby become popular in New York City, inspiring a revival of interest in old-time New Orleans-style jazz that will peak at the end of the following decade.[360]
  • Sholom Secunda, a Yiddish theatre composer writes "Bay mir bist du sheyn", which becomes an unprecedented mainstream success.[299]
  • Sonny Terry, accompanying Blind Boy Fuller, popularizes the use of the harmonica in the blues.[361]
  • The importance of the tres in the Cuban son peaks, while Arsenio Rodríguez enjoys the height of his popularity; Rodriguez' main innovation is to incorporate the mambo, which is introduced in Cuba in this same era.[362]
  • The Wings Over Jordan Choir begins performing on radio, becoming one of the first major large choirs in gospel music.[363]




Early 1940s music trends
  • A period of jazz innovation begins to evolve in Harlem, led by a group of performers who clustered around Minton's Playhouse,[403] where they "experimented with new techniques and approaches, trading ideas with others of an innovative bent", "rooted in Swing Era practice but pushing beyond its norms of tonality and velocity".[404] This is an important part of the origin of bebop.[56]
  • Square dances regain popularity among mainstream Americans.[115]
  • Large record companies begin abandoning the "ethnic music" market, leading to the formation of many small labels targeting a specific ethnicity, such as Slavic Americans.[365]
  • Frank Sinatra becomes the first popular musician with a recognizable fanbase devoted to him specifically – the bobby soxers.[405]
  • Leopold Stokowski appears onscreen with Mickey Mouse in the movie Fantasia, becoming the "first conductor to achieve the status of entertainment star".[226]
  • Jazz audiences become increasingly interested in the history of jazz, as well as a "new field called discography (which dealt with jazz's) recorded 'documents', and a few European and American writers were reviewing jazz records critically in print".[257]
  • Billboard magazine begins publishing music charts, documenting the best-selling recordings of various categories.[406] The first song at number one is Tommy Dorsey and Frank Sinatra's "I'll Never Smile Again".[407]
  • Woody Guthrie first performs in New York City, his subsequent fame will help to inspire the American folk revival of the 1950s, 60s and 70s.[307] Guthrie records Dust Bowl Ballads this year; though the album is a commercial failure, it radically alters "how guitar pickers, record buyers and college professors approached folk music".[408] The album, recorded for Victor Records, is based on Guthrie's own experiences in the Dust Bowl.[190]
  • An early all-female gospel group, the Sallie Martin Singers, has one of its first major hits with "Just a Closer Walk With Thee".[369]
  • Supreme Court Justice Learned Hand rules that playing a record on the radio does not infringe copyright.[323]
  • A well-received performance at the Morning Star Baptist Church makes Mahalia Jackson the single biggest star in gospel music.[368]
  • Machito, a Cuban-American bandleader, forms an orchestra (Machito & His AfroCubans) that will mix jazz with elements of Cuban folk music; the orchestra's arrangements, by Mario Bauzá are a particularly important key to its success.[184][362]
  • Lydia Mendoza, the most popular Tejano music star of the era, retires. She will return to music in 1947.[409]
  • Duke Ellington and trumpeter Cootie Williams publish Concerto for Cootie, the "first real concerto in the jazz idiom".[410]
  • Sonny Boy Williamson I begins recording, with a drummer, creating a distinctive style that will become known as jump blues. Williamson will also define the solo blues harmonica.[411]
  • Gustave Reese's Music in the Middle Ages is the first well-received, major scholarly work on early music published in the United States.[147]
  • New York City police begin fingerprinting all employees of every club where music is performed; identification cards are given to musicians and are required for them to legally perform in any club. Many musicians are refused cards due to alleged dubious character, most often past narcotics charges.[412]
  • James Caesar Petrillo is elected leader of the American Federation of Musicians, and will lead the union on its strike later in the decade. He will become one of the most famous union leaders of the era.[413]
  • W. C. Handy becomes the subject of a radio show on NBC, the first such program completely devoted to the work of an African-American composer.[213]
  • The first jukeboxes with photos are introduced by Mills to show soundies, short films mixed with music performances and vaudeville or gymnastics acts.[303]






Mid-1940s music trends
  • The Roberta Martin Singers adds two female performers, making it the "first combination of male and female voices in one ensemble". The Singers were performing and recording in New York, working with independent labels that focused on jazz and rhythm and blues.[454]
  • The end of the creative peak of jazz in Manhattan.[21]
  • Square dances have become an integral part of American culture, and is part of the physical education curriculum in many schools.[115]
  • A thirty-one-treble-button accordion with triple rows becomes the dominant form of the instrument used in the Tejano corrido; specifically the Hohner Corona II and Gabbanelli are popular kinds of accordion.[199]
  • Walter Solek introduces English language polkas to the Polish American repertoire.[13]


Late 1940s music trends
  • Record companies begin more fiercely competing for radio airtime.[406]
  • The first radio stations aimed exclusively at black listeners begin in the South, especially Atlanta, Louisville, Memphis, Los Angeles, St. Louis, New Orleans, Nashville and Miami.[474]
  • Paul Bigsby creates an electric guitar for Merle Travis, a country singer. Though the exact date is not known, it may be among the earliest solid body electric guitars.[261]
  • Eddie Jefferson becomes the first prominent performer of vocalese, songs in which new vocal tracks are set to instrumental jazz recordings.[475][476][477]
  • The "idea that music could have an essence separate from the way it sounded in performance", an idea long seen as exclusive to Western classical music, comes to be applied to jazz through performers like Charlie Parker, focusing on "creation and performance, in the manner of classical musicians letting reception take care of itself"[21]
  • Many country performers begin experimenting with a pedal steel, a steel guitar on a stand set up so that the guitarist can change pitches and chords.[49]
  • The Old Regular Baptists of Jesus Christ, a small sect in eastern Kentucky, move in large numbers to Indiana, Michigan and Ohio. They preserve traditional Christian music techniques derived from 18th century New England, such as the heterophonic performance of monophonic tunes and the lining out of hymns.[478]
  • George Herzog sets up the Archives of Traditional Music at Indiana University, which will be the largest ethnographic archive in an American university.[209]
  • Inspired by pioneer Bill Monroe and his band, a generation of younger prformers, many of them working-class and frequently migrants from rural areas to cities, form a number of important proto-bluegrass bands.[479]
  • The technology behind electric loudspeakers and amplifiers begins progressing rapidly.[60]
  • Gospel jubilee singing groups end their last period of great popularity within the field of African-American Christian music.[480]
  • The genre now known as rock and roll begins to reach its breakthrough form.[481]
  • The guitar becomes the most prominent instrument in the blues.[10]
  • The nascent bebop jazz scene comes to include a number of defining cultural characteristics, including the "unfortunate fashionability of heroin", which was inspired, in large part, by the success of addict Charlie Parker, the use of African-American vernacular-derived slang, and criticism of the racial politics of the era.[124]
  • The independent record labels that dominate the African-American music industry begin targeting the growing teenage demographic by signing performers from that age group. Jesse Stone and Dave Bartholomew are among the legendary talent scouts from this era.[371]
  • Tony de la Rosa adds the drum set to the Tejano conjunto style, forever changing the genre's sound; he will later add amplification and the bass to the field.[199]
  • German American bands begin performing in a manner influenced by swing and jazz.[13]
  • Slovenian American dance bands, until now dominated entirely by the accordion, come to include banjo, string bass and drum set.[13]
  • The accordion polka craze in the United States peaks.[13]
  • The Holocaust has several effects on Jewish music in the United States, namely leading to a decline in Yiddish language music and a rise in cantors being trained at home rather than in Europe.[299]
  • Turkish Armenian 'ud player Oudi Harrant moves to the United States, becoming one of the most popular Middle Eastern musicians in the country.[98]
  • The Yale Collegium, though not the first of its kind, is the most influential in beginning the American collegium movement, and is an important early institution in American early music.[147]
  • A series of country boogie hits - country songs with an uptempo beat – become popular, including recordings like Tennessee Ernie Ford's "Shot Gun Boogie" and "Blackberry Boogie".[482]
  • The term hi-fi, referring to high fidelity, comes into use, associated with the spread of LPs.[483]
  • Latin jazz musicians like Chano Pozo and Juan Tizol develop a style known as Cubop.[114]


  • The Audio Engineering Society is formed to organize the recording and audio-science professions and hold technology conventions.[484]
  • The Grand Ole Opry sends a band led by Ernest Tubb to New York to be the first country band to be featured at Carnegie Hall.[392]
  • The sung station identification jingle is used.[338]
  • Wynonie Harris' "Good Rockin' Tonight" becomes a major hit and popularizes the word rock, heralding "a new era in American popular culture".[485]
  • Jean Ritchie, a major figure of the American roots revival, begins performing in a rural style in New York.[486]
  • When the major radio networks, CBS, NBC and Mutual, begin focusing more on television than radio, they cease pressuring the FCC to limit the number of radio stations in each market. The result is more fragmentation in the radio industry, and stations that target niche markets, such as African Americans.[481]
  • The Ravens become one of the first African-American groups to reach the pop charts.[481]
  • Jazz musician and composer Thelonious Monk makes a number of famous recordings, making him a favorite among many other jazz artists at the time, but he will not receive mainstream accolades until the late 1950s.[124]
  • Tito Puente and Tito Rodríguez form the own bands, an important milestone in the early evolution of mambo, a Cuban-derived dance music.[184]
  • One of the most successful performers of Afro-Cuban music is Miguelito Valdez, who forms his own band this year.[362]
  • Three hundred Indonesian seamen desert their ship in New York, seeking residence in the United States; though it requires a court battle, they are successful, marking the beginning of Indonesian immigration.[487]
  • The College Music Society is founded.[82]
  • The transistor is created at Bell Telephone Laboratories.[192]
  • Arthur Farwell's arrangement of a Navajo dance for chorus a cappella, created for the Westminster Choir and first directed by John Finlay Williamson is "remarkable for its unique combination of tribal authenticity and concert effectiveness".[488]
  • WERD, the first African American-owned radio station in the United States, is founded by Jesse B. Blayton.[489]
  • La Carrousel, one of the longest-lived nightclubs in the country, first opens. It soon becomes the premier jazz club in Atlanta.[490]



  • Alan Lomax's work on Jelly Roll Morton constitutes the first biography of a musician to be executed as a serious historical appraisal.[506]
  • Alfred Einstein's The Italian Madrigal is the first comprehensive work on the madrigal.[507]
  • Billboard magazine begins using the term rhythm and blues to describe African-American popular music, formerly race music, and country and western to describe what was formerly folk music.[371][508][509] This is the first usage of the term rhythm and blues in the popular music industry.[14]
  • Dewey Phillips begins broadcasting the Red Hot 'n' Blue radio show in Memphis, bringing the "savage sound of the Delta blues to Memphians of all races".[510]
  • The Clara Ward Singers release "Surely God Is Able", a popular song that was one of the first in gospel to be in three-quarter, or waltz-time.[438]
  • Dave Carey and Albert McCarthy begin publishing the Jazz Directory, the first published discography to organize entries by matrix-number. The work was intended to be comprehensive, but will never be published beyond the letter "L", because the rise of the LP led to a proliferation of a recorded music, making a comprehensive directory impractical.[353]
  • The federal government begins to offer incentives to Native Americans to move to urban areas; the policy promotes the intertribal mixing, stimulating the growth of the powwow.[511]
  • Hank Williams joins the Grand Ole Opry, helping to define country music for a legion of new listeners.[59]
  • William Grant Still's Troubled Island is the first "full-length opera by a black composer mounted by a major American company", premiering with the New York City Opera this year.[14][38]
  • Marian Anderson's performance of "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" at Carnegie Hall gives national attention to its composer, Howard Swanson (text by Langston Hughes), who "consciously integrated African-American musical idioms into the neoclassical forms he created".[38]
  • Miles Davis' Birth of the Cool launches his solo career, creating a new style with a number of like-minded musicians, characterized by an emphasis on "coloristic timbral effects achieved through unusual pairings of instruments..., no vibrato, and a seamless integration of written and improvised music".[124] This is the beginning of cool jazz and chamber jazz.[512]
  • Fats Domino's "The Fat Man" is the first in a series of hits made under the guidance of Dave Bartholomew, who innovated the New Orleans rhythm and blues style.[371]
  • Lionel "Chica" Sesma is hired by KOWL in Los Angeles to host a bilingual program that will soon switch to focus exclusively on Latin music; Sesma will become "synonymous with Latin dance music throughout" the 1950s and 60s.[117]
  • Sam Phillips opens a studio in Memphis, where he will record many of the most influential performers of the 1950s, including Elvis Presley, Ike Turner and Howlin' Wolf.[513]
  • The band of Tito Rodríguez achieves great success, with Rodriguez becoming one of the first major Puerto Rican stars in the New York Latin music scene and his band becoming a leader of the Palladium Dance Hall era and an important group in the international popularization of Caribbean-derived dance music.[362]
  • Tito Puente's band, the Mambo Boys, has their first hit with "Abanico", establishing Puente's career; he is known for having brought his groups percussion section to the forefront, which will become the standard for Cuban dance bands in the United States until the 1990s.[362]
  • One of the most enduring and popular Estonian American music groups, the New York Estonian Male Chorus is formed.[96]
  • The family of Walter Raudkivi-Stein settles in Baltimore, soon establishing themselves as the giants of the American kannel-manufacturing industry.[96]
  • The establishment of the People's Republic of China leads to a schism between Chinese Americans and Chinese in China, with many Chinese intellectuals stranded in the United States. The Chinese American music community becomes polarized as a result, with separate communities of upper-class intellectuals, working classes and various linguistic or ethnic groups, each developing distinct musical traditions.[246]
  • Leo Ornstein's Living Music of the Americas is the "first publication to cover the entire spectrum of musical composition in the Western Hermisphere".[514]
  • William Herbert Brewster, Sr.'s "Surely God Is Able" is a successful early example of Brewster's main innovation in his gospel career: popularizing the use of triplets.[515]
  • The cast recording of Oklahoma! becomes the first LP to sell a million copies.[499]


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  515. ^ Southern, p. 462.

Further reading[edit]

  • Blesh, Rudi. Shining Trumpets: A History of Jazz. New York: Knopf. 
  • Carey, Dave (1949–1957). The Directory of Recorded Jazz and Swing Music. Fordingbridge, Hampshire/London: Delphic Press/Cassell. 
  • Cassidy, Donna (1997). Painting the Musical City: Jazz and Cultural Identity in American Art, 1910–1940. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press. 
  • Delauney, Charles. Hot Discography. Paris: Jazz Hot. 
  • DeVeaux, Scott (1997). The Birth of Bebop: A Social and Musical History. Berkeley, California: University of California Press. 
  • Samuel A. Floyd Jr., ed. (1990). Black Music in the Harlem Renaissance: A Collection of Essays. New York: Westport. 
  • Glasser, Ruth. My Music Is My Flag: Puerto Rican Musicians and Their New York Communities, 1917–1940. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. 
  • Lomax, Alan (New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1949). Mister Jelly Roll: The Fortunes of Jelly Roll Morton, New Orleans Creole and 'Inventor of Jazz'. New York: Pantheon Books.  Check date values in: |year= (help)
  • Frederic Ramsey Jr.; Charles Edward Smith, eds. (1939). Jazzmen. Harcourt Brace. 
  • Rust, Brian. Jazz Records, A-Z, 1932–1942. Hatch End, Middlesex: The author. 
  • Schleman, Hilton (1936). Rhythm on Record: Who's Who and Register of Recorded Dance Music, 1906–1936. London: Melody Maker. 
  • Schuller, Gunther. The Swing Era: The Development of Jazz, 1930–1945. New York: Oxford University Press. 
  • Stowe, David W. (1994). Swing Changes: Big Band Jazz in New Deal America. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.