Traditional pop music

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Traditional pop (also classic pop or pop standards) music consists of Western (and particularly American) popular music that generally pre-dates the advent of rock and roll in the mid-1950s. Traditional/classic pop music is generally regarded as having existed between the mid-1940s and mid-1950s. AllMusic defines traditional pop as "post-big band and pre-rock & roll pop music." This definition is disputed by many scholars, however, as many of the most popular works of Cole Porter and those of George and Ira Gershwin pre-date World War II, while the works of Irving Berlin and Jerome Kern date to World War I.

The most popular and enduring songs from this style of music are known as pop standards or (where relevant) American standards. More generally, the term "standard" can be applied to any popular song that has become very widely known within mainstream culture.

The works of these songwriters and composers are usually considered part of the canon known as the "Great American Songbook".


Classic pop includes the song output of the Broadway, Tin Pan Alley, and Hollywood show tune writers from approximately World War I to the 1950s, such as Irving Berlin, Victor Herbert, Harry Warren, Harold Arlen, Jerome Kern, George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin, Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, Oscar Hammerstein, Johnny Mercer, Dorothy Fields, Hoagy Carmichael, Cole Porter and many of others.

Mid-1940s to mid-1950s: Height of popularity[edit]

The swing era made stars of many popular singers including the young Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Dinah Shore, Jo Stafford, Perry Como, Peggy Lee, Patti Page, and David Whitfield. Two notable innovations were the addition of string sections and orchestral arrangements and more emphasis on the vocal performance.[1] The addition of lush strings can be heard in much of the popular music throughout the 1940s and 1950s. In the early 1950s as the dominance of swing gave way to the traditional pop music era, many of the vocalists associated with swing bands became even more popular, and were central figures in popular music.

Late 1950s to 1960s: Decline of traditional pop[edit]

In the late 1950s, rock became a popular and prominent musical style. However, some pop singers who had been popular during the swing era or traditional pop music period were still big stars (i.e. Frank Sinatra, Doris Day, Ella Fitzgerald, and Dinah Shore).

Some of these vocalists faded with traditional pop music, while many vocalists became involved in 1960s' vocal jazz and the rebirth of "swing music"; the swing music of the 1960s is sometimes referred to as easy listening and was, in essence, a revival of popularity of the "sweet" bands that had been popular during the swing era, but with more emphasis on the vocalist. Like the Swing Era, it too featured many songs of the Great American Songbook. Much of this music was made popular by Nelson Riddle and television friendly singers like Rosemary Clooney, Dean Martin, and the cast of Your Hit Parade. Many artists made their mark with pop standards, particularly vocal jazz and pop singers like Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra,[2] Doris Day, Frankie Laine, Nat King Cole (originally known for his jazz piano virtuosity),[2] Lena Horne, Tony Bennett, Vic Damone, Johnny Mathis,[3] Bobby Darin,[4] Barbra Streisand, Peggy Lee, Sammy Davis, Jr., Mel Tormé, Sarah Vaughan, Eydie Gormé, Andy Williams, Nancy Wilson, Jack Jones, Rita Reys, Steve Lawrence and Cleo Laine.

In addition to the vocal jazz and/or 1960s swing music, many of these singers were involved in "less swinging," more traditional, vocal pop music during this period as well, namely Sinatra and Cole.

Advent of rock and roll[edit]

With the growing popularity of rock and roll in the 1950s, much of what baby boomers considered to be their parents' music, traditional pop, was pushed aside. Popular music sung by Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee and their contemporaries was relegated in the 1960s and 1970s to Las Vegas club acts and elevator music.

In 1983 singer Linda Ronstadt, a popular female vocalist,[5][6] elected to change direction.[7] She collaborated with legendary orchestra leader Nelson Riddle and released a hugely successful album of standards from the 1940s and 1950s, What's New. It reached #3 on the Billboard pop chart, won a Grammy, and inspired Ronstadt to team up with Riddle for two more albums: 1984's Lush Life and 1986's For Sentimental Reasons.[8] The gamble paid off, as all three albums became hits, the international concert tours were a success and Riddle picked up a few more Grammys in the process. Ronstadt's determination to produce these albums exposed a new generation to the sounds of the pre-swing and swing eras.[9]

Since then, other rock/pop stars have occasionally found success recording traditional pop music, including Cyndi Lauper, Sheena Easton, Queen Latifah, Willie Nelson, Fiona Apple, Joan Osborne, Rita Coolidge, Rod Stewart, and Lady Gaga, all of whom have made forays into this once-shunned territory.

In recent times, there appears to have been a union of rock n roll with traditional pop, as many current pop stars and musicians use rock and roll instrumentation but with arrangements and compositions in the spirit of predecessors from the earlier era. An example of this is vocalist Michael Bublé's interpretation of The Beatles' rock and roll hit "Can't Buy Me Love", performed in more traditional pop arrangement.

Current adherence to traditional pop[edit]

The appearance of the lounge subculture in the mid-1990s in the United States helped to enhance the revival and interest in the music, style, and performers of popular music before rock and roll. Many contemporary performers have worked in the style of classic pop and/or easy listening swing, including Harry Connick, Jr., Linda Ronstadt, Michael Bublé, Diana Krall, Stacey Kent, John Pizzarelli, Ray Reach, Karrin Allyson, Madeleine Peyroux, Jane Monheit, Maude Maggart, as well as those known as cabaret singers such as Andrea Marcovicci and Bobby Short.

Singers and groups associated with traditional pop[edit]

Male singers

Female singers

Male groups

Female groups

Mixed gender groups

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Gilliland, John (1994). Pop Chronicles the 40s: The Lively Story of Pop Music in the 40s (audiobook). ISBN 978-1-55935-147-8. OCLC 31611854. 
  2. ^ a b c d Gilliland, John (1969). "Smack Dab in the Middle on Route 66: A skinny dip in the easy listening mainstream" (audio). Pop Chronicles.  Show 22.
  3. ^ a b Gilliland 1969, show 23.
  4. ^ Gilliland 1969, show 13.
  5. ^ "Rolling Stone". Rock's Venus. Archived from the original on August 8, 2007. Retrieved May 4, 2007. 
  6. ^ "Work's out fine, best female voice in rock and roll". The Daily News. Retrieved May 4, 2007. 
  7. ^ "The Linda Ronstadt Interview". Time. Retrieved April 9, 2007. 
  8. ^ "Family Week". Linda Ronstadt: The Gamble Pays off Big. Archived from the original on October 22, 2006. Retrieved April 9, 2007. 
  9. ^ "Jerry Jazz Musician". The Peter Levinson Interview. Retrieved May 4, 2007. 
  10. ^ Gilliland 1969, shows 15-16.
  11. ^ Gilliland 1969, show 17.
  12. ^ Gilliland 1969, show 6.
  13. ^ a b Gilliland 1969, show 2.
  14. ^ Gilliland 1969, show 55.
  15. ^ Gilliland 1969, show 11.

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