How American Roots Tunes Helped Shape Modern Music

Everybody has his or her own, unique taste in music. Sure, you’ll find people with similar preferences, but your taste in music is like your fingerprint – no one’s is exactly like yours.

Music helps to tell us who we are, and it’s been an integral part of life for most of us since the first rhythmic arrangement was played. It’s a constant a flow of water, and something about that stream connects us to the past. American Roots Music is made up of all the other genres that came first, embodying the true American spirit, which stems from an amalgamation of all creeds and cultures.

American Roots laid a foundation for the blues, where musicians in Georgia held contests to find out who could play the best “Turkey and Straw.” In New Orleans, the jazz trumpet sounds of Louis Armstrong echoed through music halls, and in Nashville, a famous fiddler organized the first folk festival. Further down south, African American musicians, who praised their faith with remarkable vocal abilities and heavenly harmonies, were pioneering new and innovative combinations of jazz and blues. It wasn’t one specific instrument or genre – it was a mix of everything, which resulted in the creation of the ever-evolving melting pot that is American Roots music.

In 1929 when the Great depression hit, people needed a way to  cope with the economic turmoil and music was an outlet that helped them endure the misery. As a result, radio became increasingly popular as both a source for news and free music. Record sales plummeted because no one could afford to buy hard copies but radio flourished.

WSM, (the Grand Ole Opry), which is currently the longest-running radio broadcast in U.S. history, started as a one-hour radio “barn dance.” Its ongoing tenure aided in the development of music in the United States. In the 1930s the show began hiring professionals and expanded to four hours. Then WSM, made the program a 6pm Saturday night musical tradition in nearly 30 states, revolutionizing the entire dynamic of receiving and listening to music and/or news.

The Grand Ole Opry stages skits and acts of various famous singers and comedic performers. As the venue grew, they managed to find a hidden gem in Roy Acuff, who became the first big star to come from the radio station. He went on to become the first King of Country music and added entertaining more routines to his performances. On the other side of the spectrum, the syncopated melodies and groovy sounds of early 20th century Ragtime were taking the music scene by storm. Scott Joplin “Maple Leaf Rag” and Jelly Roll Morton are among the most well-known ragtime geniuses, and their music bled into to the blues through artists such as Bessie Smith, a famous female blues singer who was sought out by big bands for her heartfelt vocals.

Why is this all relevant to today’s musical culture? Simply put, American Roots music provided the foundation for music we listen to today. Without the lasting traditions of ragtime, soul, jazz, blues and folk, we would likely never have experienced pop, rock, country, hip-hop, R&B and EDM.

Although music and its technologies have advanced over the years, the roots of modern tunes have held steadfast, and inspire the production of beats, lyrics, and generally everything about what we listen to today. Some artists like Kanye West, Chance the Rapper and Beyoncé sing of God on occasion. Others are openly integrating hard, gritty sounds of soul into artistically crafted albums that not only focus on the rise of the individual, but also touch upon the sociopolitical intricacies of our society. It is not just music anymore – it’s part of our identity. It is our roots that let us create, think and express our views to those around the world.