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How did popular music set off?

Patriotic songs in the American Revolution were the first manifestation of mass popular music. They spread through all the colonies by means of cheap prints, reaching homes and battlefields.

Later on, during the Civil War, soldiers from across the country mixed with each other and they ended up sharing all types of melodies, instruments, and techniques. Thus, the first proper American songs emerged.

2nd South Carolina String Band – Dixie’s Land (1996)

Song credited to composer Daniel Decatur Emmett in 1859. Dedicated to the southern states of North America, it was one of the most popular songs before and during the Civil War.

Dan Emmett wrote the song for a musical show and in it he criticized the slavery practiced in Dixie’s land or southern states. Published in 1860 in New York, it became a hit and one of President Abraham Lincoln’s favourite songs. Shortly after, the lyrics were changed for a performance in a New Orleans show, which made this new version spread throughout the South. Ironically, it became the anthem of the Confederate States of America and caused Emmet’s repudiation for it.

The first genre?

The first distinctly American musical genre was the misntrel show, whose greatest splendor was witnessed between 1840 and 1900. It combined English opera with black music from the plantations of the south.

It began by being performed by white actors who painted their faces to imitate the blacks in a comical way and with airs of superiority. Later on, black actors were admitted, with the condition of having to paint their faces and exaggerate their blackness.

Frank Luther – Oh, Dem Golden Slippers (1929)

This is a song composed by James A. Bland that became very popular in the 19th century through the minstrel show. Previously, it had been released by The Snowden Family Band.

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Officially, the minstrel show was invented by Dan Emmett and his company, The Virginia Minstrels. From this genre, the first prestigious composers in the history of American music would emerge. However, later studies place an African-American music group, called The Snowden Family Band, as the creators of a primeval and show business music in which they performed their compositions in a tone of the taste of the white audience. These songs would have been recorded by composers of the minstrel show.

Other genres?

From 1850 onwards, the genre of military marches took hold.  Composer John Philip Sousa’s band,  who had led the United States Navy band and composed Stars and Stripes Forever, stands out.

A variant of African-American dance called cakewalk, which emerged from the gigas of traditional music, also became popular. From its evolution, at the end of the century, ragtime will appear which, in turn, will influence the development of jazz.

Victor Dance Orchestra – The Cake Walk in the Sky: Ethiopian Two-Step (1905)

Version of a song composed by Ben Harney and arranged by F.W. Meacham for orchestra in 1899. It was a great success that started the transition from cakewalk to ragtime.

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The slaves of the southern plantations developed, around the middle of the 19th century, a fun dance called The chalk line walk, which mixed the Seminole Indian custom of solemnly walking in pairs with a series of African dance movements and the parody of the mannerism of the upper-class whites in the dance halls. Quickly, a white version of The chalk line walk became part of the minstrels shows and was called cakewalk. This dance spread all over the world in the early 20th century.