America's Musical Pulse: Popular Music in Twentieth-Century Society

America's Musical Pulse: Popular Music in Twentieth-Century Society

America's Musical Pulse: Popular Music in Twentieth-Century Society

America's Musical Pulse: Popular Music in Twentieth-Century Society

Synopsis

Popular music may be viewed as primary documents of society, and America's Musical Pulse documents the American experience as recorded in popular sound. Whether jazz, blues, swing, country, or rock, the music, the impulse behind it, and the reaction to it reveal the attitudes of an era or generation. Always a major preoccupation of students, music is often ignored by teaching professionals, who might profitably channel this interest to further understandings of American history and society. In this interdisciplinary collection, topics concerning twentieth-century popular music are related to issues of politics, class, economics, race, gender, and the social context. The focus throughout is to encourage investigation of the complex issues behind the music.

Excerpt

A short time ago, as I was lecturing to freshman-level American history students on class, race, and politics during the early twentieth century, I noticed that much of what I was saying was not hitting home. The students had difficulty grasping the concept that American society was restrictive concerning these issues, and they were particularly unaware of any presentday divisions. In desperation, I began talking about their preferences in popular music. Some preferred rock, others rap, and still others country, easy listening, or jazz, but all of them had an opinion concerning the music of their choice. When I asked them why there were so many different kinds of popular music, they said "to meet the people's needs." When I asked why and how these needs were created or what part history, economics, or racism played in the process, there was silence. After a few questions and a short discussion on the development of rock music, we returned to the original topic regarding the barriers between race, class, and politics and how jazz, country, blues, and swing helped both to perpetuate and destroy these divisions.

America's Musical Pulse: Popular Music in Twentieth Century Society is a result of that lecture transition. The book contains twenty-eight chapters from educators and scholars in history, communications, media, music, sociology, political science, and English, as well as a few professional writers. The topics chosen do not represent the only significant aspects of popular music but examine those topics that traditionally have received the most attention. The focus of these essays, as diverse and at times contradictory as they are, is to nudge readers to think of the more complex issues behind the popular sound. Too often popular music is ignored by teaching professionals, because many view the music as base or not a proper cultural pursuit, but I suggest that such views stem from lack of understanding; therefore, America's Musical Pulse is as much for teachers as for students.

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