Stephen Foster

The Birth of an American Identity

Episode 1

Episode date - October 13, 2006

How Music Changed

    With today’s show, we will attempt to explain how America developed a musical identity of its own, featuring songs by Stephen Foster, Louis Moreau Gottschalk, Scott Joplin and James P. Johnson.

    The first European settlers coming to the new world were not exactly enthralled with the ‘music’ they heard from Native Americans. The Pilgrims and the Puritans didn’t exactly dance their way across the Atlantic, either. With strong ideas about the intrinsic evil of music and dance, America’s musical development happened very, very slowly. Initially, there were little more than the religious songs published in prayer books. Interestingly, these songs eventually infiltrated the slave culture, who were usually converted to Christianity. Eventually, the Negro slaves incorporated the European themes to their own traditions, resulting in something quite different from the staid original source. Elsewhere, expansion provided the opportunity for traveling shows, and vaudeville became a common form of entertainment, along with ‘camp meetings’. 

    Stephen Foster, a northerner who wrote songs romanticizing the southern American way of life, became the first American to earn a living through songwriting. Louis Moreau Gottschalk, a New Orleans resident, published music that blended the French, Spanish, and African influences of New Orleans.

    All these sounds would eventually find its way to the ears of a Texas-born African-American named Scott Joplin. In time, his music ignited a craze for popular music that heretofore had been unknown in America. His syncopated style of piano-based melodic rhythms became known as Ragtime, and it provided the soundtrack for an entire era. Soon, players added their own ideas, improvising new phrases and rhythms that propelled the music even further. Some people disparagingly referred to this improvised style as ‘jass’ music, or ‘jazz’. By incorporating the feel of jazz onto the structural elements of ragtime, a style known as ‘stride’ rose to prominence, and it would provide much of the soundtrack for ‘the jazz age’.

    Here is a list of songs from today’s show;

    A Traditional Indian Pow-Wow – Renzel Last Horse and Kiyaksa

    The Rivers of Babylon – The Melodians (excerpt)

    Old Folks at Home – Paul Robeson (excerpt)

    Oh Susannah! – The Byrds (excerpt)

    Oh Susannah! – Taj Mahal (excerpt)

    Camptown Races – Al Jolsen (excerpt)

    The Banjo – Louis Moreau Gottschalk

    Wallflower Waltz (a Cakewalk) – L.M. Gottschalk

    Swipesy (a Cakewalk) – Scott Joplin (excerpt)

    Solace – Scott Joplin

    The Entertainer – Scott Joplin

    Maple Leaf Rag (piano roll) - Scott Joplin (excerpt)

    Maple Leaf Rag – Jelly Roll Morton

    Carolina Shout – James P. Johnson

    The Charleston – James P. Johnson

    Meet De Boys on the Battlefront – Anders Osborne and “Big Chief” Monk Boudreaux