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Music of the United States (1940s and 50s)

In the 1940s, the major strands of American music combined to form rock and roll. Based most strongly off an electric guitar-based version of the Chicago blues, rock also incorporated jazz, country, folk, swing and other types of music; in particular, bebop jazz and boogie woogie blues were in vogue and greatly influenced the music's style. It had developed by 1949, and quickly became popular among blacks nationwide (see 1949 in music). Mainstream success was slow to develop, though (in spite of early success with Bill Haley & the Comets' "Rock Around the Clock"), and didn't begin in earnest until Elvis Presley ("Hound Dog"), a white man, began singing rock, R&B and rockabilly songs in a devoted black style. He quickly became the most famous and best-selling artist in American history, and a watershed point in the development of music.

 This article is the second in the 
Music of the United States series.
 before 1940
 Diversification and the rise
of rock (1940s and 50s)
 1960s and 70s
 1980s to the present
 African-American music
 Native American music
 Latin, Tejano, Hawaiian,
Cajun, Puerto Rican and other immigrants

Table of contents
1 1940s
2 Gospel and doo wop



In 1938, Bill Monroe formed the Blue Grass Boys (named after his native state of Kentucky, the blue grass state) and combined diverse influences into Appalachian folk music. These include Scottish, Irish and Eastern European folk, as well as blues, jazz and gospel. Monroe became the father of bluegrass music, and his band was a training ground for most of bluegrass' future stars, especially Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. Scruggs and Flatt popularized bluegrass as part of the Foggy Mountain Boys, which they formed in 1948. Though bluegrass never quite achieved mainstream status, it did become well-known through its use in several soundtracks, including the T.V. theme song for The Beverly Hillbillies and the movies Bonnie and Clyde and Deliverance. In the 1950s, bluegrass artists included Stanley Brothers, Osborne Brothers and Jimmy Martin's Sunny Mountain Boys.

Close harmony and a folk revival

Close harmony duets had grown popular in the 1940s, and were made mainstream in the mid-1950s by the Louvin Brothers. This inspired Pete Seeger's brother, Mike Seeker, who formed the New Lost City Ramblers who played traditional Appalachian folk music and helped popularize it. This became known as old-time music, and paralleled the rise of "folk singers", singer-songwriters who played updated versions of the same music. The old-time phenomenon also led to the rediscovery of musicians like Doc Watson, Dock Boggs, Roscoe Holcomb and Clarence Ashley. Some, including Watson, got their career revitalized after the 1961 Newport Folk Festival.

Country music

The 1950s also saw the popular dominance of the Nashville sound in country music, and the beginning of popular folk music with groups like The Weavers. Country's Nashville sound was slick and soulful, and a movement of rough honky tonk developed in a reaction against the mainstream orientation of Nashville. This movement was centered in Bakersfield, California with musicians like Buck Owens ("Act Naturally"), Merle Haggard ("Sing a Sad Song") and Wynn Stewart ("It's Such a Pretty World Today") helping to define the sound among the community, made up primarily of Oklahoman immigrants to California, who had fled unemployment and drought. A similarly hard-edged sound also arose in Lubbock, Texas (Lubbock sound).

Roots revival

By the late 1950s, a revival of Appalachian folk music was taking place across the country, and bands like The Weavers were paving the way for future mainstream stars like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. Bluegrass was similarly revitalized and updated by artists including Tony Rice, Clarence White, Richard Green, Bill Keith and David Grisman. The Dillards, however, were the ones to break bluegrass into mainstream markets in the early 1960s.

Gospel and doo wop

Following World War 2, gospel began its golden age. Artists like the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi, The Swan Silvertones, Clara Ward Singers and Sensational Nightingales became stars across the country; other early artists like Sam Cooke, Dionne Warwick, Dinah Washington, Johnny Taylor, Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston and Wilson Pickett began their career in gospel quartets during this period, only to achieve even greater fame in the 60s as the pioneers of soul music, itself a secularized, R&B-influenced form of gospel. Mahalia Jackson and The Staple Singers were undoubtedly the most successful of the golden age gospel artists.

Doo wop

In addition, doo wop achieved widespread popularity in the 1950s. Doo wop was a harmonically complex style of choral singing that developed in cities like Chicago, New York, and, most importantly, Baltimore. Groups like The Crows ("Gee"), The Ventures ("Walk-Don't Run"), The Orioles ("It's Too Soon to Know") and Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers ("Why Do Fools Fall in Love") had a string of hit songs that brought the genre to chart domination by 1958 (see [1958 in music]]).

Latin music

Cuban mambo, chachachá and charanga bands enjoyed brief periods of popularity, and helped establish a viable Latin-American music industry, which led the way to the invention of salsa music among Cubans and Puerto Ricans in New York City in the 1970s. The 50s also saw success for Mexican ranchera divas, while a Mexican-American mariachi scene was developing on the West Coast], and Puerto Rican plena, Brazilian bossa nova and other Latin genres became popular.

Mexican-Texans had been playing conjunto music for decades by the end of World War 2, female duos created the first popular style of Mexican-American music, música norteña. Mexican romantic ballads called bolero were also popular, especially singers like the Queen of the Bolero, Chelo Silva. In the mid-1950s, when Mexican ranchera was used in Hollywood film soundtracks and the upper-class enjoyed stately orquestas Tejanas and conjunto evolved into a distinctively Mexican-American genre called Tejano. Artists of this era include Esteban Jordan, Tony de la Rosa and El Conjunto Bernal.

Cajun and Creole music

The 1940s saw a return to the roots of Cajun music, led by Irvy LeJeune, Nathan Abshire and other artists, alongside musicians who incorporated rock and roll, including Laurence Walker and Aldus Roger. In the late 1940s, Clifton Chenier, a Creole, began playing an updated form of la la called zydeco. Zydeco was briefly popular among some mainstream listeners during the 1950s. Artists like Boozoo Chavis, Queen Ida, Rockin' Dopsie and Rockin' Sidney have continued to bring zydeco to national audiences in the following decades. Zydeco shows major influences from rock, and artists lke Beau Jocque have combined other influences, including hip hop.