Music of the United States

Davidson College, Fall 2015

Category: wiki (Page 1 of 5)


“Crooning” was a term given to a type of intimate, emotional singing style that developed around 1930.  Crooning was made possible by the invention of the microphone.  Older generations largely opposed crooning, seeing it as overly sensual and corrupt.  In fact, the term “crooning” was given to this style in derision.  Popular crooners include Rudy Vallee and Bing Crosby.  Although crooning usually refers to men, there were some women who also employed this style.


The microphone is a device that converts sound waves into electrical energy, which can then be amplified or recorded.  The microphone’s invention is often credited to Emile Berliner in 1876, although David Edward Hughes and Thomas Edison also have claims to its invention.  The microphone had a profound impact on music, allowing for more intimate records and also improving the quality of live performances.  Since its invention, several other forms of microphone have been developed, such as the ribbon microphone and the fiber optic microphone.


A ribbon microphone

(Photo from


Finding its origin in german military technology, the vocoder analyzes the human voice for specific frequencies and then synthesizes it so as to allow its recreation on an instrument. The result is often associated with sounding robotic due to its sonically complex nature. Although early interest arose from artists who had an interest in new and futuristic music development such as Devo and Stevie Wonder, the technology has been utilized in the work of artists ranging from Daft Punk to Cher.



Vaudeville was a type of variety entertainment that was extremely popular in the United States from the 1850s to the early 1900s. The acts involved were often of a wide variety, ranging from coon songs and striptease to family fare. The scene was especially popular with immigrants, as it was a place where Italian opera singers and Russian balalaika players could make a name for themselves. The entertainment was not of the highest quality though. As Caroline Caffin said, “the Vaudeville house is not the place in which the musical connoisseur looks for music of the highest rank.”

Irving Berlin

Irving Berlin was one of Tin Pan Alley’s most successful songwriters. He was a Jewish refugee from Russia who moved the United States at 5-years-old. Despite lacking any sort of formal training, he went on to write and perform numerous successful songs. This was due in part to his success in recognizing the formulaic nature of Tin Pan Alley music, especially of the theme of love. Over the course of his career, Berlin went on to write over 1000 songs, including “God Bless America.”

Irving Berlin

Sound Recording and Reproduction

Sound recording and reproduction is the process of producing an electrical or mechanical inscription and re-creation of sound waves. This was originally thought to be used solely for spoken voice, however, many found it very effective for recording and reproducing singing, instrumental voice, and sound effects as well. There are two fundamental classes of sound recording technology: analog recording and digital recording. The picture below is of Frances Densmore recording Blackfoot chief, known as Mountain Chief, on a cylinder phonograph for the Bureau of American Ethnology in 1916.Frances Densmore

Holly Herndon


Holly Herndon is an experimental sound artist, composer, and musician in San Francisco, CA. She has created two albums, Movement and Platform, released on the record label RVNG Intl. Herndon uses a visual programming language, called Max/MSP, in order to create a unique sound using custom instruments and vocal processes. She successfully integrates techno and post-minimalist new music together to create an unusual and remarkable sound.

Berry Gordy

Berry Gordy was the CEO and Founder of Motown. He picked up many of his unorthodox methods for producing records from his work in a Lincoln-Mercury factory early on in his life. Berry Gordy also served in the military during the Korean War. After his service, he returned to the U.S. and opened a record store, called the 3D Record Mart-House of Jazz, which specialized in selling jazz records (Brackett 174-75). He started producing music in 1959, and his first big hits came with Smokey Robinson . From there, he produced the music of The Supremes, The Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, and any more using both an assembly line model for producing songs and owning all of the chain of production for the records (including gathering raw materials, manufacturing the physical records, and recording).

Works Cited

Brackett, David. “No Town Like Motown.” The Pop, Rock, and Soul Reader: Histories and Debates Third Edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014. 173-178. Print.


Quality Control Meetings

These were meetings held every two weeks in Motown. In these meetings the production teams met with Berry Gordy to determine which records should be distributed and which records should not be distributed This was a brutal process, but it allowed for peer review within the corporation before records were released. None of the production teams wanted a failed record, but they wanted other teams to succeed as well. Therefore, it provided incentive to weed out the bad records and benefit the entity as a whole.

Tin Pan Alley

Tin Pan Alley was the name given to the street of music publishers and songwriters in New York City that dominated the music scene in the late 19th and early 20th century. Songwriters brought their music to Tin Pan Alley for potential investment, purchase, and advertisement for their music. The publishers hired “song pluggers” to sing the song in different locations as a means of advertisement for professional singers to potentially incorporate the songs into their work for more public exposure. In this time period,Tin Pan Alley controlled music publishing by listening to popular songs, publishing them, and using market expertise to sell the work.

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