Pop Music’s Evolution: From the 1800s to the Present
written by: Celine Bernadette Francisco
• edited by: Linda M. Rhinehart Neas
• updated: 8/22/2012
The history of pop music began in the 1800s and from there, it has evolved to what it is today, a spectacle of personalities with various pitches, tones, and styles.
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Music: A Part of Everything
Pop music has contributed to the music industry’s billion-dollar worth. Likewise, it has influenced the lives of so many people that even other media forms incorporate its style, from video games, TV programs, films, and the Internet. Nevertheless, you may ask, "How and where did it begin? What kinds of music were considered popular back then? What kinds of musical instruments paved the way for “pop" music?"
Popular or “pop" music started in America several decades back, when the term “popular" was not be as cool as what modern people perceived it to be. The fact that the pop genre originated as a combination of various music styles--from jazz to country, be-bop to hip-hop, and even rock and roll to rap--is little known.
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Mid- to Late 19th Century
Pop music started with the publishing of sheet music. During this period, many Americans turned to their pianos for entertainment. Families gathered during celebrations and let their children play their piano pieces. Hence, just as music sheets were transcribed for symphonies and orchestras, so too, sheet music for popular songs became a phenomenon throughout the country. Even those who did not have pianists within their families had the chance to listen to music by inviting friends who played into their homes.
In addition, to meet the demand for sheet music, publishers set up their own companies. They would look for talented composers, printing their music for sale, which was the start of the music publishing industry as we know it today.
When phonographs took center stage in the beginning of the 1900s, popular versions of music also followed. Instead of depending on piano music for entertainment, families had the means to enjoy the exact duplication of performances. Recordings on phonographs allowed anyone, whether rich or poor, to savor music from the comfort of his or her own home. This also resulted in new markets in the music industry as well as its expansion.
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Mid 1920s to 1940s
During this period, another music form started to make its way in America. Apart from “pop" music and surfacing through church hymns, ballads, and classical music, “jazz," the so-called new music of the times, was known to be “daring" and even “shocking" for many.
This music genre has a unique African beat that was developed by Black musicians in the mid-west, south, and east. This, together with the “blues," another African-derived art form, helped transform music.
With the expansion of the music genres came diversity. Due to the popularity of jazz and blues with African Americans, these genres received the label of “race music." The genre “rhythm and blues" was later attributed to the Black community. Meanwhile, what was considered as “pop" was referenced to whites.
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1950s to 1960s
Amid the roadblocks to pop music, the industry continued to grow and soon, the barriers between races blurred. Those considered as “pop" musicians started borrowing rhythms from jazz and blues musicians. By the early 1950s, this musical blend gave birth to “rock and roll."
Indeed, pop music as it is today would not be what it is today without that evolution. Pioneers of rock music include Muddy Waters, Ike Turner, Louis Jordan, Little Richard and Bo Diddley. They served as the role models of later artists such as Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, Bill Haley, and lots more who made it big. From then on, more superstars rose through the ranks and made pop music like no other--superstars and worldwide icons like The Beatles, The Yardbirds, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Manfred Mann, Cream, etc.
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1970s to 1990s
During this era, pop music diversified into many other related genres such as Acid Rock, Disco, Techno, and Dance--and we can't forget Rap.
Rap music, part of the inner-city cultural move known as “Hip-Hop," started in the 1980s. During its birth, mainstream companies still did not accept it as just another trend. However, when America embraced Rap, it soon took over the scene.
Since then, for more than 25 years already, this genre has outsold Gospel, Country, Rock, R&B, and even Jazz. Today, Rap ranks second to pop when it comes to appeal, marketability, and profits. This genre has produced such stars as Eminem, Pink, Beck, Rage against the Machine, and others.
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Pop Music Today and Beyond
With the birth of lots more genres of pop music today--from Post-Grunge, Hard Rock and Heavy Metal, Pop Punk, Emo, Electronic Music, K-Pop, and others--pop music continues to be a huge part of culture. Although times have changed, the history of pop music has left its mark on generations of music lovers, with more generations to come.