Culture and Music
Cultural influences influenced the evolution of American popular music during the 20th century. Rapidly changing demographics brought together previously isolated cultures, as well as creating new cultures and subcultures. Music evolved to reflect these changes. Migration, youth culture evolution, and racial integration are some of the most significant cultural influences on music.
Music and musical behavior are universal in human societies, but they can also be highly diverse in terms of their roles, structures and cultural interpretations. While laboratory studies of music-makers and listeners isolated from each other have provided valuable insights into their cognitive and sensorimotor skills, as well as their neural underpinnings and their neural connections, these studies have not revealed much about the wider significance of music to individuals, communities, and peer groups.
Although there is no universal definition of music that is intercultural acceptable, and the music cover term is only used in a few cultures, there are a number presumptive universals that indicate musicality as a distinctive and prominent characteristic of humankind. All people engage in activities we would call music. This includes ritual and play. Singing is an activity that all peoples sing. It can be recognized as different from speech based on context or cultural consensus. Every person has some form of instrumental music, even if it is rudimentary.
Music-making is a cultural performance. This is because music-making requires that conventions about music’s structure, instrumentation, context, and meaning be learned. Music-making is a method of communication that involves ongoing Trans-generational interaction.
How Music and Culture Work
Culture is essential for a group’s survival. It is a vast collection of shared knowledge. This includes communication methods, subsistence (growing food), governance, and other such things. These are the essential components of culture, which ensure that all members of a group can continue to thrive.
Consider how music can be connected to each “Component Parts Culture.” Music and language is an obvious example, as lyrics reflect the language of the group. The lyrics may also reflect cultural attitudes regarding love and the supernatural. Another example is the link between music and economy. The success of American corporations, which control 70% of America’s music industry, is measured in dollars. How does this affect music? Musicians create music that they believe will be most popular. Although not all musicians approach music this way, it is likely that most do. Some listeners may find the music boring, bland, watered-down, or void of any meaningful message.
Music in religion is another example. Music was used in religions and cultures all over the globe before the advent of modern technology. Music can be used in conjunction with religion. Music can invoke a strong presence deep within our beings, just like God or the spiritual realm. Music in the right context can help people get out of their everyday awareness and make them more open to the divine.
The entertainment and advertising industries are the biggest uses of music in America today. Advertising is a great use of music. A catchy, catchy melody and lyrics can help to make a product’s name stick in people’s minds. Advertising is a 500-billion dollar industry. Yet, advertisers don’t produce tangible products. In a consumer-driven society, they only help to sell them.
Culture and Music: Youth
Music was written for adults before 1945. Teenage musical tastes were not considered. Young adults were limited in their freedoms. Most males had to get a job or join the military to support their families. Females were expected marry young and have children. Many young adults did not go to college and their personal freedom was restricted. This situation was drastically changed after World War II. Booming economies helped to create a middle class in America, which opened up opportunities for youth consumers. Some parents did not want their children to join the military because of unsavory memories.
Many encouraged their children to have fun and enjoy life. Teenagers felt freer. Teenagers were able to make their own decisions and many of them had the financial resources to do so. The changes that were happening greatly affected the culture and music that was being consumed. Teens were listening to the rhythm and blues music played by radio DJs like Alan Freed, while adults still enjoyed Tin Pan Alley’s traditional sounds.
The younger generation was more open to Black musicians and their music because it was “cool” and offered a welcome escape from the political and social tensions caused by Cold War anxiety. This new style of rock and rolling music was easily accessible to teenagers through radios, jukeboxes and 45 rpm records.
Record companies started to notice that teenagers had the purchasing power to influence record sales. Record sales in America soared from $189 million up to $600 million between 1950 and 1959 (Szatmary). For teens who had enough money, 45 rpm records were an affordable choice. Dick Clark, a Philadelphia radio presenter, quickly became interested in the new tastes of teenagers. He saw a potential market and he tapped into it.
American Bandstand was launched in 1957. It featured teenagers performing to popular songs. Record producers created a number of rock and roller acts that were specifically tailored to teenagers, such as Frankie Avalon and Fabian (Grimes, 2011). American Bandstand had a significant influence on the musical tastes and fashion choices of teenage girls over its nearly 40-year history. This, in turn, was reflective of contemporary youth culture.
Culture and music: Cultural Influences on Culture
Pop music can be seen as having a negative impact on society, especially youth culture. However, pop music has positive impacts on culture. In the 1950s and 1960s, many artists pushed the boundaries of acceptable behavior by displaying sexually charged movements and appearing androgynous. These precedents may have prevented acts such as the Rolling Stones and David Bowie from becoming mainstream successes.
Critics have blamed heavy metal and rock and roll for increasing teenage aggression over the past 50-years, while gangster Rap has been blamed for the rise in urban gang warfare among young urban men. A recent study found that teens who listen to explicit music at an early age are more likely to engage in sex. (MSNBC 2006).
Culture and music: Racial Integration
The Great Migration saw racial tensions rise in Northern cities. While many Northerners were not previously concerned about race relations in South Carolina, they soon found themselves faced with the real problem of competing for jobs with Black migrants. Black workers were often forced into unfavorable neighborhoods and placed in filthy, unsanitary slums, where they were subject to exorbitant rents from unscrupulous landlords. In the 1940s, race tensions flared into racial riots, with Detroit being the most notable example.
In 1943, the city saw 34 deaths, with 25 of them being Black (Gilcrest 1993).Members of the civil rights movement were frustrated by inequalities in the legal systems that differentiated Black and White people. They pushed for racial equalization. In 1948, President Harry Truman issued an executive order that integrated the military. In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court decided to end segregation within public schools with the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education.
This further accelerated the movement toward equality. In the 1950s and 1960s, civil rights movements exploded. This was helped by well-publicized events like Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat in a bus in Montgomery, Alabama to a White passenger in 1955. The 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibited discrimination in public places, and authorized financial aid to support school desegregation, was passed by Congress.
While racism did not disappear overnight, cultural changes brought about by the civil rights movement were a catalyst for integration. This was reflected in and furthered by Berry Gordy Jr.’s Motown sound of the 1960s. Gordy believed that coaching talented, but not polished Black artists would make them more acceptable to mainstream culture.
A professional was hired to run an in-house finishing academy, where he taught his acts how to speak politely and move gracefully (Michigan Rock and Roll Legends). Gordy’s success with gospel-based pop acts like the Supremes and the Temptations, the Four Tops and Martha and the Vandellas reflected the extent to which racial integration was taking place in the mainstream music industry. The Supremes, Gordy’s most popular act, reached 12 No. 1 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Culture and music: Morality
Many conservative parents were shocked when Elvis Presley burst onto rock and roll’s scene in the mid-1950s. Presley was seen as a threat to morality and the well-being young women with his gyrating hips, sexually suggestive body movements and witty lyrics. His performances were criticized by television critics. On a 1956 appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show cameras filmed Presley only from the waist.
One critic of the New York Daily News said that pop music had reached its lowest point in the “grunty and groin” antics of Elvis Presley (Collins 2002). Presley quickly gained a following among teenagers, especially teenage girls who often burst into laughter at his concerts. Presley didn’t shy away from performing his moves as a manifestation of the music’s beat and rhythm. He continued to gyrate onstage. Presley was freed from morality watchdogs and set the stage for future rock and roller performers. This marked a significant cultural shift in popular culture.
Moralists of the conservative Eisenhower era were critical of the explicit lyrics in rock and roll original songs. Big Joe Turner’s “Shake, Rattle, and Roll”, used sexual phrases and referred only to the bedroom, while Little Richard had the phrase “tutti friutti, loose booty” (Hall & Hall, 2006). Many people were deeply ingrained in the belief that rock and roll was a threat.
Ironically, many of rock and roll’s most controversial figures came from religious backgrounds. Presley was an active member of the First Assembly of God Church where he discovered his love for gospel music (History Of Rock). Ray Charles also absorbed gospel influences from the Walk Of Fame Baptist Church. Jerry Lee Lewis was raised in a strict Christian family and struggled to reconcile the moral implications of his music with his religious beliefs.
Lewis and Sam Phillips argued during a 1957 recording session that the hit song “Great Balls of Fire”, was too “sinful,” for them to record (History 1957). Both the religious backgrounds of rock and roll pioneers influenced and challenged moral norms. Ray Charles’ 1955 recording of “I Got a Woman,” he rewrote the gospel song “Jesus Is All the World to Me,” drawing ire from those who thought the song was too sacrilegious. Charles’s unique style was accepted by other musicians despite the criticisms. His experimentation with blending gospel and R&B led to the birth of soul music.
Culture and music: Gender
Culture and music had a great influence on how Presley revolutionized people’s views on sexual freedom and expression. But other performers were also changing cultural norms about gender identity. Little Richard, an exotic androgynous performer, was dressed in extravagant clothing and wore a pompadour haircut and makeup. His outrageous androgynous style shocked 1950s audiences. The self-described “King and Queen” of Rock and Roll, Little Richard, was known for his outrageous onstage antics and bisexual tendencies. He also loved post-concert orgies and challenged many social conventions (Buckley 2003).
Little Richard’s outrageous, gender-bending look was so outlandish that it was not taken seriously in the 1950s. He was considered an entertainer with no connection to the real world because of his androgynous appearance. Richard was a pioneer in changing cultural views of gender. His outrageous style was adopted by later musicians like Boy George, Prince, David Bowie and Prince. He often wore glittery costumes and heavy makeup on stage. Popularity of these 1980s pop stars, as well as other gender-bending performers like Annie Lennox or Michael Jackson, made androgyny more accepted in mainstream society.
Culture and music: Conclusion
The relationship between culture and music is mutual. Factors such as youth culture, migration, and racial inclusion have a profound impact on the music industry. The relationship between music and culture has significant impact on culture through factors like racism in the music industry, the content of certain genres of music pushing conventional morality ideas, and the physical appearances of performers.