Rock n Roll

  • Rock n Roll
  • Original Rock n Rollers
  • Brill Building and Singer Songwriters
  • Motown
  • Contemporary Stage and Score


American popular music has always been a combination of sounds rooted in regional cultures all of which influenced each other with equal respect.

Culturally, R&B (rhythm & blues) became the early term associated with popular music produced and bought by African-Americans. Musically, it comes from Southern gospel's rhythmic singing and heavy beat. As music evolved from the rural gospels to the urban blues, rhythms became faster and new harmonies provided a more embellished melodic and chord patterns. Early R&B musicians such as Ray Charles and Sam Cooke--still heavily rooted in gospel-style expression--paved the way for the soul music of the 1960s. Soul music experienced its zenith from 1961 to 1965, particularly through the works of James Brown and Otis Redding. The sound--a fusion of gospel, blues and rock--expressed the optimistic emotion and pride of racial progress during the civil rights movement.

Motown began in Detroit in the 1950s with Berry Gordy. His early music put simple lyrics over the chord progressions introduced by T-Bone Walker, an array of woodwinds and percussion, and a gospel chorus. The historical "Motown" sound that swept across America did not fully develop until the late 1960s when the songwriting team of Lamont Dozier, Eddie Holland and Brian Holland moved to "Hitsville, U.S.A," located at 2648 W. Grand Blvd. in Detroit. There the three wrote simple lyrics over a constant repetition of the songs' hook line (i.e. "You Can't Hurry Love...") designed to propel a driving beat. The Supremes, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Jackson 5 and Stevie Wonder further developed this musical structure by adding soulful voicing.

Country music has had the most stylistic variations of any genre in American music, but regardless of the direction each song has taken, there is always a hint of the traditional story-line lyrics over a simple harmony of a banjo and fiddle.

Rock and pop music, which began in the 1970s and continues to the present, is so diverse that the one title must encompass every variation of rock & roll. The sounds introduced in the songs of the late 1970s were the polar opposite of the introspective substance of the singer-songwriter and soul music of the decade before. Underground New York styles like funk, disco and punk emerged with the Ramones, the Bee Gees, Blondie and the Talking Heads. In England, bands like the Police and Elvis Costello adapted the three styles with a reggae beat. The contrasting sounds and styles that came out of the extravagance of the mid-80s continue to be popular genres today. Music ranging from heavy metal, world music, rap, bubble gum pop, electronic dance, techno, and hip-hop all fall under the collective title of American popular song.