History of Popular Music

  • Period: to

    Minstrel Shows

    One of the first examples of popular music unique to America, these minstrel shows consisted of entertainment in the form of skits, dancing, and music performed predominantly by white Americans in blackface. Its peak of popularity existed from the 1840's to the 1850's.
    *Timeframe of the movement's popularity is estimated
  • Blackface gains popularity

    Blackface gains popularity
    George Washington Dixon popularizes putting on blackface after performing in NYC. Two of the songs he performed, "Long Tail Blue" and "Coal Black Rose" gain widespread popularity.
    *Exact date of performance is unknown
  • "Jump Jim Crow"

    "Jump Jim Crow"
    Thomas Dartmouth "Daddy" Rice's song and dance "Jump Jim Crow" becomes an international hit. The song's lyrics and accompanying dance (the "cakewalk") lampoon the speech and behaviors of black slaves.
  • "Zip Coon"

    "Zip Coon"
    Popular "Ethiopian" song sung to the tune of "Turkey in the Straw" that was performed by a myriad of blackface entertainers. Its meaningless lyrics would later serve as the basis of the song "Zip a Dee Doo Dah" featured in the 1947 Walt Disney cartoon Song of the South.
  • Classic Minstrel Show

    Minstrel shows become lengthier and adopt a more specific structure consisting of sketches and songs as well as regular characters.
  • "Oh! Susanna"

    "Oh! Susanna"
    Stephen Foster sells "Oh! Susanna", his first hit song, to music publishers. Sheet music of thi song and many others written by Foster become popular during the 19th century. Known as the "Father of American Music".
  • Period: to

    Brass Bands

    After the Civil War, the bands of both the Union and Confederate armies either continued to perform together or players would form new bands in their hometowns. Patriotic marches and various dance musics were typically performed by these bands.
  • Invention of Phonograph

    Invention of Phonograph
    The Phonograph is invented by Thomas Edison, which is able to record and reproduce sound with the use of a needle and cylinder/disc.
  • Tin Pan Alley

    Tin Pan Alley
    28th Street Manhattan, a.k.a. Tin Pan Alley, is the birthplace of the modern American music buisness. It was given its name because of the many piano players/singers playing and/or singing simultaneously in different tempos and keys from inside various stores or publishing houses, which sounded like tin pans being banged on. Through Tin Pan Alley, sheet music and phonograph sales incresed exponentially.
  • Period: to


    Ragtime music became popular around the turn of the century. In this African American influenced style, he offbeats are accented to create rhythmic momentum.
  • "Stars and Stripes Forever"

    "Stars and Stripes Forever"
    John Philip Sousa publishes "Stars and Stripes", which becomes the official march of the United States. It was released as a phonograph recording, through which it became a huge hit. Sousa's band would go on to release many more hit phonograph recordings up until 1918
  • "Maple Leaf Rag"

    "Maple Leaf Rag"
    Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag" is published. Joplin was a well known ragtime composer whose piano arrangements became very popular as sheet music. With this song, he helped spark the national interest in Ragtime.
  • Jass

    Jass or "hot music", later to be known as jazz, originates in New Orleans
  • Double sided 78 rpm disc introduced

    Double sided 78 rpm disc introduced
  • "Alexander's Ragtime Band"

    "Alexander's Ragtime Band"
    Irving Berlin's first major hit is released, quickly becoming popular and selling 1.5 million copies of sheet music, despite not having much to do with actual ragtime. Irving Berlin woujld go on to have a long and successful career, penning songs such as "Blue Skies" and "White Christmas".
  • "Livery Stable Blues"

    "Livery Stable Blues"
    The first jazz recording ever released, this song performed by the Original Dixieland Jass Band (later known as the Original Dixieland Jazz Band) established jazz'z popularity in America, becoming the first record to sell 1,000,000 copies.
  • Period: to

    Jazz and Dance Music

    While jazz music had already been around for nearly two decades, it was during this period when New Orleans jazz, and later Chicago hot music, was popular in America. This would in turn lead to the swing era in the mid 1930's
  • Period: to

    Race Records

    Race records, today primarily known as Rhythm and Blues (R&B), were records marketed towards the African American population, nonetheless also finding success with white audiences. Styles such as blues, spiritual, gospel, and even jazz fall into this category.
  • Period: to

    Hillbilly and Old-time music/ Country and Western

    This music was performed by and intended to be sold to the southern white audience. Developed into Country and Western during the swing era, where musical concepts such as the singing cowboy and genres like country boogie and western swing became popular.
  • Period: to

    Golden Age of Tin Pan Alley

    A period of time in which many influential songwriters, such as Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, and the Gerschwin brothers among others, penned some of their most famous works for Tin Pan Alley publishing companies.
  • "Crazy Blues"

    "Crazy Blues"
    Mamie Smith's first record (also the first blues record) is released. A Tin Pan Alley blues-style song, it quickly fairly popular and opened the door for other blues singers and musicians.
  • "Rhapsody in Blue"

    "Rhapsody in Blue"
    Paul Whiteman, an immensely popular dance/jazz band leader of the 1920's and early 30's, debuts George Gerschwin's classic jazz inspired piece in NYC.
  • "St. Louis Blues"

    "St. Louis Blues"
    Bessie Smith's version of "St. Louis Blues", featuring Louis Armstrong on cornet, is released. This song was important on creating a common ground in both black and white Americans' tastes in music.
  • Blind Lemon Jefferson recordings released

    Blind Lemon Jefferson recordings released
    Blin Lemon Jefferson became the first Country Blues star after his debut in 1926, changing America's perspective on blues by bringing it back to its roots.
  • First Hillbilly music stars

    First Hillbilly music stars
    Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family are both recorded fir the first time in Tennessee, and become the first popular hillbilly musicians
  • First "talkie"

    First "talkie"
    "The Jazz Singer" starring Al Jolson is released as the first movie with synchronized audio and video. "Blue Skies" by Irving Berlin is featured.
  • Period: to

    The Great Depression

  • Magnetic Tape Recording

    Magnetic Tape Recording
    The use of magnetic tape for recording purposes revolutionizes studio recording - it allowed for easy recording, re-recording, and editing, while also being the highest quailty of analog recording available ever since.
  • First electric guitar designed

    First electric guitar designed
    Rickenbacker (then known as Rickenbacher) develops what is considered the first electric guitar - an aluminum electric lap steel guitar nicknamed the "frying pan".
  • Period: to

    Swing Era

    A period in which the big band dominated American popular music, it was during these years when bands led by Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, and Glenn Miller among many others had their heyday. Swing not only defined the music of America during this time, it represented its culture as a whole, influencing, dance, dress, attitude, etc.
  • Benny Goodman sparks swing music craze

    Benny Goodman sparks swing music craze
    Benny Goodman and his band perform at the Palomar Ballroom in LA, where they successfully spark national interest in swing music.
  • Robert Johnson's first recordings

    Robert Johnson's first recordings
    Robert Johnson goes into his first recording session where he would produce such songs as "Cross Road Blues", "Kind Hearted Woman Blues", and others. Johnson would later be regarded as one of the most important blues players ever, noted for his incredible ability to play guitar, who some believe was given to him in a Faustian bargain.
  • Gibson ES-150

    Gibson ES-150
    Gibson's first Electric Spanish style guitar, the ES-150, is marketed. Featuring a single coil pickup and coming with its own amplifier, it allowed for guitarists to be heard above the rest of the band. Charlie Christian's use of the guitar with the Benny Goodman Sextet, which he joined in 1939, demonstrated to the world that the guitar could be successfully used as a solo instrument
  • Columbus Day Riot

    Columbus Day Riot
    Fans go crazy over Frank Sinatra in NYC - marks the first example of fanaticism over a pop idol
  • Period: to

    Postwar Era

    During this time period, genres such as "crooning" (Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Nat "King" Cole, etc.), jump blues (Louis Jordan), electric blues (Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, etc.), and bluegrass (Bill Monroe) developed and/or became popular
  • "Choo Choo Ch'Boogie"

    "Choo Choo Ch'Boogie"
    Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five release their number one hit, which stays at the #1 position on the R&B charts for 18 weeks. Popularized jump blues.
  • Ampex Tape Recorder/ LP record

    Both the Ampex tape recorder, a studio recording staple, and the LP (long play) record are introduced during this year
  • Period: to


    A type of Latin music and dance that was very popular for a short amount of time
  • Fender Broadcaster

    Fender Broadcaster
    Fender Guitar Corp. markets the Broadcaster, the first solidbody electric guitar to be mass produced. Name changed to "Telecaster" in 1952
  • Period: to

    Early Rock 'n' Roll

    Rock 'n' Roll developed in the 50's, combining elements from jazz, blues, R&B and country to create a whole new type of music. Popular musicians from the time include Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Bill Haley and the Comets.
  • "Rocket 88"

    "Rocket 88"
    Arguably the first rock 'n' roll song ever is released, performed by Ike Turner and his Kings of Rhythm under the pseudonym Jackie Brenston and the Delta Cats.
  • Gibson Les Paul

    Gibson Les Paul
    Gibson's response to the popularity of the solidbody electric guitar, named after musician and inventor Les Paul, is marketed.
  • Fender Stratocaster

    Fender Stratocaster
    Fender releases its second solidbody design, the Stratocaster. Originally popularized by early players like Buddy Holly and Hank Marvin, the Stratocaster has been in constant production since its original release and is now arguably the most iconic electric guitar ever.
  • "Rock Around the Clock"

    "Rock Around the Clock"
    Bill Haley and the Comets' song is featured in the film Blackboard Jungle, where it finds immense success and becomes the first #1 Rock 'n' Roll record.
  • "Maybellene"

    Chuck Berry's first popular record is released. Chuck's guitar tone is notable for its heavy overdrive (for the time), a type of sound that would continue to be experimented with and perfected throughout rock history.
  • Elvis Presley

    Elvis Presley
    Elvis begins recording in Sun Studios. He goes on to appear on talk shows such as Ed Sullivan where he find enormous success as the "King of Rock 'n' Roll"
  • The Day the Music Died

    The Day the Music Died
    Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper are killed in a plane crash, marking Rock 'n' Roll's first tradgedy.
  • Period: to

    Dance Music

    In the early 60's, many songs with associated dances became popular, and a dance/club scene developed that would be mirrored countless times more in history with new types of music like disco, techno, etc.
  • Period: to

    Surf Music

    A genre of rock based in California and inspired by the instrumental rock of the 50's (The Ventures, The Shadows, Link Wray, etc) heavily associated with surfing. The only band that garnered popularity in this period that remained popular was The Beach Boys.
  • Period: to

    Height of Motown Records

    Motown Records, founded by Berry Gordy Jr., was an incredibly popular record label that produced countless R&B and Soul hits in its heyday, with acts like The Marvelettes, The Supremes, The Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Lionel Richie, and Boys II Men signed to the label across the years
  • "The Twist"

    "The Twist"
    Chubby Checker's #1 single is released, sparking a dance craze across America. Checker's version is a cover of Hank Ballards and the Midnighters' song of the same name
  • Period: to

    Height of Philles Records

    A record label founded by Phil Spector and Lester Sill that produced numerous hits throughout the early to mid sixties. Phil spector became famous for his "Wall of Sound" production technique, which was at once clear and very full sounding.
  • Surfin Safari

    Surfin Safari
    The Beach Boys' first majorly successful album is released, reaching #2 on the charts
  • Period: to

    British Invasion

    A period in time wherein America was fascinated with the music and culture/style of Britian, proving to be the big thing of the 60's. Many bands found popularity during this time period, most of these bands fading from the public eye by the end of this time period with the exception of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones
  • Period: to

    Hard Rock

    A new breed of rock developed in the 60's and was fully realized in the 70's that was more aggressive and bombastic than any other music before it. The earliest pioneers of the sound include The Kinks and The Rolling Stones, with great bands like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and countless others were and are being produced from within this genre
  • Beatlemania

    On this day, The Beatles played live on The Ed Sullivan Show, marking their national television debut in the U.S. and sparking the craze called Beatlemania
  • "You Really Got Me"

    "You Really Got Me"
    The Kinks' breakthrough hit is released, establishing them as one of the top acts of the British Invasion, as well as helping to lay down the foundations of hard rock.
  • Fender sold to CBS

    Fender sold to CBS
    Leo Fender sells his company to CBS, which will own Fender until 1985. During this period, CBS cuts corners on the production values of Fender guitars and effectively ends Fender's golden age.
  • Bringing It All Back Home

    Bringing It All Back Home
    This album was Bob Dylan's first to feature electric instruments and a general rock band-type setup, which polarized his fans at the time, calling him a sellout for it. Eventually everyone got over it, and this album is now regarded as one of his finest. In addition, it spawned his first charting single in the U.S. with "Subterranean Homesick Blues"
  • Pet Sounds

    Pet Sounds
    Arguably their magnum opus and what is considered the first concept album, The Beach Boys' revolutionary album is released. Marking a dramatic stylistic change for The Beach Boys, it is considered to be one of the best and most important rock albums ever recorded.
  • Period: to


    This style's origins can be traced back to the innovations of James Brown in the 60's, essentially taking soul and placing a greater emphasis on the beat. Bands like Tower of Power and Sly & The Family Stone kicked off the popularity of the movement in the early 70's, along with other bands like Parliament and Funkadelic whose popularity endured throughout the 70's
  • I Never Loved A Man The Way I Loved You

    I Never Loved A Man The Way I Loved You
    Aretha Franklin's breakthrough album is released, spawning #1 singe "Respect", a cover of an Otis Redding song.
  • Are You Experienced?

    Are You Experienced?
    The Jimi Hendrix Experience's debut album is released, displaying Jimi Hendrix's revolutionary style of guitar playing and making himself arguably the first rock guitar hero
  • Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

    Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
    The Beatles' most critically acclaimed and highly regarded album is released, concieved and recorded in a highly innovative way that has cemented it as one of the greatest albums of all time
  • "Say It Loud - I'm Black and I'm Proud"

    "Say It Loud - I'm Black and I'm Proud"
    A signature song of soul legend James Brown, this song is considered to be one of the first, if not the first itself, rap songs ever recorded. This song is highly indicative of Brown's style, being harmonically static while rhythmically very active.
  • Led Zeppelin

    Led Zeppelin
    Led Zeppelin's eponymous debut album is released, marking a significant turning point in the formation of the style of hard rock.
  • Sweet Baby James

    Sweet Baby James
    James Taylor's second album and first major label success is released. A perfect example of the "singer-songwriter" type musician
  • Paranoid

    Black Sabbath's second album, "Paranoid" spawned many of the band's most well known songs ("Paranoid", "Iron Man", "War Pigs")
  • "Take Me Home, Country Roads"

    "Take Me Home, Country Roads"
    John Denver's country pop hit is released. Denver was nevery really a country artist (his music has been described as "country lite"), but more of an urban folk artist with a country tinge and subject matter in his songs, as was the norm for much of country pop in the 70's
  • Exile on Main Street

    Exile on Main Street
    A record that falls more under the hard rock category than previous Stones recordings, this album is now hailed as the Rolling Stones' best album
  • Dark Side of the Moon

    Dark Side of the Moon
    Pink Floyd's most commercially successful album is released, showing a different side of rock more on par with the psychedelia of the 1960's
  • Band On The Run

    Band On The Run
    Paul McCartney and the Wings' third album is released. Widely regarded as McCartney's best post-Beatles album.
  • Period: to


    A type of dance music that evolved from the funk and soul of the 70's, differentiating from its predecessors by having a much more focused and regimented yet still funky beat, and generally much more "produced" than funk or soul music
  • Mothership Connection

    Mothership Connection
    Parliament gives up the funk on this day with the release of Mothership Connection, their first album to go gold and later platinum
  • Period: to


    Punk arose in response to the bastardization of rock in the 70's ,when it became engulfed by the mainstream media, in an effort to give it back to the working man. A harder and edgier sound as well as a no frills, DIY attitude was embraced by punk musicians to rebel against the overproduction of rock music in that day.
  • Period: to

    New Wave

    An offshoot of rock that developed alongside punk, New Wave can be described as quirky and eccentric (maybe with a hint of avant garde), but still catchy and pop at heart. Popular bands incluse Talking Heads and Devo.
  • Frampton Comes Alive!

    Frampton Comes Alive!
    A live album of a Peter Frampton concert that became immensely popular upon its release. Frampton became famous for his use of the talkbox, a guitar effect used to make the guitar "talk".
  • Ramones

    The Ramones' eponymous debut album is released, being the first ever record labeled as "punk", incredibly influential for its bare bones, raw sound.
  • "Macho Man"

    "Macho Man"
    The Village People's popular disco song "Macho Man" is released. Their most famous song, "YMCA", would be released later the same year
  • Van Halen

    Van Halen
    Van Halen's eponymous debut album is released. Eddie Van Halen's virtuosic new style of guitar playing, a two handed technique called tapping, and the band's onstage energy and persona set the blueprint for much of the popular hard rock and metal of the 80's.
  • Period: to


    Hip-Hop and Rap originally became popular in the late 1970's and has enjoyed enduring popularity to the present
  • "Rapper's Delight"

    "Rapper's Delight"
    The Sugarhill Gang's hit single single handedly popularizes hip hop around the world
  • Period: to

    Glam Metal/ Pop Metal

    Hair Metal gained popularity troughout the early 80's and was immensely popular by 1984. Popular bands falling under this genre include Def Leppard, Motley Crue, Poison, Skid Row, Bon Jovi, Ratt, and a slew of others
  • MTV debuts

    MTV debuts
    The immensely popular MTV makes its first broadcast on this day. MTV would prove to be integral in the popularization of many bands of the 80's, be it New Wave bands, Metal bands or Hip Hop bands.
  • "Burning Down the House"

    "Burning Down the House"
    Talking Heads' only U.S. top ten hit, "House" was a popular dance song in the New Wave genre from the early 80's
  • Yamaha DX7 enters production

    Yamaha DX7 enters production
    This synthesizer would prove to be one of the most popular and widely used synths in the 80's because of its easy programmability and ability to construct multiple "voices" simultaneously
  • "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)"

    "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)"
    Eurythmics' massive synth pop/ new wave hit is released, an excellent example of the early popularization of the synthesizer
  • "Jump"

    Van Halen scored a bit hit in "Jump", the lead singe off of their album 1984. Initially polarizing to fans because of the heavy use of synth, it would end up making this a popular synthesis of instruments in music that would show up in numerous other songs in the 80's
  • "Purple Rain"

    "Purple Rain"
    Prince's single "Purple Rain" from the album Purple Rain went gold and is today considered a signature song of Prince, a superstar of the 80's
  • Raising Hell

    Raising Hell
    Run-D.M.C. releases their third album to widespread critical acclaim, helping to prove that hip hop is not just a passing fad but a legitimate new artform
  • Graceland

    Paul Simon's solo effort is a unique blend of pop and South African music, defined as "worldbeat". This album is considered Simon's finest work and is universally acclaimed.
  • License to Ill

    License to Ill
    The Beastie Boys' highly regarded debut album is released, which is considered the first commercially viable white rapping ever released
  • Guns 'N' Roses emerges

    Guns 'N' Roses emerges
    1987 sees the release of GNR's first album, Appetite for Destruction. Its single "Sweet Child O' Mine" goes straight to number one upon its release. Guns 'N' Roses are seen as a harder, grittier rock band than the majority of the most similar bands surrounding them at the time (glam and pop metal), and establish reputations as badasses.
  • Hysteria

    Def Leppard's biggest commercial success. Def Leppard was a widely popular pop metal band in the 80's partly due to the heavy rotation of their music videos on MTV
  • It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back

    It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back
    The second album from rap group Public Enemy is released, showing how rap can be taken further with more sophisticated sampling and recording techniques as well as deeper meaning to the lyrics of the songs.
  • Straight Outta Compton

    Straight Outta Compton
    N.W.A. releases their debut album, which sells quickly and garners attention for being the first major rap group from the West Coast as well as critical praise. It popularizs gangsta rap, which would only continue to get more popular throughout the 90's. N.W.A. would break up in '91, but several of its members (most notably Ice Cube and Dr. Dre) would go on to have successful solo careers.
  • Dr. Feelgood

    Dr. Feelgood
    Motley Crue releases Dr. Feelgood, their most commercially successful album and first released post getting sober.
  • Pro Tools

    The revolutionary recording software Pro Tools is released, which allows for editing capabilities far beyond that which was available before
  • Ten

    Pearl Jam's debut album which, while not an immediate success, reached #2 on the Billboard charts by the end of 1992 and is now a diamond album. The success of this album as well as their success throughout the 90's established them as one of the "Big Four" of grunge music.
  • "Smells Like Teen Spirit"

    "Smells Like Teen Spirit"
    The game changing single released by Nirvana at the start of the 90's gave birth to an entirely new era of music - one that was free once again from the mainstream's dominance. Within weeks of being released, this song was in heavy rotation on everypop music radio station and MTV, and made alternative music (or more specifically, grunge) to the forefront. Nirvana was also considered one of the "Big Four" of grunge music.
  • Period: to


    Alternative music (or alternative rock) dominated popular music after the success of Nirvana with "Smells Like Teen Spirit", killing the popularity of glam and pop metal almost immediately. Much of todays music continues to be released under the classification of "alternative", and while this has now become a massive umbrella term for music, it was through Nirvana that this music was allowed to progress and blossom in so many different ways.
  • Blood Sugar Sex Magik

    Blood Sugar Sex Magik
    The Red Hot Chili Peppers release their breakthrough album and find almost immediate success, bringing to the alternative table a funky and hip hop flavored style unique from most other bands of the day.
  • Dirt

    Alice in Chain's breakthrough album was released to great acclaim from critics and fans alike, going 4x platinum in the U.S. Though this record doesn't contain their "signature song", "Man in the Box", it is still considered their best album and established them as one of the "Big Four" of grunge, although I would classify them as Alternative Metal.
  • Superunknown

    Soundgarden's breakthrough album debuts at #1 and is now certified 5x platinum. The singles "Spoonman" and "Black Hole Sun" become their most popular and go on to gain them Grammy awards for each. Soundgarden is also considered to be one of the "Big Four" of grunge music
  • "Who Shot Ya?"

    "Who Shot Ya?"
    The Notorious B.I.G. released this song as a B-side to his singe "Big Poppa". This song is rumored to be about Biggie's alleged involvement in the attempted assassination attempt on Tupac in the lobby of Quad Recording Studios. Tupac certainly believed it was directed towards him as a diss track, but Biggie denied it. In response, Tupac released his own diss track, "Hit 'Em Up", directed towards Biggie. It was this conflict that sparked the entire East Coast vs. West Coast feud
  • "One Sweet Day"

    "One Sweet Day"
    This collaboration between Mariah Carey and Boys II Men holds the record for having spent the most consecutive weeks atop the Billboards chart - 16.
  • OK Computer

    OK Computer
    Radiohead releases their third album, OK Computer, to considerable acclaim, noted for its superb balance of art rock and pop sensibilities, and overall diverse and unique sound.
  • "Freak on a Leash"

    "Freak on a Leash"
    Korn's single from their album Follow the Leader proves to be one of the most popular nu-metal songs released in its time.
  • Millenium

    The Backstreet Boys and several other boy bands became immensely popular fot a short amount of time in the late 90's, each having several hit singles that recieved much radio airplay. Millenium proved to be the Backstreet Boys' best seller, selling over 30 million copies worldwide
  • Napster

    Napster emerges just before the turn of the millenium as a peer-to-peer file sharing service, which turned out to make it really easy to share MP3s illegally. Several musicians have sued Napster and companies like it for thes reasons, while other bands don't mind and/or encourage internet file sharing.
  • Kid A

    Kid A
    Debuting at #1, Radiohead's polarizing fourth album is released to listeners expecting OK Computer 2 - instead they get a mostly electronic and very experimental record that sounds almost like a different band altogether. Critics and listeners alike were divided on their opinions of the album, but since that initial shock has worn off, most people have given it a second look and realized its brilliance in the process. Today many people (myself included) consider it to be Radiohead's best work.
  • iPod

    The iPod hits the shelves, quickly becoming popular and popularizing the MP3 player itself