Flip The Script: Roots Music In RING OF FIRE
AUTHOR: Chloe Loos, Artistic Intern
Did you know that some of your favorite songs have been in the making since the time of your great-great-(maybe even great)-grandparents? Due to America’s history of immigration and colonialism, our early music came from a wide variety of people. Known as roots music because they served as the basis for many popular genres, early American genres had an incredible influence on the kind of music we listen to today.
American folk music fits under the umbrella term of roots music because it developed in the United States with enough difference that it became something new. For example, many early folk songs came over from the United Kingdom, such as 99 Bottles of Beer, which derived from an English song called Ten Green Bottles. The slave trade brought the development of spirituals, which feature African rhythms and musicality as the subjugated peoples attempted to maintain their cultural heritage. Music rapidly developed and proliferated from 1900 until 1930 as a result of the mass migration of people affected by the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl; thus, roots music has strong regional ties in some of its genres, such as Cajun’s relationship to Louisiana. By the 1950s, roots music (as the basis) had mutated into different genres, such as rockabilly, rock and roll, R&B, and country. A few strong influences are found in bluegrass, gospel, and blues music.
Bluegrass developed in Appalachia from British and Irish settlers and their folk music, like ballads and dance songs. The music was originally used to accompany dancing styles, but it became known as a distinct genre after World War II. Gospel is Christian praise music that has strong ties to African oral traditions, like call and response, harmonies, and physical percussion. Blues can be considered the secular counterpoint to gospel, as it also came out of African traditions and thus its origins date back to the end of slavery. It has had a huge influence on ragtime and jazz music and has been an important influence since then.
As a result of these styles, country first began emerging in the early 1920s in Atlanta as rural Appalachians and African Americans moved to more urban areas. Eventually, country led to rockabilly and eventually rock and roll. Thus, the spread of culturally significant music developed mainly by African Americans and poor working whites mingled with each other across the country as well as in regional areas to create the unique music scene of America. Often, innovations in earlier folk versions influenced different styles which then influenced the change in the folk music and thus American roots and the contemporary audio scene are incredibly connected as a result of the changing landscape and migrations of the country.