Some of the world’s greatest musical genres took root in cities and small towns across America, products of the collisions of European, African and indigenous cultures.
The blues was forged from a combination of African and gospel sounds into a simple twelve-bar form during the late nineteenth century. You can still catch Mississippi blues in Delta juke joints, and electrified urban blues in the gritty clubs of Chicago.
Jazz took root in the Creole culture of New Orleans, blending African traditions with western techniques to create a distinctly American art form. Jazz is still dance music in New Orleans; cooler urban stylings can be enjoyed in clubs in New York.
Nashville remains synonymous with country and western; outside the cities, rural Appalachia brims with backwoods fiddlers and Louisiana’s sleepy bayous are alive with Cajun and zydeco.
Rock ’n’ roll has come a long way since its blues-based infancy, when young trucker Elvis Presley shook up white country with raw R&B in 1950s Memphis. Spiky New York punk, quirky Ohio industrial, furious LA hardcore, slacker Seattle grunge, and spaced-out neo-psychedelia are but a few of the rock genres that continue to thrive in the USA.
In the 1960s, the heartfelt soul of masters like Otis Redding preceded the explosion of talent that came to define the Motown era, born in Detroit.
Loaded with attitude, street-style and political savvy, hip-hop was born on the streets of New York, and later LA. Today any city with a major black population has a distinctive rap scene, including in the so-called “Dirty South”, where rappers play on the raw call-and-response stylings of early blues.
Modern dance music had its genesis in Chicago house, New York garage and Detroit techno, though club culture is now a global phenomenon.