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100 Years of American Music by Decade

Updated on September 9, 2015

If there is one thing that every generation shares, it is the love of music. Music often helped define an era. From the roaring twenties to the disco dance sound of the 1970s, music played a role in how people socialized and relaxed. Musical sound changed from decade to decade in the last 100 years but all of it was inspired and reflected the times.

1900-1910 - This was a time of unrest in American history. The average worker earned 22 cents an hour. Labor unions were forming as the middle class grew more unhappy. Theaters showed silent movies. It was the ballroom decade. Black Americans wrote and produced jazz, blues, and ragtime music. Al Jolson, and Irving Berlin were popular.

1910-1920 - World War I breaks out in this decade so war songs become popular. Henry Ford begins mass production of the Model T Ford. In 1918, women over 30 are allowed to finally vote in elections. Broadway was big and much of the music enjoyed came from musicals. The Pretzel Benders were crooning "Let Me Call You Sweetheart".

1920-1930 - This was the Roaring 20's, a time of defined culture in America. Jazz was hot especially in Chicago and Harlem. The Cotton Club was open and packed nightly with both blacks and whites. Fanny Brice sang "Second Hand Rose". There were flappers and speakeasies, gangsters and did I mention jazz?

1930-1940 - The 1930s began with breadlines and was followed by a decade marked by the Great Depression. People relocated to cities from rural areas and emerging technology changed how people lived. It was the Swing Era and greats like Benny Goodman, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald saw us through.

1940-1950 - The 1940s were dominated by World War II. Women left their homes to enter the workforce. Television was introduced, bringing us such characters as Red Skelton, Jack Benny, and Bob Hope. Minimum wage was 43 cents an hour. It was the era of the crooners - Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Perry Como.

1950-1960 - With the war over, the 1950s saw a time when people picked up their lives with new homes and new jobs. Growth was everywhere and the Baby Boom was underway. It was the era of Elvis Presley, Fats Domino and Ritchie Valens. A loaf of bread cost 14 cents.

1960-1970 - It was a time of revolution and counter-culture. Young folks were questioning everything. We had the British Invasion, the hippies, Motown, Ed Sullivan and the Beatles. There was Woodstock, civil rights, Janis Joplin. Music of that era reflected social movement and politics. 1960s music offered innovative artists who dared to take a stand.

1970-1980 - The 1970s retreated from the alterntive culture of the previous decade. It was a time of "happy face" buttons. Richard Nixon resigned and the Vietnam War ended in a whimpering sigh. Music became more light-hearted. There were The Eagles, John Denver, and the Village People. But disco ruled.

1980-1990 - The 1980s were considered the Me! generation of self-absorbed status seekers. There was binge-buying, credit cards and ET phoned home. There were video games and MTV was born. We listened to Pink Floyd, Kenny Rogers and M.C. Hammer. We heard Bruce Springsteen and The Rolling Stones.

1990-2000 - Techno music had its start in the early 1990s. Hip hop and rap remained popular and there emerged a new type of rock and roll with bands like Pearl Jam and Nirvana. It was the electronic age, e-commerce was doing business. Everyone knew who Bill Gates is and Oprah Winfrey's book club got women reading again.

2000-2010 - Rap and hip hop are king. We had Y2K and the tragedy of 9/11. We had Britney's meltdown and the shame of Hurricane Katrina. We elected the first black president of the United States. How the music of this era will define it still remains to be seen.

Fats Domino

The Rolling Stones


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