This Issue of the Chronicle, we present Part #2 (Pre-Civil War) of our 12-part series of the "History of the Sounds of Modern Music." Our objective is to follow the Sounds made by innovative Humans and their Instruments that have evolved throughout the Centuries of Man-on-Earth.

Part #1 - Early Civilizations Part #2 - Pre Civil War

Part #3 - Civil War and Post Part #4 -New Orleans Scene

Part #5 - The River Boat Era Part #6 - Jazz/Blues (Blazz)

Part #7 - The Roaring 20s Part #7 - The Swing Era

Part #8 - Post World War II Part #9 - The 1950s

Part #9 - The 1960s Part #10 - Woodstock Era

Part #11 - The 1970s Part #12 - The 1980s

The Classic Rock Chronicle

I Issue #8 June 16, 2024

Everything Classic Rock... the CRocker's Voice

The Classic Rock Chronicle was created to provide regularly updated Content about the "Goings-on" of the Vast, eclectic, and important period of Classic Rock from 1964 to 1984... Come along and enjoy the ride, Mates

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History of the “Sounds” of Music Part #2

Pre-Civil War Sounds

Classic Rock

By William W. Nelson

Founder of the Asheville School of Classic Rock


The Music Scene during the Age of Exploration (15th-17th centuries) played a significant role in the voyages and colonization efforts of European Nations. Here are some key points about music in this era:

Ships often carried Musicians, such as Trumpeters, Drummers, and Fifers, to provide entertainment, boost morale, and communicate signals during long voyages.

When Christopher Columbus set sail in 1492, he had a Musician named Juan Rodriguez Bermejo on board to play the Shawm (an early oboe-like instrument).

Sir Francis Drake had four professional Musicians and at least one Trumpeter on his ship, the Pelican, during his circumnavigation of the world from 1577 to 1580.

Musicians served as Ambassadors and cultural representatives when European ships made landfall in new territories, sometimes using music as a means of barter or gifting musical instruments to indigenous peoples.

The East India Company employed Musicians on their Ships and at trading posts to provide entertainment and facilitate cultural exchange.

Jesuit missionaries brought European musical instruments like Bells, Organs, and Violins to the Americas as part of their efforts to convert indigenous populations.

Indigenous Music and Instruments from the Americas, like Drums, Rattles, and Flutes, influenced and were incorporated into European music over time.

Music played a role in the Colonization of North America, with Settlers bringing their musical traditions and using Music for religious purposes, entertainment, and cultural events.

So while the primary purpose of Musicians was entertainment and signaling on ships, their presence also facilitated cultural exchange, diplomacy, and the spread of European musical traditions to new lands during this pivotal era of exploration and colonization.

The interaction between European and Indigenous Cultures during this era led to the blending and fusion of their Musical elements, giving rise to new Genres and Styles:

  • Latin American music like Son, Rumba, and Samba emerged from the fusion of African rhythms, European harmonies, and Native American influences.

  • Creole music in the Caribbean combined African rhythms with European instruments and harmonies.

  • The Spanish Guitar and European dances like the Waltz were introduced to the Americas and blended with local traditions.

Many European Folk Songs and Ballads were brought over by immigrants and settlers to the American Colonies. These Songs, often passed down orally, became part of the musical heritage of early America. Genres like Anglo-American Ballads and Folk Songs have their roots in the English, Scottish, and Irish Folk traditions.

European Folk Music interacted and fused with the musical traditions of Native Americans and enslaved Africans in the Colonies. This cross-cultural exchange led to the emergence of new genres like:

Appalachian Folk Music would blend English/Scottish-Irish Ballads with African styles and Native American influences.

Cajun and Creole Music in Louisiana, combined French Folk traditions with African rhythms and Native American elements.

European Hymns, Psalms, and sacred Folk Songs influenced the development of religious music in early America. Practices like "Lining Out" verses (a Scottish tradition) were adopted in African American Spirituals and shape-note singing in the South.

European Folk Instruments like the Fiddle, Dulcimer, and Accordion were introduced to America and became integral to various Folk Genres. Performance practices such as call-and-response and improvisation, common in European Folk music, were also incorporated into American Folk styles.

Interestingly, many European folk songs were preserved and passed down by African American communities, particularly through the oral traditions of enslaved Africans and their descendants. This contributed to the continuity and evolution of these folk traditions in America.

African American Folk Songs and Spirituals have roots tracing back to European sources, particularly Songs brought over by Scottish, English, and other European Immigrants. However, when these Songs were passed down and repurposed within Black American Communities, they took on new cultural meanings and significance. It allowed enslaved Africans to preserve elements of their heritage while adapting to their new environment, creating a unique African American mMusical identity.

Black American musicians played a significant role in modifying and transforming the Melodies of European Folk Songs that were brought over by White Settlers and Slaveholders.

Incorporation of African Musical Elements: Black musicians infused European folk melodies with elements from their African musical heritage, such as:

  • Call-and-response patterns

  • Polyrhythmic structures

  • Improvisation and embellishments

  • Pentatonic scales and blue note

The use of African-derived Instruments like the Banjo, which has a distinct tonal quality, impacted how European Folk melodies were played and interpreted. The unique playing techniques and rhythmic accompaniment patterns altered the melodic phrasing and inflections.

Black Musicians imbued European Folk melodies with their own cultural significance and personal expressions, reflecting their experiences as enslaved or oppressed people. This emotional connection often led to melodic variations that conveyed deeper meanings.

Women played an important role in shaping the musical landscape of the American colonies through their participation as amateur musicians. Here are some key points about the influence of women on the evolution of music in the early American colonies:

  • The ubiquity of Vernacular Music-Making - the sources indicate that vernacular or informal music-making was widespread in early America, and women were active participants. People sang and played instruments during work, leisure time, and social gatherings.

  • Domestic Music-Making - Women were often responsible for domestic music-making within the home. They sang songs, played instruments like the cittern, virginals (a type of harpsichord), and violin/fiddle for entertainment and social occasions.

  • Transmission of Folk Songs and Ballads - Women played a crucial role in the transmission and adaptation of European folk songs and ballads in the colonies. These songs were passed down orally, often by women, and underwent modifications to suit the American experience.

  • Influence on Religious Music - Women contributed to the development of religious music in the colonies, particularly in New England. They sang Psalms, Hymns, and other Sacred Music within the Church and Home settings, shaping the evolution of these genres.

  • Participation in Music Societies - as Music Societies and Schools emerged in the Colonies, Women were involved as participants and Students, contributing to the spread of formal music education and performance practices.

  • Preservation of Musical Traditions - interestingly, the sources suggest that African American Women played a role in preserving and passing down European Folk Song traditions through oral transmission within their Communities.

Beethoven’s Impact on Music Evolution

Beethoven was an innovator of Musical Form. He widened the scope of the Symphony, the Sonata, the Concerto, and the Quartet and in so doing broke many patterns of Classical Music. In Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, for example, Beethoven rearranged the formal structure of the Classical Symphony and incorporated a choral finale. The finale was a first in the history of Classical Music: Beethoven was the first composer to combine vocal and instrumental music in a symphony. In short, Beethoven’s work elevated instrumental music... hitherto considered inferior to vocal music... to the realm of high Art.

In essence, Beethoven liberated Music from traditional forms and conventions, paving the way for the highly expressive and personal Romantic era that followed. Beethoven’s music marked the end of the Classical Era (1750–1820) and the onset of the Romantic era (1815–1910) in Music. His compositions introduced variability into Music composition that then became the new cultural practices that defined the new era within the institution of Music.

Industrial Revolution

During the pre-Civil War period, the Industrial Revolution had a major impact on Music for what was becoming the “Middle Class” of Workers… the evolution of Instruments afforded innovators the opportunity to advance the Sounds they made and now everyone could make their own Music.

The mass production of affordable Musical Instruments like Pianos, Guitars, and Woodwinds enabled domestic music-making in the parlors of the growing Middle Class. This was enhanced by the development of Music printing and publishing, leading to a booming sheet music industry that made popular songs and transcriptions widely available to the masses.

Improvements in transportation allowed touring Virtuosos and orchestras to perform public concerts even in smaller cities, bringing music to a wider audience beyond the aristocracy. The desire for louder instruments that could fill larger concert halls drove innovations in instrument design.

Also, the “Great Awakening” played a crucial role in shaping American folk music by inspiring new forms of participatory and communal Music, facilitating the blending of musical traditions, influencing African American music, democratizing Music, preserving and disseminating folk songs, and setting the stage for the development of secular folk genres.

Perhaps most significantly, the incorporation of African Musical traditions like Spirituals, Work Songs, and Shout Songs profoundly shaped the development of uniquely American popular Music Genres. While enslaved Peoples were prohibited from using Drums, they maintained rich musical traditions through oral/aural transmission that would influence American Music (the Blues and Jazz) for generations.

California Gold Rush

The California Gold Rush of 1848-1855 had a significant impact on the evolution of American music, particularly in the development of new popular Music styles and the spread of African musical influences. Music had become a commodity… European Virtuosos toured the country, Taverns held nightly performances, Concerts on the Green, Church Socials, and New Orleans had introduced the formal Parade for the Carnival season.


The Northern Music scene before the Civil War was marked by the rise of Blackface Minstrelsy, a booming sheet music industry, public concerts, European musical traditions, and early encounters with African American musical styles - setting the stage for the cross-pollination of genres during and after the war. Major cities like New York had a thriving theater scene with professional opera, orchestral, and theatrical performances. The growth of sheet music publishing, especially in cities like Chicago, facilitated the spread of popular songs and domestic Music-making. European Musical traditions brought by Immigrants were held at Festivals in every City… Music became a tradition in every Home.

The Southern Music scene maintained stronger European Musical traditions among the elite and saw the emergence of distinctly Southern musical styles and anthems in the lead-up to the war. Music played a crucial role in shaping the cultural identity of the South before the Civil War. The distinct Musical traditions that emerged in the South were deeply intertwined with the region's history, social fabric, and way of life.

The Music of enslaved Africans had a profound impact on the development of Southern musical identity. Work songs, spirituals, and blues emerged from the experiences of enslaved people and became integral parts of Southern folk music. The deep waters of Southern Folk Music flowed principally from the confluence of two mighty cultural streams, the British and the West African.

The Appalachian Region was a crucible for the development of uniquely Southern musical styles like bluegrass. Bluegrass arrived with English and Irish settlers crossing the Atlantic Ocean and became a staple of the Appalachian area. The Music was typically composed with acoustic string instruments and sung in a high-pitched, fast-paced tempo, with lyrics covering topics like religion, love, and Family.

Minstrel shows, though often perpetuating offensive stereotypes, played a role in disseminating Southern Music to wider audiences before the Civil War. At least as late as World War I, Minstrel Troupes featuring African-American performers such as Billy Kersands, Ma Rainey, and Bessie Smith spread Black Southern Music to a wide audience.


The music scene in America before the Civil War was diverse and shaped by various cultural influences. Here are the key points:

  • Native American music had a significant impact, with its oral traditions, polyrhythms, and call-and-response styles.

  • African American Music, brought by enslaved Africans, introduced elements like blue notes, complex rhythms, and the blending of music with dance and movement. This laid the foundation for Genres like Blues and Gospel.

  • European immigrants contributed their own Musical styles, such as Scottish and Irish fFolk Music, Eastern European Polka, and German and French Classical Music.

  • The First New England School of composers, like William Billings, developed unique sacred music styles like shape note singing and fuging tunes, which spread across the nation.

  • Minstrel shows featuring white performers in blackface became popular, with songwriters like Stephen Foster incorporating elements of "Ethiopian music" into their compositions. This marked the beginnings of American popular music.

  • Military Bands and Brass marches, exemplified by John Philip Sousa, were also a prominent part of the Musical landscape.

  • Musical Theater, such as Ballad Operas and Vaudeville, gained popularity, reflecting the diverse cultural influences of the time.

The pre-Civil War Music scene was a melting pot of Native American, African American, European, and emerging American styles, laying the foundations for many Genres that would shape the future of American Music.


In summary, during the Age of Exploration and the early Colonization of America, Music played an important role in the lives of Settlers and Native Americans. Settlers brought Musical traditions from Europe, including Religious Hymns, Folk Songs, and Dances. Native Americans had their own rich Musical heritage with Songs and Chants for various Rituals and Ceremonies.

As the Colonies grew, a distinct American Musical identity began to emerge, blending European traditions with Native American and African influences brought by enslaved people. Popular Music Genres like Minstrel Shows and Blackface performances arose, though they promoted offensive racial stereotypes. Community Bands and Brass Bands also gained popularity in the decades leading up to the Civil War.

When the Civil War began in 1861, music played a prominent role on both sides of the conflict. Soldiers from across the country traded tunes, instruments, and techniques, leading to the cross-fertilization of Musical styles and the creation of the first truly American folk music. Popular patriotic songs like "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and "Dixie" emerged, rallying troops and capturing the sentiments of the war. Music provided comfort, boosted morale, and served functional purposes like issuing marching orders on the battlefield.


In Part #3, the Civil War acted as a crucible, blending the nation's diverse musical streams into new artistic expressions that reflected the experiences and sentiments of a conflicted but coalescing American identity. This was the period where freedom allowed many (not all) the ability to make American Music a “melting Pot” of Sounds...

All led to the evolution of Blues and Jazz beginning in New Orleans!!!


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