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What types of music would you say are most representative of American culture?

Updated: Jul 30, 2023

Happiest of summer days to you all, and welcome back to the Gringo’s corner! If you recall from our prior column entry a couple of issues ago, we had just wrapped on a multi-part series of pieces about American films and their impact, particularly via referenced quotes often used in everyday conversations.

Well, it appears we apparently finished one multi-parter only to jump right into another one, as this edition’s question is an equally massive facet of pop culture: music.

Q: What types of music would you say are most representative of American culture?

A: This is a biggie. Not only is there a lot to consider (By what metrics are we measuring this? How much should a genre’s country of origin factor into it? Modern versus classic?), but the answers to this could easily vary depending upon whom you ask. But hey, you’re asking the Gringo, right?

Fortunately for anyone who has full access to it, American music is a hotbed of various genres and subgenres, leaving plenty of contenders for this list. There is the whole history of American music that we could dig into as deeply as we wanted, though with the submitted question being geared more toward what is representative of American culture in general, we will resist the deep dive into that and instead skip ahead to more contemporary times.

And when you go to the core of American music, you of course have to start with the grandfathers of it all: country, gospel, blues, and jazz, though perhaps not in that order.

According to record (no pun intended), the earliest forms of music to manifest in the United States were birthed by black communities - blues in the rural South, and jazz in the more urban areas. Both of these, while strongly influencing the development of plenty of other types of music to come after them, are still very much alive and well today, and significantly represent American music in a way no other genre can, with the delta blues of the deep South being a particularly stripped-down and dirty version that, at least for me, is about as pure as it gets. A few choice favorites of mine in that category are Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Robert Lockwood, Jr., and of course, the legendary Robert Johnson.

Vibes range from wistfully beautiful longing and heartbreak to darker lamentations concerning slavery, suffering, and death. Yeah, it can get pretty heavy, but in the most emotionally and resonantly satisfying way imaginable. Truly, if I had to name what I consider to be the most critically indispensable genre in American music, it would be the blues. But naturally, we’ve only scratched the surface.

More to come next issue!


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