Music Through the Decades: American Style

An interior shot of Happy Trails Records in Corvallis, where you can find new and used vinyl and CD’s of music for almost any decade. 

Every aspect of American culture has been transformed in some way to fit our modern society. An important part of any culture is the art that surrounds it: music, dance, creation, imagery.

One of the most defining aspects of a people is their music, and America has no shortage of it. The American Dream originated in the 1930s so we’re going to start there.


Louis Armstrong, jazz musician 

One of the most influential faces of jazz music and culture. His trumpet was his sword and he slayed with it. Not only this, but he was a producer, vocalist, actor and public figure. 

Billie Holiday, beautiful vocalist 

She helped define swing music and pushed the boundaries of jazz music while incorporating new tempos and rhythmic patterns. She had an incredible career spanning 26 years after overcoming a tumultuous childhood.

Duke Ellington, American jazz composer

His career spanned over six decades until his death in 1974. He was an American composer and led a jazz orchestra to a lifetime of success. A true legend. 


Ella Fitzgerald, American jazz singer 

She was known for her impeccable timing and ability to improvise almost perfectly. Some even referred to her as the First Lady of Song. 

Frank Sinatra, singer, producer, actor and icon of the 20th century 

He sold over 150 million copies worldwide, putting him up there as one of the most popular localists in history. 

Perry Como, singer and TV personality 

Perry touched the hearts of America. His career spanned just about half a century where he recorded exclusively for RCA Victor starting in 1943


Elvis Presley, commonly known as the King

He single handedly shaped American culture, but it should be noted a lot of his moves and style came from African American blues artists that weren’t as recognized at the time. 

Andre Kostelanetz, Russian-born American composer 

He was a popular conductor and organizer who was key in shaping the major components in contemporary orchestra music.

Chuck Berry, musician and guitarist

Commonly known for coining his infamous moves of running back and forth on stage strumming his guitar. He was a singer, songwriter and pioneer of what would become modern rock and roll.


I can’t even pick three here so I’m giving you a list: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Doors, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, the list literally goes on and on. Selfishly, this is when my favorite music starts so let’s just jump in. 

Led Zeppelin, one of the greatest bands ever

They’ve toured all corners of the world ten times over. Somehow four incredibly talented musicians found each other and created some of the most melodic, groundbreaking music that we could have imagined. 

The Rolling Stones, equally one of the greatest bands of all time. 

The Beatles, you already know

I don’t have to say anything else here. 

Jimi Hendrix, singer, songwriter and godly guitarist

He gave us heaven on earth then he left all at the young age of 27. 


I’m talking Woodstock, LSD, David Bowie, sex, drugs and rock and roll. 

Instead of listing artists here I want to talk about an event that changes American music and history forever–Woodstock.

Though the festival took place in August of ‘69, it shaped the decade to come.

It was insanity, chaos.  Masses of nudity, drugs, they caterers ran out of food, the medical tents were flooded with people– but the music. If you were anyone who was anyone, you played this festival. 

The most iconic performance actually came the day it ended. Jimi Hendrix was supposed to close out the festival, but due to weather conditions and a number of other things, he wasn’t able to. Instead, he played at 9 a.m. the morning after where he famously performed his rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. Something so moving, and so political it will bring tears to your eyes. 

And that’s all I’m gonna say about the ‘70s. Well, all that and maybe disco. 


Some big names you’ll recognize are Cyndi Lauper,  Madonna, Michael Jackson and Def Leppard

Michael Jackson, most iconic pop icon

Madonna, pop queen 

She served us hit after hit that every teenage girl in American knew the lyrics too. She took pop and made it sexy, fresh and relevant.

Def Leppard, hair band 

Tight clothes, big hair, make-up, ego, sex and sweat. 

The 1980s were simultaneously a decade of rock and roll, new-age rock, pop and electronic. That’s what makes it so unique. 


Not only grunge: alternative, punk, hip hop, rap, EDM–  David Bowie even made a drum and bass album. 

We see the rise of Nirvana, Snoop Dog, the Spice Girls, Elton John, the Notorious B.I.G, Radiohead, Britney Spears, Janet Jackson. Artists from all walks of life and all genres were huge sensations. There’s not one artist to highlight because not one genre dominated. The 1990’s paved the way for what our music industry looks like today. 


And now here we are, in the 2000s and 2010s. Well, 2020 now I guess. Music continues on this path of diversity. We have hundreds of genres that are recognized and created within. Now more than ever we have access to millions of songs on our phones everyday. We have the internet. We can share our music with the world and vise versa. 

Music has and will always be a way for people to connect and express themselves. That’s what makes it so beautiful, because it’s full of emotion. This is a small list in the grand scheme of what music has encompassed over the decades, but it has shaped our culture and it’s definitely shaped our dreams. 

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