Rise of the Popular Song

1850 Song Sheet
Sea Shanty Song Sheet
The origins of the popular song in America were the traditional melodies brought by immigrants from Europe. These folk songs included jigs such as Greensleeves from the 16th century, and fiddle tunes for dancing from the 17th century, and soldier songs from the 19th century such as Yankee Doodle. With the Atlantic slave trade in the 18th century came the banjo from Africa, played on southern plantations with the spirituals and shouts and chants from African-American oral culture. The minstrel song became the first American-born music genre, when George Washington Dixon wrote comic black characters into his stage plays in Albany after 1827, performed by white actors in blackface, singing songs such as Zip Coon, in what became known as the minstrel show. Thomas Dartmouth "Daddy" Rice saw blacks dancing for money in the streets of Cincinnati and wrote the Jim Crow minstrel song in 1832. The Virginia Minstrels were the first minstrel troupe in 1842, followed by the Christy Minstrels in 1846. These traveling troupes, and the rise of music publishing houses such as Firth, Pond & Company and Charles Magnus, made popular songs widely available throughout America.

Sea and river chanties of the early 1800s such as Shenandoah were adapted and used by settlers migratng west. Political parties of the Jacksonian era created songs such as Hunters of Kentucky for campaign rallies. Henry Russell was an organist at the First Presbyterian Church in Rochester NY when he heard a speech by Henry Clay in 1835 and decided to write songs like Clay's speech. His 75 songs would make him one of America's first professional songwriters, and songs such as Woodman, Spare That Tree would influence Stephen Foster and others. Young men in the new market cities on the Ohio River formed singing groups that performed the traditional British glee songs a capella, and became known as "glee clubs. " German immigrants brought their singing societies to America, such as the Mannerchoir in Philadelphia after 1835. The Hutchinson family of Milford NH formed a quartet of brothers Judson, John, Asa, and sister Abby, and performed their first New England tour in 1842. Jenny Lind performed at Castle Island in 1850, with classical opera selections, but also performing her Echo Song and Home Sweet Home and Stephen Foster songs. Louis Gottschalk was a virtuoso pianist who toured America, and would also include Stephen Foster songs in his repertoire.