The post-war world of the mid century shook things up across the spectrum—from design to literature to music, few pieces of culture were left untouched. And the popular music of the mid century began to find a greater audience as Americans’ leisure time and disposable income grew.
Across the country, regional styles were born and then heard across radio stations nationwide. Musical genres grew out of one another, and popular music became both more diverse and widespread. There are four styles of mid century music that were especially notable—learn more about them (and have a listen!) below.
The mid century brought along the 2nd Great Migration of Black Americans from the rural South to the urban North (or to the relative north of the Midwest). With them, they brought their music. The famous blues of the Mississippi Delta soon found a home in cities like Memphis, St. Louis and Chicago, where the genre was given an urban twist—electric guitars, drums and piano were added to its instrumental lineup.
Dubbed the “Electric Blues,” this new style swept the country and the world. It influenced up-and-coming music trends like rockabilly and British blues. Some of its most prominent artists were Muddy Waters (above) and John Lee Hooker.
Combining the soulful and melodic tunes of blues and early country music with the snappy and dynamic instrumentation of early rock-n’-roll, Rockabilly is a musical style full of vocal twangs and strong rhythms. Rockabilly gets its name by combining rock-n’-roll with hillbilly (a reference to its country roots). The genre started in the South in the early ’50s and expanded nationwide as the decade rolled on.
Artists like Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Buddy Holly (above) popularized the style. Rockabilly went on to inspire bands like the Beatles in the coming decades.
Originating from the jazz music movements of the early 20th century, swing started as a big-band-style genre. (Think large dance orchestras.) The swing dance craze took off in the ’30s and ’40s before losing popularity. However, the style saw a resurgence in the 1950s as artists like Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald (above) made it more soloist-focused.
Both swing and blues music often feature a vocal or instrumental call-and-response, a tradition that finds it roots in the call-and-response songs enslaved people would sing while working.
Rock-and-roll became a worldwide craze during the mid century. The genre launched a variety of new musical styles, shaking up the world of music. The music sprang out of the genres listed above in the late ’40s, peaking in the mid ’50s before becoming the more polished and commercial rock music.
Some of rock-and-roll’s most famous artists were Jerry Lee Lewis (above), Chuck Berry and Little Richard.