- In The Beginning
- 1400 – 1600 Renaissance Period
- 1600 – 1760 Baroque Period
- 1730 – 1820 Classical Period
- 1815 – 1910 Romantic Period
- 1911 – 2000
- 2000 – present
The use of specific musical instruments follows public tastes in musical styles. To understand the stringed instruments of any age, it helps to know something of the historical context that led to their development: both the musical precedents and the historical events that had an impact at the time. Music, especially songs with lyrics, is commonly written in response to current events – common experience seeking expression. The following timeline is a work-in-progress of the history of the guitar and its role in supporting musical styles. If you have corrections, clarifications, additional thoughts, insights or information, please contact us.
In the Beginning
- According to Farabi, the oud was invented by the sixth grandson of Adam, Lamech. Legend has it that the grieving Lamech hung the body of his dead son from a tree. As the bones of the skeleton bleached in the sun and dry air, they inspired the shape of the first oud. The music of the oud was deemed suitable for the praise of Allah.
- The oldest pictorial record of a lute-like stringed instrument dates back to the Uruk period in Southern Mesopotamia-Iraq (current-day Nasria city) on a cylinder seal acquired by Dr. Dominique Collon and currently housed at the British Museum. The image depicts a female crouching with her instruments upon a boat, playing right-handed. These instruments appear throughout Mesopotamian and ancient Egyptian history from the 18th dynasty onwards. They appear in long and short-neck varieties. There are examples at the Metropolitan Museums of New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland, and the British Museum on clay tablets and papyrus paper. The close relatives to these instruments have been a part of the music of each of the ancient civilizations that have existed in the Mediterranean and the Middle East regions, including the Sumerians, Akkadians, Persians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Armenians, Greeks, Egyptians, and Romans.
- The future King Solomon was born. In approximately 985 BCE Solomon penned the lyrics to the 1965 AD number 1 hit “Turn! Turn! Turn!” as covered by the Byrds. The words were recorded in Ecclesiastes 3:1. The music was later provided by Pete Seeger in 1959 AD. This makes King Solomon the earliest known author (with writer’s credit) of a Billboard 100 charted hit.
- In late March and early April, the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn produced an unusually bright light in the sky. This celestial event is assumed to be the star that led the three wise men to the city of Bethlehem. This also agrees with the appropriate time of year for a census, called for by Augustus Caesar (31 BC – 14 AD), requiring all to return to their place of birth to be counted. Spring is the appropriate time for travel. As this occurred during the local reign of Herod (who died on March 12th or 13th, 4 BCE), it is the likely birth date for Jesus Christ.
- Christianity becomes the official religion of the Roman Empire. As Emperor Constantine had converted to Christianity, he felt it was appropriate that the rest of the Empire should follow suit. This change was fertile ground for the creation of many new songs.
500 – 1400 AD (CE) – Medieval Period
- During the Middle Ages, guitars with 3, 4 and 5 strings were already in use. The Guitarra Latina had curved sides and is thought to have come to Spain from elsewhere in Europe. The Guitarra Morisca, as brought to Spain by the Moors, had an oval soundbox and many sound holes on its soundboard.
590 – 604
- The Gregorian Chant was developed, also known as the Plain Chant or Plainsong. It was named in honor of Pope St. Gregory the Great and used formally in all church services. Through the influence of the Church, the new form of music spread quickly toward the West.
- There is evidence of the early form of counterpoint — the development of ‘Organum’.
711 AD (CE)
- The oud was most likely introduced to Western Europe by the Moors — Arabs who established the Umayyad Caliphate of Al-Andalus on the Iberian Peninsula. Oud-like instruments such as the Ancient Greek Pandoura and the Roman Pandura likely made their way to the Iberian Peninsula much earlier than the oud, but it was the royal houses of Al-Andalus that cultivated the level of oud playing and raised the popularity of the instrument. The most famous oud player of Al-Andalus was Zyriab. He established the first music conservatory in Spain and added a fifth course to the instrument. The European version of the oud came to be known as the lute (luth in French, laute in German, liuto in Italian, luit in Dutch, and alaud in Spanish). The word “luthier,” meaning stringed instrument maker, is also derived from the French luth. Unlike the oud, the European lute introduced frets (usually tied gut).
- Construction of the oud is similar to the lute. The back of the instrument is made of thin wood staves, edge-glued together. The instrument usually has an odd number of staves — a center stave rather than a center seam. Contrasting trim pieces are often used between staves. Patterns and wood species generally vary between luthiers. The top is generally made of two book-matched pieces of spruce. Transverse spruce braces are glued to the underside of the top. The necks were generally made of a single piece of wood and veneered in a striped pattern similar to that of the back. The peghead meets the neck at a severe angle.
- The vocal structure of the Gregorian Chants used in Roman Catholic Church services began to evolve from simple chants to parallel intervals — the development of polyphony and eventually harmony.
1000 – 1100
- The 11th and 12th centuries saw the rise of the Troubadour and Trouvére — a developing tradition of secular song about chivalry and courtly love. One of the better-known Troubadours of the period was Guillaume d’Aquitaine.
1150 – 1250
- Rhythmic music notation appeared during this time and the center of musical activity in Europe was found at the Notre Dame school of polyphony.
- One strain of music during this period was ‘Geisslerlieder,’ the songs of the flagellants. It was simple ‘folk’ music practiced by believers of self-mortification — they would whip themselves to demonstrate humility and worthiness.
1100 – 1300
- In Germany, lyric and songwriting in the Troubadour tradition from France took hold and became known as ‘Minnesang’. The topics were still courtly love and secular pleasures. Those who made names for themselves included Hartmann von Aue, Henric van Veldeke and Wolfram von Eschenbach.
- The first mention of a guitar in historical records.
- Records exist of the Duke of Normandy employing musicians playing instruments known as Guiterre Morische (Moorish Guitar) and Guitarra Latina (Latin Guitar). The Guiterre Morische evolved into the European Lute and the modern Arabic oud. The Guitarra Latina, however, eventually evolved into the guitar.
1400 – 1600 Renaissance Period
- The gittern (English for Renaissance guitar) resembles a small lute or guitar. It was carved from a single piece of wood with a curved (“sickle-shaped”) peghead. An examplee has survived from around 1450.
- The increasing reliance on the interval of the third as a consonance is one of the most pronounced features of early Renaissance European art music (in the Middle Ages, thirds had been considered dissonances: see interval). Polyphony, in use since the 12th century, became increasingly elaborate with highly independent voices throughout the 14th century. The beginning of the 15th century showed simplification, with the voices often striving for smoothness. This was possible because of a greatly increased vocal range in music — in the Middle Ages, the narrow range made necessary frequent crossing of parts, thus requiring a greater contrast between them. Stringed instruments gained strings to extend their usable range.
- The modal (as opposed to tonal) characteristics of Renaissance music began to break down towards the end of the period with the increased use of root motions of fifths. This later developed into one of the defining characteristics of tonality.
- The Italian humanist movement, rediscovering and reinterpreting the aesthetics of ancient Greece and Rome, influenced the development of musical style during the period.
- The first guitars are thought to have originated during the 15th Century in Spain. These had four ‘courses’ of strings or sets of two strings tuned to the same note to give the guitar resonance. However the Lute was consistently favored by the public over the Guitar until the end of the 15th Century.
- Johannes Tinctoris described two forms of the instrument — one “invented by the Spanish which both they and the Italians call the viola… This viola differs from the lute in that the lute is much larger and tortoise shaped, while the viola is flat and curved inwards on each side.” ‘Viola’ or ‘vihuela’ in Spanish, is not referring to the modern viola, but an early guitar. The other instrument described by Tinctoris is “the instrument invented by the Catalans, which some call the guiterra and others the ghiterne… the guiterra is used most rarely because of the thinness of its sound. When I heard it in Calaonia, it was being used much more often by women to accompany love songs, than by men.” In Italy these were known by other names: the ‘viola da mano’ with six courses of strings and the ‘chitarra’ with 4 courses of strings (or ‘guitarra’ in Spain).
- Faxardo wrote that the guitarra “won’t bear the fingers but must be touched with a fine quill to make it exert its harmony.” Documents of the day refer to the Vihuela de Mano (played with the fingers) and the vihuela de penile (played with a quill).
- Tobias Stimmer (1539-84) stated, “One can tell by the looks of it that it served as an introduction to the lute for accompanying old songs, for reciting old tales and a good many other things. We should preserve the tradition of our elders.”
- The Vihuela de Mano (examples can occasionally be found today) was the largest guitar to date. It used gut strings in six courses and was played with a pick, unlike the other early guitar forms, which were bowed.
- Earliest surviving music for the vihuela consisting of Courtly dances and song accompaniments. Seven manuscripts survived; written for the upper classes. The music was transcribed in a form of tablature.
- Various tunings were recorded by Juan Bermudo (1510-65), including ADGBEA and GCFADG. Note the fifths in the former.
- The book De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres) by Nicolaus Copernicus (2/19/1473 – 5/24/1543) was published shortly before the author’s death. Copernicus was the first to formulate a comprehensive heliocentric cosmology with the sun – not the earth – at the center of the universe.
- Tres Libros de Musica en Cifras para Vihuela by Alonso Mudarra is published to include music for guitar.
- Henry VIII of England had 21 guitars in his collection of musical instruments.
- Nine books of tablature were published by Adrian Le Roy. These include pieces for 5 course guitar. The addition of the 5th course was attributed to Vicente Espinel.
- In the French court a record states, “In my earliest years we used to play the lute more than the guitar, but for 12 or 15 years now everyone has been guitarring.”
- The Counter-Reformation was set in motion by Pope Pius IV as he strove to restore church music to its true essence, by the elimination of all instruments (except the organ), the removal of all melody and harmony, and a return to the simple vocal chant. This, in theory, would help eliminate any trace of secularism that had crept into the church. Giovanni Da Palestrina, while staying within the strict dictates of the Pope’s wishes, composed the piece “Pope Marcellus Mass,” and may have saved polyphony.
- St. Paul’s dictum had prohibited women from performing in public — even in church. The need for soprano and alto parts in harmony was filled by young boys. The problem was that their voices tended to drop with puberty at about the same time that they were well trained and familiar with the ever more difficult singing parts. The solution in Italy was castration. This tended to preserve the high voices. The practice was common by 1574.
- 48-year-old Chu Tsai-yu published a work called A New Account of the Science of the Pitch-Pipes. Though the work was not published outside China at the time, it would have a profound effect on all of Western music. In essence, he solved the problem of equal temperament. There is a misfit between the natural 7 octaves and 12 perfect 5ths equal temperament — they don’t fit. It doesn’t work mathematically and didn’t work tonally. Chu Tsai-yu devised that the 5ths can be tempered not by the relative lengths of the pipes but by the ratios of their sizes. He calculated a formula that yielded a scale of evenly spaced notes where the semitones fit properly into the octave. Ironically, the discovery was irrelevant to Chinese musical theory, which was based upon a 5 tone scale. The Jesuit Priest Matteo Ricci, as part of a group of Jesuit Missionaries in the Southern port of Macao, appears to have passed the information out of China around 1595. See 1620.
- In England, a movement led by Sir Thomas Morley established the English Madrigal School. The complex harmonies were secular in nature and told tales of grief or love.
- Opera is born in the salon of Count Giovanni de Bardi as a group of intellectuals and musicians gathered to find a way to combine music and drama.
- The first Italian opera is produced, Jacopo Peri’s Dafne.
- The second Italian opera is produced, Jacopo Peri’s Euridice.
1600 – 1760 Baroque Period
- The canon promulgated at the Council of Trent (1545 – 63), by which the Roman Catholic Church addressed the representational arts by demanding that paintings and sculptures in church contexts should speak to the illiterate rather than to the well informed. This notion is customarily offered as an inspiration of the Baroque. The move toward a populist conception of the function of ecclesiastical art is seen by many art historians as driving the innovations of Caravaggio and the Carracci brothers, all of whom were working in Rome at that time.
- The appeal of the Baroque style shifted consciously from the witty, intellectual qualities of 16th century Mannerist art to a visceral appeal aimed at the senses. It used direct, simple, obvious, and dramatic iconography. Baroque art drew on certain broad and heroic tendencies in Annibale Carracci (and his circle) and flourished with artists such as Caravaggio, and Federico Barocci. Germinal ideas of the Baroque can also be found in the work of Michelangelo and Correggio.
- Baroque music used contrasting phrase lengths, harmony and counterpoint (replacing polyphony) and orchestral color made a stronger appearance.
- During the Baroque period, a 5th course of two strings was added, and several publications especially for guitarists were produced.
- At the end of the Baroque period, the courses were replaced by single strings, and a final string was added to create the six-stringed guitar of today.
- In Europe, musicians and artists were generally supported by the church, the state and the rich. This patronage system had been practiced in Italy for hundreds of years, Including the late 1400s and early 1500s, when Michelangelo worked as a sculptor and artist for the Medici family in Florence.
- The guitar’s popularity begins to rival the lute.
- During the Baroque period the 5 course guitar effectively replaced the 4 and 6 course vihuela instruments, and the tuning was largely standardized (with notable exceptions) to ADGBE. Note that this matches the current standard tuning of the top 5 strings.
- Inquisitor Covarrubias complained, “but now the guitar is no more than a cowbell: so easy to play, especially rasgueado (strumming), that there is not a stable lad who is not a musician on the guitar.”
- Belgian mathematician Simon Stevin died. In his notes and papers was the formula for equal temperament by Chu Tsai-yu from 1584. The timing was perfect — equal temperament was the issue of the day with advancements in harmony and composition. It would be many years before the issues were fully resolved, and the refined scale was hotly debated. It was not until the era of Beethoven that the equally tempered scale was fully adopted by Western composers.
- Francesco Corbetta (composer and guitar virtuoso) dedicates “La Guitarre Royal” to King Charles II. Charles was a guitar player as well.
- Dutch Master Johannes Vermeer paints Lady With a Guitar.
- The publication of “La Guitarre Royal” by F. Corbetta was dedicated to Louis XIV. It served to increase the popularity of the guitar.
- The book Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica by Sir Isaac Newton (12/25/1642 – 3/20/1727) was published. Newton demonstrated that the motions of objects on earth and celestial bodies are governed by the same set of natural laws. He demonstrated consistency between Kepler’s laws of planetary motion and his own theory of gravitation. This removed remaining doubts about heliocentrism (see 1543) and set the stage for advances in the scientific view of the physical universe for the next three centuries.
1680 – 1688
- Antonio Stradivari (1644 – December 18th, 1737) set up shop in Cremona in 1660. He had been an apprentice to Nicolo Amati, and created some of the most treasured violins in history during his golden period —1698 and 1720. As a luthier, he fashioned many different types of instruments, including a very small number of guitars between 1680 and 1688. Surviving examples are maple backed and have ebony fretboards and inlays and a scale length of 74 cm. He is said to have built or collaborated on more than 1,101 instruments total. Approximately 650 instruments survive today.
- Bartolomeo Cristofori (1655-1731) went to work at the court of Prince Ferdinand de’ Medici in Florence as a designer and custodian of keyboard Instruments. He is noted for various innovations in harpsichord construction and especially for the invention of the piano.
- William Turner wrote,“The fine easie ghittar, whose performance is soon gained, at least after the brushing way, hath at this time overtopt the nobler lute…. Nor is it to be denied that after the pinching way, the ghittar makes some good work.”
- Francesco Mannucci noted in his diary in February of 1711 that in 1698, Bartolomeo Cristofori began work on the “arcicembal che fa il piano e il forte” (harpsichord with soft and loud) The inventory of Medici instruments for 1700 show that at least one had been completed by that date. According to Scipione Maffei in 1711, In 1709 Cristofori had built three “gravicembalo col piano e forte” They had a mechanical action that made it possible to simultaneously strike as many notes as one had fingers. The mechanical action had hammers that tapped the heavy string courses and a shift so the hammer would play only one of the two strings for lower volume. The idea was not immediately popular in Italy. Harpsichord players found the touch difficult to master and were not comfortable with the unfamiliar tone.
- Antonio Vivaldi composes “The Four Seasons.”
1730 – 1820 Classical Period
- Europe began to move to a new style in architecture, literature, and the arts, now described as Classicism. While still tightly linked to the court culture and absolutism, with its formality and emphasis on order and hierarchy, the new style was cleaner, and favored a clearer division between parts, brighter contrasts and colors, and simplicity rather than complexity. The development of ideas in “natural philosophy” established itself in the public consciousness (with Newton’s physics taken as a paradigm) — structures should be well-founded in axioms and be both well-articulated and orderly. This taste for structural clarity worked its way into the world of music, moving away from the layered polyphony of the Baroque period, towards a style where a melody over a subordinate harmony — a combination called homophony — was preferred. This meant that the playing of chords, even if they interrupted the melodic smoothness of a single part, became a much more prevalent feature of music. This, in turn, made the tonal structure of works more audible.
- Changes in the economic and in social structure also moved the new style forward. As the 18th century progressed, the nobility became the primary patrons of instrumental music, and there was a rise in the public taste for comic opera. This led to changes in the way music was performed, the most crucial of which was the move to standard instrumental groups and the reduction in the importance of the continuo — the harmonic fill beneath the music, often played by several instruments. One way to trace this decline of the continuo and its figured chords is to examine the decline of the term obbligato (meaning a mandatory instrumental part in a work of chamber music). In the Baroque world, additional instruments could be optionally added to the continuo; in the Classical world, all parts were noted specifically (though not always notated), so the word ‘obbligato’ became redundant. By 1800, the term was virtually extinct.
- The best-known composers of this period are Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven. Beethoven is also sometimes regarded either as a Romantic composer or a composer who was part of the transition to the Romantic; Franz Schubert is also something of a transitional figure. The period is sometimes referred to as the era of Viennese Classicism (German: Wiener Klassik), since Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Franz Schubert all worked at some time in Vienna, comprising the First Viennese School.
- During the Classical Period there were many publications, composers and performers of the classical guitar including Gaspar Sanz (1640-1710), Fernando Sor (1778-1839), Mauro Giuliani (1781-1829)
- Gottfried Silberman read a German-language account of Scipione Maffei’s article on Bartolomeo Cristofori’s “gravicembalo col piano e forte” and started experimenting on the new design. Bach tried one of his pianos but did not like the heavy touch and weak treble. Eventually Silberman obtained a more accurate description of Cristofori’s action. It is reported that Bach was well pleased with Silberman’s latest piano design, which had an action identical to the 1720s Cristofori pianos that survive to this day.
- Serious works for the guitar were few and far between during the rise of the new piano and the Classical Period. The guitar assumed the role of an instrument of polite society for the amorous and frivolous. There were, of course, notable exceptions like the works of Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757) of whom it was said that “surely no composer ever fell more deeply under its spell” (referring to the guitar).
- Handel’s “Messiah” premiers in Dublin, Ireland. The piece is enthusiastically received.
- J.S. Bach dies. Many view this as the end of the Baroque Period.
1750 – 1850
- The six-string guitar evolved — multiple courses had been almost entirely replaced by single strings, and many prominent composers such as Fernando Sor, Mauro Guiliani, Matteo Carcassi, and Dioniso Aguado performed and instructed students in the art of guitar playing. The popularity of guitar grows throughout Europe.
1770 – 1827
- Ludwig van Beethoven (12/17/1770 – 3/26/1827) German composer and pianist. He is viewed by many as the most influential figure in the transitional period between the Classical and Romantic eras in Western music. He studied under Joseph Haydn and gained a reputation as a virtuoso pianist as a young man. His hearing began to deteriorate in the late 1790s, and yet he continued to perform, conduct and compose even after becoming completely deaf.
- The British soldiers stationed in America penned a simple tune and lyrics to mock the American regulars. The ditty was titled “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” The Americans liked the catchy little tune and quickly adopted it as their own.
- The earliest known existing 6-string guitar was built in 1779 by Gaetano Vinaccia (1759 – 1831) in Naples, Italy. The Vinaccia family of luthiers is known for developing the mandolin. This guitar has been examined and does not show telltale signs of modifications from a double-course guitar. The authenticity of guitars allegedly produced before the 1790s is often in question.
- Across Europe, the trend in guitar design was toward instruments with sixindividual strings. The movement was led by the French and the Italians. Spain, for the most part, continued with 6-course instruments. The tuning that evolved as most popular was EADGBE.
- Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro opens in Vienna.
- The French Revolution is a period of political and social upheaval for France that ultimately affected every European power. The absolute French monarchy with feudal privileges for the aristocracy and Catholic Clergy was violently overthrown and replaced with a government formed under the Enlightenment and based on principals of citizenship and inalienable rights. The transition was not smooth.
- Following the French Revolution, property confiscated from the aristocracy by the Committee for the Public Safety included dozens of guitars.
- Moretti’s 6-string method was published.
- The Principal for Playing Guitar with Six Strings by Federico Moretti was published.
- Beethoven composed “Eroica,” his third symphony. To many, this marks the beginning of the Romantic Period.
- Attending a concert by guitar virtuoso Mauro Giuliani in Vienna, Ludwig Van Beethoven declared, “the guitar is an orchestra in itself!”
- Beethoven composed “Symphony No. 5,” considered by some as the most popular classical work ever written.
- Charles Robert Darwin (February 12th, 1809 – April 19th, 1882), an English naturalist, who developed the theory of natural selection, evolution, was born.
On February 12th, Abraham Lincoln was also born.
- During the night of September 13-14, at the battle of Baltimore (War of 1812), 35-year-old lawyer and amateur poet Francis Scott Key watched the British bombardment of American forces at Fort McHenry. In the morning, as the smoke cleared, he saw the American flag still waving. He was inspired to poetry, and composed “The Defense of Fort McHenry” that was published in the Patriot on September 20th, 1814. The poem was later set to the tune of a popular British song written by John Stafford Smith for the Anacreontic Society (a men’s social club in London). “The Anacreontic Song” (or “To Anacreon in Heaven”), with various lyrics, was already popular in the United States. The new arrangement was especially appropriate to the patriotic fervor of the time and became widely popular. It later became known as “The Star-Spangled Banner” and was adopted as the American National Anthem by an executive order of Woodrow Wilson in 1916 and later by Congressional resolution in 1931.
1815 – 1910 Romantic Period
- The era of Romantic music ran roughly from the end of the Napoleonic Wars to around the end of the 19th century.
- “The Romantic Period” is sometimes described as 1770-1830. This was a period of political and intellectual upheaval. Science and art flourished. Germany entered “with energy and brio” onto a stage that had previously been dominated by England, France, Italy and Spain.
- Romantic Music refers to the theory, compositional practice, and canon in European music history, from about 1820 to 1900. ‘Romanticism’ does not necessarily imply romantic love, though the theme was prevalent in many works composed during the period. It is more appropriate to describe romanticism as the expansion of formal structures within a composition, making the pieces more emotionally expressive. Because of the particular use of these elements of form, key, instrumentation, etc. within a typical composition, it became easier to identify an artist based on the work. For example, Beethoven favored a smooth transition from the 3rd to 4th movement in his symphonies, and therefore his pieces are easier to identify.
- François René Lacote was laying the groundwork for the modern guitar: building guitars in France with fixed metal frets, fixed bridge with ivory saddles, bridge pins and tuners arranged in slotted headstocks like classical guitars today. Though small, the guitars were braced similarly to today’s classical instruments and were remarkably loud. This made public performance possible.
- Johann Anton Stauffer (Vienna, Austria, 1805 & after 1851) working with guitar virtuoso Rinaldo Luigi Legnani (1790-1877) who was also an amateur violin and guitar maker, developed a guitar design that performed particularly well both in volume and tone.
- While records of the period are sketchy, it would appear that the young Christian Frederick Martin entered an apprenticeship with Johann Anton Stauffer and proved to be a gifted craftsman, as he was named foreman of Stauffer’s shop shortly after his arrival.
- “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” (also known as “America”) was first sung at Park Street Church in Boston. Words by Samuel Francis Smith, set to the tune of “God Save the King.”
- 37-year-old Christian Frederick Martin left Germany and the oppressive rules of the Instrument Guilds on September 9th, 1833 for New York City. Upon arrival, he quickly set up shop at 196 Hudson Street on the Lower West Side. His modest storefront housed limited guitar production in the back room and retail space selling everything from cornets to sheet music.
- Samuel Colt perfected the 1st handgun with a revolving cylinder: the legendary 6-shooter.
- April 24th, a patent for the 1st soda fountain machine.
- December 3rd: Oberlin College (Ohio) was founded – the 1st American co-educational college and later, the 1st American college to advocate the abolition of slavery and accept black men and women on equal terms with whites.
- The only time in American history when the nation was free of debt.
- The Liberty Bell cracked as it tolled for the death of Chief Justice John Marshall.
- “Amazing Grace” was published to the tune of “New Britain” in William Walker’s The Southern Harmony. This is the version most often sung today. The original lyrics grew from a collaboration between minister John Newton and poet William Cowper, also a born-again Christian. The poem “Amazing Grace” was most likely written in Kineton, Warwickshire around Christmas 1772. The lyrics were based on Newton’s reflections on an Old Testament passage he was preparing for a sermon, adding his perspective about his personal conversion while Captain on his slave ship, the Greyhound, in 1748.
- The Washington Monument was begun by architect Robert Mills.
- 3,000 Mexican troupes stormed the Alamo on March 6th. It was defended by 182 Texans including James Bowie, Col. William B. Travis and Tennessean Davy Crocket.
- Paralleling Francisco Tarrega’s achievements in performance technique was the work of luthier Antonio Torres Jurado (1817-1892). He placed emphasis on the action of the soundboard in producing volume and tone. To improve the instrument he enlarged the body and refined a pattern of fan bracing (still used today). His preferred scale length was 650cm. Many of his improvements are considered the standards of the classical guitar today. His innovations resulted in the formation of the Spanish School of Guitar Making whose membership included the most important luthiers of the late 19th century, including the Ramirez family.
- In Boston Massachusetts, the first American music education was introduced into public schools, by music educator: Lowell Mason. He was best known for his many hymns and anthems, including “Jerusalem, My Glorious Home.”
- C. F. Martin, Sr. moves his family and business to Nazareth, Pennsylvania.
- C .F. Martin, Sr. creates the X-bracing pattern for guitar tops to give strength to the guitar top to handle the pressure of taut strings and heavy playing.
- The New York Philharmonic was founded, now the oldest orchestra in the U.S. Originally known as The Philharmonic Society of New York (some feel that actual date of establishment is 1839).
- First private bathtub appeared in a New York hotel. One year later, bathtubs were still prohibited in Boston except when prescribed by a physician.
- First American grand opera, Leonora, by William Henry Fry.
- Harvard president Edward Everett responded to protests over admission of a black man: “If this boy passes the examination, he will be admitted; and if the white students choose to withdraw, all the income of the college will be devoted to his education.”
- Shaker dance song “Simple Gifts” (also known by its first line “‘Tis the gift to be simple”) was composed by Elder Joseph Brackett in Alfred, Maine. Later popularized in arrangements by Aaron Copland (1900-1990).
- Manuel Torres begins refining the construction of the acoustic guitar.
- The New York Times began publication on Sept. 18th.
- Stephen Foster’s biggest hit, “Old Folks at Home,” was published.
- C. F. Martin introduces the 0 model.
- Henry Bessemer patented the Bessemer process which was the first inexpensive industrial process for the mass-production of steel from molten pig iron. This made tall buildings and skyscrapers possible. This also made truss rods possible.
- “Song of the Old Folks” (tune: “Auld Lang Syne”) words adapted by Albert Laighton, written for an Old Folks concert in Reading, Massachusetts and published in Father Kemp’s Old Folks Concert Tunes.
- Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life. It was a seminal work in scientific literature and arguably the pivotal work in evolutionary biology. The sixth edition of 1872 shortened the title to The Origin of Species. It introduced the theory that populations evolve over the course of generations through a process of natural selection. Darwin’s book was the culmination of evidence accumulated on the voyage of the Beagle in the 1830s and expanded through continuing investigations and experiments after his return.
- The biggest Southern hit song, “Dixie,” was written by Daniel Decatur Emmett, a Northerner from Ohio.
- On November 6th, Abraham Lincoln (February 12th, 1809 – April 15th, 1865) was elected as the 16th President of the United States.
- The American Civil War began on April 12th, 1861, when Confederate forces attacked a U.S. military installation at Fort Sumter in South Carolina.
- “Battle Hymn of the Republic” published with words by Julia Ward Howe and set to the tune: “Glory, Hallelujah.” One year earlier, the same tune had been used for “John Brown’s Body” a song written in jest about Sgt. John Brown at Fort Warren in Boston. Both tunes were based on the Methodist hymn “Say, Brothers Will You Meet Us?” by William Steffe.
- December 9th: Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase submitted the motto “In God We Trust” to the Treasury Department for use on American currency (see 1864).
- Stephen Collins Foster (July 4th, 1826 – January 13th, 1864) died. Known as the “Father of American music, he was the preeminent songwriter in the United States of the 19th century. His songs, such as Oh! Susanna, Camptown Races, My Old Kentucky Home, Old Black Joe, Beautiful Dreamer and Old Folks at Home (Swanee River) remain popular over 150 years after their composition.
- A Congressional Act approving the motto “In God We Trust” for placement on the 1 cent and newly created 2 cent piece passed April 22nd. This was followed in 1866 by the 5 cent nickel (1866–1883), quarter dollar, half dollar, silver dollar and gold dollars. An 1865 law allowed the motto to be used on all coins. In 1873, the use of the motto was permitted, but not required. While several laws came into play, the act of May 18th, 1908 is most often cited as requiring the motto (even though the cent and nickel were excluded from that law, and the nickel did not have the motto added until 1938). Since 1938, all coins have borne the motto.
- After 620,00 soldiers had died, Confederate resistance collapsed after Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court House on April 9th. The Civil War had officially ended.
- On Good Friday, April 14th, President Abraham Lincoln was shot while attending a performance of “Our American Cousin” at Ford’s Theatre with his wife and two guests. Lincoln’s assassin, actor and Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth, had also ordered a fellow conspirator, Lewis Powell, to kill William H. Seward (then Secretary of State) and George Atzerodt to kill Vice President Andrew Johnson. Booth hoped to create chaos and overthrow the Federal government. Although Booth succeeded in killing Lincoln, the larger plot failed. Seward was attacked, but recovered from his wounds, and Johnson’s would-be assassin fled Washington, D.C. upon losing his nerve.
- “King of Ragtime” Scott Joplin is born on November 24th, in Texarkana, Texas.
- At 8:30 Sunday evening, October 8th in Chicago, Illinois, a fire started in the barn of Patrick and Catherine O’Leary at 137 De Koven Street and spread out of control to turn the largest city west of Pittsburgh to ashes. During and following the Great Chicago Fire 300 lives were lost, 17,500 buildings destroyed, 100,000 left homeless and an estimated cost of damages at $400,000,000 in 1871 currency. As the retail gateway to the west and mail-order capitol of the world, musical instrument manufacturers and distributors were seriously affected. Many never recovered. Those that survived grew stronger.
- Francisco Tarrega (1852-1909) transcribed many works by Handel, Mozart, Schubert and Bach while teaching at the Conservatory of Barcelona. He was a musical prodigy, guitar virtuoso and composer of numerous timeless pieces for guitar. His groundbreaking playing and performance techniques propelled the popularity of the classical guitar forward and inspired equal leaps in instrument design.
- C. F. Martin, Sr. passes away and C. F. Jr. takes command. Sales records of the 00 guitar begin to appear on the books.
- Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, adding to the growth potential of the firm Western Electric.
- Three different versions of pianos that played themselves were demonstrated at the Philadelphia Exposition. They would eventually become player pianos.
- Thomas Edison invents the phonograph. It had two diaphragm-and-needle units; one for recording, and one for playback. He could speak into a reverse horn and the sound vibrations were then impressed into delicate tin foil wrapped on a metal cylinder by a recording needle in vertical grooves. His first recorded words were “Mary had a little lamb.” He filed for a patent on December 24th, 1877. The hand cranked phonograph is demonstrated by Edison on November 29th, 1877. The phonograph will eventually allow the spread of popular music.
- Thomas Alva Edison invented the incandescent lamp and Western Electric began to gain stature as a large company.
- The Office of Indian Affairs outlaws a wide range of Native American customs and rituals, beginning with the Sun Dance in 1880.
- The Metropolitan Opera Association was founded to create an alternative to the New York Academy of Music. The Academy represented the highest social circle in New York society and the board of directors resisted admitting members of new wealthy families into their inner circle. The initial group of subscribers included the Morgan, Roosevelt, Astor and Vanderbilt families. Their creation, The Metropolitan Opera, has outlasted the Academy. The 1883-84 season opened with a performance of Charles Gounod’s Faust on October 22nd starring the brilliant Swedish soprano Christina Nilsson performing in Italian.
- Henry Lee Higginson forms the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Higginson would run the Orchestra for almost 40 years.
- Amid a wave of anti-Chinese sentiment, the Chinese Exclusion Act limits the immigration of Chinese people to the United States, leading to a reduction in Chinese musical practices.
- Yiddish theater begins its period of greatest popularity and influence.
- Friedrich Gretsch set up a shop in Brooklyn, New York to build banjos, drums and tambourines — the first drum manufacturer in the United States.
- The Metropolitan Opera opens in New York City.
- A Hawaiian schoolboy by the name Joseph Kekuku is credited with inventing the Hawaiian guitar. The strings are melodically picked and stopped by a metal bar, with the guitar held across the lap.
- John Phillips Sousa’s “The Gladiator” sells more than a million copies, marking a turning point in his career.
- The Berne Convention, the international agreement on copyrights, is signed. The United States does not sign the agreement until 1989.
- Emile Berliner (5/20/1851– 8/3/1929) demonstrated a recording method in which a stylus traced a line through a very thin coating of wax on a zinc disc, which was then etched in acid to convert the line of bared metal into a playable groove. It was the first reasonably viable phonograph record. Berliner was a German-American inventor best known for inventing the lateral-cut flat disc record: (gramophone record) to be used with another of his inventions — the Gramophone. He founded the United States Gramophone Company in 1894; The Gramophone Company in London, England in 1897; Deutsche Grammophon in Hanover, Germany in 1898; Berliner Gram-o-phone Company of Canada in Montreal in 1899 (chartered in 1904); and the Victor Talking Machine Company in 1901 with Eldridge Johnson.
- Orville H. Gibson (1856-1918) at 34 years old, settled in Kalamazoo, Michigan and took up the hobby of making musical instruments.
- Carnegie Hall Opened in New York City on May 5th. Horse drawn carriages lined the streets for a quarter mile and inside the Music Hall was a capacity crowd. After a dedication speech from Bishop Henry Codman Potter, Walter Damrosch led the Symphony Society in a performance of Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No. 3, followed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky conducting his Marche Solennelle.
- The Ryman Auditorium was completed by riverboat shipping magnate Captain Thomas Ryman in Nashville, Tennessee as a home base for traveling evangelist Reverend Samuel Jones.
- At the end of the 19th Century the classical guitar had lost popularity but was re-introduced to the world by Francisco Tarrega, who began the tradition adopted by almost all classical guitarists of today by using the finger-nails to pick the strings.
- September 8th: Francis Bellamy (1855–1931) published the Pledge of Allegiance in the popular children’s magazine: The Youth’s Companion as part of the National Public-School Celebration of 400th anniversary of Columbus Day. The event was conceived and promoted by James B. Upham as a campaign to instill American nationalism by selling flags to public schools and magazines to students. Bellamy was a Baptist minister and a Christian socialist. The original Pledge read as follows: “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”. (see 1940, 1943, 1948, 1951 & 1954)
- The Harmony (musical instruments) Company was founded in Chicago.
- First use of the word Ragtime appears in the song title “Ma Ragtime Baby” by Fred Stone in 1893.
- Andrés Segovia (1893-1987) is born in the small Spanish Andalusian village of Linares.
- “Happy Birthday” is composed by two teachers in Louisville, Kentucky.
- Thomas Edison invents the motor-driven gramophone. Phonographs are improving but are still a long way away from being commercial.
- In the Supreme Court, Plessey vs. Ferguson establishes the “Separate but Equal” concept that will allow segregation and “Jim Crow” to flourish.
- On May 11th Orville Gibson filed for his first and only patent. The document (U.S. Patent No. 598,245) was issued on February 1st, 1898 and contained his ideas for the construction of a mandolin with a carved top and back, and with sides that were cut from a solid piece of wood rather than being bent from thin strips.
- The creation of the first large Sears and Roebuck Co. catalog. This made possible nationwide distribution of all sorts of products including musical instruments by postal service.
- Buddy Bolden organizes the first band to play the instrumental Blues (the forerunner of Jazz). The band’s repertoire consists of Polkas, Quadrilles, Ragtime and Blues.
- Storyville (the famed red light district of New Orleans) opens. It was named after New Orleans alderman Sidney Story.
- The Ragtime craze is at full tilt.
- The first effective player piano was released to the public and heavily marketed. This would bring piano roll versions of many forms of music into American households over the next 20 years.
- Orville Gibson, an amateur instrument builder in Kalamazoo Michigan, patented his idea for a one-piece mandolin design with a carved top like a violin.
- Scott Joplin shows some rags to a publisher. The Publisher buys some original rags but turns down “Maple Leaf Rag.” Shortly after, John Stark (farmer, ice cream salesman, piano peddler) hears the “Maple Leaf Rag,” likes it and publishes it for Joplin. It’s a hit and the craze is on. “Maple Leaf Rag” sells over 1,000,000 copies in a year. Stark and Joplin remain friends for years.
- Sigmund Freud publishes The Interpretation of Dreams (Die Traumdeutung, 1899-1900)
- Blues become a standard feature of honky tonks and dance halls. Horn players imitate the human voice with mutes and growls.
- New Orleans players are playing a mix of Blues, Ragtime, brass band music, marches, Pop songs and dances. The Jazz stew is brewing. Some musicians are beginning to improvise Pop songs.
- The end of the Spanish-American war has brought a surplus of used military band instruments into the port of New Orleans.
- Migrations from the south into Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh, etc. are beginning.
- Luthier Robert Maurer decided to retire. August Larson gathered investors Edward P. Longworthy and Joshua H. Lewis and bought the firm from Maurer. It was the beginning of the Larson Brothers instruments.
- Andrew Carnegie sold his industrial holdings to J. P. Morgan for $400 million. He managed to give away $308 million of it by his death in 1919.
- A hurricane and tidal wave hit Galveston. Texas on September 8th. The highest point of land on the island was 5 feet above sea level. There was no advance warning and the only access to the mainland was by boat. By the time the residents and visitors knew the danger, there was no means of escape. 6,000 lives were lost. There were so many bodies, they were taken out to sea and dumped. The bodies later washed back up onto the Galveston shores and were burned. This event became the topic of many songs over the next century.
- Len Spencer released his biggest hit “Arkansaw Traveler.” Other Spencer hits included “Ta-Ra-Ra-Boom De Ay.” Len Spencer is believed by some to be the first nationally know recording star.
- In New York City, in an August heat-wave, tensions between white Irish and black Southern immigrants flared into riots at the funeral of a white Irish plain-cloths police officer who had been cut by a black man protecting his girl-friend from harassment. Among those beaten in the riots were Vaudevillian actor, comic, dancer and musician George Walker (1893-1911) as he walked with a friend named Shine. The song: “That’s Why They Call Me Shine” was written in 1910 by Cecil Mack, Ford Dabney (w) & Lew Brown (m) in remembrance of Shine and the riots. The introduction to the song is needed to get the original intent of the song.
- Jelly Roll Morton is 17 years old. He is beginning to be noticed in New Orleans as a brothel piano player. He’s playing Ragtime and a little Blues. He is one of the first to play this mix (forerunner of Jazz). Jelly Roll will later claim that he invented Jazz in 1902 by combining Ragtime, Quadrilles and Blues.
- The phonograph has been drastically improved. Victor and Columbia emerge as leaders in the phonograph field (at that time phonograph companies made records). The public started to buy phonographs and records (cylinders) for home use.
- On the afternoon of October 11th, 1902, Sylvo Reams, Lewis A. Williams, LeRoy Hornbeck, John W. Adams, Samuel K. VanHorn, and Orville H. Gibson met at the County Clerk’s office to form a “Partnership Limited Association” (fundamentally, a business structure in which various investing members had limited liabilities) for the “Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Manufacturing Co., Limited.” Adams, VanHorn, and Hornbeck were lawyers practicing in Kalamazoo. Reams and Williams were both in the retail music business, and all saw the opportunity to capitalize on Orville’s creative talents. Strangely, Orville Gibson’s name was not listed as a member of the Partnership.
- W.C. Handy has started a saxophone quartet. The saxophone was a novelty in 1902.
- Frank Henry Martin introduces the size 000 guitar. This size body is made to compete with mandolins and banjos. The company designs its first Style 45 guitar.
- December 17th, Orville Wright piloted the first machine powered airplane 20 feet above a the beach at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The flight lasted 12 seconds and covered 120 feet. Three more flights were made that day with Orville’s brother Wilbur piloting the record flight lasting 59 seconds over a distance of 852 feet.
- W.C. Handy hears the rural blues played on a slide guitar with a knife blade as a slide by an itinerant blues guitarist in a railroad station in Tutwiler, Mississippi. It sparks a career for him.
- Sidney Bechet borrows his brother’s clarinet. The rest is history.
- Albert Einstein’s first theory of relativity, published in 1905, broke away from the Newtonian reliance on space and time as immutable frames of reference.
- 12-string guitarist and rural blues man Huddie “Leadbelly” Ledbetter meets blues man Blind Lemon Jefferson in a Dallas saloon. A partnership is formed.
- New Orleans blues trumpet pioneer Buddy Bolden runs amok and is committed to the state hospital at Angola on June 5. Buddy will spend the rest of his life there and will never be recorded.
- Trumpeter Freddie Keppard and his Creoles were playing more powerful Jazz in New Orleans than the Original Dixieland Jazz Band will play in 1917. Keppard was not recorded until many years later because he was afraid of having his style stolen.
- Columbia produces the first two-sided disc.
- Blues publishing pioneer W.C. Handy brings saxophones into his dance band.
- At 5:13 am on Tuesday, April 18, the ground started to shake in San Francisco — the epicenter of an earthquake estimated at 8.5 on the Richter scale. It was felt from Los Angeles to Coos Bay, Oregon, some 730 miles away. It lasted for 48 seconds and in some areas the ground moved 20 feet. All civil services were destroyed or heavily damaged. Since there had been numerous smaller earthquakes over the years (1857, 1865, 1868 & 1890) the city had been rebuilt out of wood. Wood frame, in general, held up better in earthquakes. It also burns. Gas lines were ruptured, ignited, and fires broke out around the ruins of the city. The water lines were also ruptured, so there was little to fight the fires. Communications had been eliminated so the firefighters couldn’t coordinate with each other or even effectively locate the blazes. The population of San Francisco at the time was approximately 450,000.
- The Tango is introduced to America.
- Epiphone opens shop in New York City with the House of Strathopoulo.
- Florenz Ziegfeld expanded the notion of Vaudeville stage shows to new heights by his elaborate productions known as The Ziegfeld Follies.
- The first production Ford Model T rolled off the line on September 27th at the Piquette Plant in Detroit, Michigan.
- The most popular song of the year was “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”
- Andrés Segovia (1893-1987) performed a debut recital in Granada Spain. He performed pieces by Francisco Tárrega, some new transcriptions of piano works by Albéniz and Chopin, and some of his own compositions. It was the beginning of a career of more than 5,000 concerts around the globe and vastly increasing the body of works available for the classical guitar.
- Francisco Tárrega (1852-1909) dies the same year as the debut performance of young Andrés Segovia.
- Chris J. Knutsen developed a new idea, different from his harp guitars: Hawaiian style lap steel guitars that were played with a slide. These were swept-up in Hawaii and presented to the American public in the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915. A new market and style of playing swept the nation.
- The public is losing interest in Ragtime as popular music.
- The first non-American Ragtime sheet music appears in London, England. English musician Vic Filmer begins playing Rags. American black music begins to gain appeal in Europe.
- The Fox Trot dance craze begins.
- Tin Pan Alley sold $2 billion worth of sheet music. Ragtime was so popular that it eventually replaced the ballad as Tin Pan Alleys most marketable product.
- Haley’s Comet flashed across the skies on April 19th.
- In January, radio pioneer Lee De Forest experimented with radio by broadcasting two live performances from the stage of the New York Metropolitan Opera with an erratic signal, that could reportedly be heard as far away as Newark, New Jersey. Music Radio was born.
- Fingerprints admitted as evidence for the first time on March 8th.
- March 25th: 175 Jewish and Italian immigrant women were killed in a fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Co. in New York City. They were locked in to prevent them from leaving work early.
- The first traffic lines were painted on a road by hand near Trenton, Michigan.
- On the night of 14 April 1912, during her maiden voyage, The White Star Line passenger ship Titanic hit an iceberg and sank two hours and 40 minutes later. The sinking resulted in the deaths of over 1,500 people, making it one of the most costly (in terms of lives) peacetime maritime disasters in history.
- The Bird of Paradise opened on Broadway in Daly’s Theatre – the beginning of the Hawaiian music craze.
- W.C. Handy writes “Memphis Blues.” It becomes a big hit and begins the publishing of the Blues.
- Classic Blues singer Bessie Smith begins work as a dancer in a vaudeville show.
- Louis Armstrong forms a vocal quartet with some of his boyhood friends in New Orleans.
- According to stride pianist James P. Johnson, Luckyeth Roberts is the best stride piano player in New York City at this time.
- The stride pianists are still playing Ragtime as the New Orleans players did a generation before. So we will see an interesting evolution in their playing over the next few years that parallels the beginning of Jazz in New Orleans.
- British musician Vic Filmer brings Ragtime to Paris.
- An exhibition of avant-garde post-impressionist works was viewed at the 69th Regiment Armory in New York City. The works included Gauguin, Picasso, Duchamp, and others. The public was generally confused.
- The Panama Canal opened by the final explosion of the Gamboa Dike; triggered by electric button from the White House by President Woodrow Wilson.
- Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo. World War I begins on July 28th.
- Midway Gardens, Chicago IL, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright opens.
- There is a major impetus around this time for the Europeanization of the Blues. Up until now the Blues form varied between 13.5 and 15 bars to suit the lyrics or the mood of the performer. Eventually, a 12 bar form based on the 1-4-5 chord progression (what we know as the Blues today) will become standard. This occurred for three reasons: 1) appealed to whites, 2) solved problems understanding, playing and notating the Blues 3) established harmonies and a form for band members to work with.
- RCA offers to record Freddie Keppard. He turns them down and misses the chance to be the first Jazz performer to record because he is afraid that his style will be copied.
- W.C. Handy, who composed “St. Louis Blues”, the first commercial blues to be published.
- Storyville was shut down during World War I, sending the Jazz musicians up the Mississippi River in search of employment. This spread Jazz beyond New Orleans and ultimately to Chicago and New York.
- The first traffic light in the nation was installed in Cleveland Ohio on August 5th.
- Irving Berlin’s 1st musical “Watch Your Step” opened on Broadway.
- The Panama Pacific International Exposition opened in San Francisco bringing the mainland greater exposure to Hawaiian music and culture.
- The ‘Chicago Automatic Machine & Tool Company’ invents the jukebox.
- Epaminondas Strathopoulo takes charge of Epiphone – the House of Strathopoulo.
- Alexander Graham Bell, in New York City, on January 25th, spoke into an exact copy of his 1876 invention, saying to his assistant Dr. Thomas A. Watson: “Mr. Watson, come here, I want you.” In his reply, Watson said that it would take him 4 days by fast train. He was in San Francisco to inaugurate the first transcontinental telephone service.
- Louis Armstrong begins playing the bars in Storyville for $1.25 a night.
- Bechet is in Joseph “King” Oliver’s Olympia Band, but will soon leave for Chicago. He will work with Tony Jackson and then Freddie Keppard there.
- Martin uke production takes off as the ukulele boom begins. Martin also begins to design and build for Oliver Ditson Co. of Boston and New York. The first “Dreadnought” is produced and is named in honor of the huge battleships of the day.
- The first classical guitar performance in a Concert Hall. Andres Segovia performs at Ateneo in Madrid. Before this, no one believed that the guitar had enough volume for a concert venue.
- Sears & Roebuck & Co. acquires Harmony musical instruments in an attempt to corner the ukelele market.
- Scott Joplin dies from syphilis related complications in a mental institution in New York City.
- The history of recorded Jazz begins on February 26 when the white band the Original Dixieland Jazz Band (originally, Original Dixieland Jass Band ) records “Livery Stable Blues” at Victor Studios in New York City. The ODJB was from New Orleans and consisted of Nick LaRocca on cornet, Larry Shields on clarinet, Eddie “Daddy” Edwards on trombone, Henry Ragas on piano, and Tony Sbarbaro on drums. Many black bands of the time were probably producing far more authentic and better music. Never the less, the Jazz Age begins. Trumpeter Freddie Keppard had refused the chance to make the first Jazz record because he feared that his style would be copied.
- New Orleans Jazz is a melting pot for the Blues, Ragtime, Marching Band music, etc. It can be thought of as an impressionistic view of these forms, just as Impressionistic painting gives a novel view of what we normally see.
- The so-called “Lost Generation” of white American youths is ripe for a new kind of music.
- On March 18, James Reese Europe’s 369th Infantry Regiment (The Hellfighters) Band begins a six-week tour of twenty-five French cities. Bill “Bojangles” Robinson is the drum major.
- On April 20, James Reese Europe accompanies a French combat unit into battle and becomes the first black to face combat during WWI.
- World War I ends on November 11th.
- On August 21st, at 10:10 am, Orville H. Gibson died of a disease diagnosed as chronic endocarditis.
- Treaty of Versailles signed on June 28th, 1919
- After years of lynching and other mistreatment of blacks by whites, the NAACP promotes the slogan “The new Negro has no fear.” This type of thinking will further the cause of Jazz.
- In this year, 70 blacks are killed by KKK mobs. More than ten of these are soldiers still in uniform.
- James Reese Europe and his band known as the 369th U.S. Infantry “Hell Fighters” Band released recordings within weeks of the men’s return from the war.
- On May 9, in Boston, Europe is confronted in his dressing room by Herbert Wright (one of his men). They have words because Wright thinks that Europe is treating him unfairly. Wright plunges a penknife into Europe’s neck. Europe bleeds to death.
- Innovative guitarist Charlie Christian is born in Dallas, Texas. His father is a blind guitarist. Christian will be influenced by Lonnie Johnson, Eddie Lang, and Django Reinhardt.
- The Original Dixieland Jazz Band visits England and triggers interest in the new music.
- Bandleader Paul Whiteman leaves San Francisco for Atlantic City.
- The “Volstead Act,” the popular name for the National Prohibition Act, passed Congress over President Woodrow Wilson’s veto on October 28th, 1919 and established the legal definition of intoxicating liquor and provided for enforcement of Prohibition. The 18th Amendment was ratified on January 29th, 1919, having been approved by 36 states, and went into effect as Federal law on January 29th, 1920. In many respects, prohibition had the opposite of its intended effect. For example, before prohibition, few, if any women drank in bars. However, women were very likely to drink in speakeasies. Prohibition indirectly helped the cause and image of Jazz.
- The first recorded Blues appears when Mamie Smith records Crazy Blues. This kicks off the Classic Blues craze of the 1920s.
- Over forty prominent New Orleans Jazzmen have moved to Chicago.
- Somebody discovers that the New York brownstone basement (being narrow and running from the main street to back alley) is well suited to use as a speakeasy. In time, the cellars of New York City will become riddled with speakeasies providing numerous opportunities for Jazz musicians.
- The cabaret business begins in New York. This will eventually be the cause of the shift of Jazz from Chicago to New York.
- This year marks the beginning of an age of great interest in black arts and music (Jazz). The young future Bop players are being born. They will be raised in an era that will allow them to rebel. Thus, Bop will begin in about twenty years.
- Paul Whiteman and his Band record the classic “Whispering” in New York City. Whiteman’s band does not play true Jazz but the so-called symphonic Jazz.
- James P. Johnson’s “Worried and Lonesome Blues” and “Carolina Shout” begin to approach Jazz. At any rate, Johnson becomes the pioneer of stride piano with these recordings.
- Django Reinhardt’s mother gives him a banjo, teaches him the rudiments and within weeks, he is playing cafes with his father Jean Vees.
- The Original Dixieland Jazz Band is now playing commercial music such as Fox Trots. They’ve sold out.
- Paul Whiteman controls twenty-eight bands on the east coast. This year, he will gross over $1,000,000 (a tidy sum for producing pseudo-Jazz in the early ’20s).
- The spring-wound talking machine with pre-electrical, no-fidelity sound was established and probably the most popular of the home entertainment devices; the best selling makes were the Victrola and the Graphanola.
- On August 26th the Women’s Suffrage Amendment to the Constitution went into effect.
- Lloyd Loar goes to work for Gibson Musical Instruments. He helps redesign and refine the Gibson carved archtop instruments to help increase lagging sales. His designs have become the standards to which all other carved instruments strive. He developed the F series mandolins and the L series guitars including the Gibson F-5 mandolin and the Gibson L-5 guitar that has become the most sought after collection instruments of the century. Ironically, his work was ahead of its time and was not immediately understood or appreciated. Gibson sales did not immediately rise. It was some years after Lloyd Loar’s short tenure at Gibson before the public saw the benefits and began to support the new designs.
- The words “rock” and “roll”, which were black slang for sexual intercourse, appear on record for the first time, in Trixie Smith’s “My Baby Rocks Me With One Steady Roll.”
- OKeh Records begins using the term Race Music, which soon becomes the standard referent for African American popular music.
- The first Southern radio station to broadcast rural white music is WSB in Atlanta.
- Comedian Ed Wynn is responsible for creating the first studio audience when he refuses to perform without an audience watching.
- In March, the Atlanta Journal opened up WSB in Atlanta, the first radio station in the south. Six months later on September 9th, Fiddlin’ John Carson made his radio debut, one of the first country music performers on the airwaves.
- On May 30th, the Lincoln Memorial was dedicated in Washington D.C.
- Lloyd Loar began working on experimental electrostatic pickups at Gibson as a means to amplify the guitar and make it louder and more suitable as a competitor to the banjo for rhythm and increase its potential as a solo instrument.
- Sigmund Freud publishes The Ego and the Id (Das Ich und das Es, 1923)
- Early occurrence of the “color barrier” being broken when Jelly Roll Morton sits in with the New Orleans Rhythm Kings.
- Ellington makes his first recording (on a cylinder – acoustic recording still most used). It is a stride piano piece called “Jig Walk.”
- Ma Rainey, “The Mother of the Blues” signed a recording contract with Paramount Records, She had been a featured performer on the T.O.B.A (Theater Owners Booking Association) circuit for almost a quarter-century.
- Bessie Smith was earning upwards of $2,000 per week.
- Harmony became the largest producer of musical instruments in the US with over 250,000 units.
- Louis Armstrong marries piano player and composer Lil Hardin on February 5. Armstrong joins the Fletcher Henderson band in October at Lil’s insistence. During Armstrong’s year with Henderson, this band will become the most important early big band. This is the band that will be the model for the swing bands of the next decade.
- Kansas City bands are beginning to play a style with a four even beat ground beat (New Orleans Jazz had a distinct two beat ground beat behind a 4/4 melody). This paved the way for more modern forms of Jazz. Charlie Parker as a child growing up in K.C. heard this music. Count Basie is later quoted as saying, “I can’t dig that two-beat jive the New Orleans cats play; cause my boys and I got to have four heavy beats to a bar and no cheating.”
- Django Reinhardt settles upon the guitar as his primary instrument for playing the clubs of Paris.
- Paul Whiteman makes Jazz “respectable” with his February 21 concert at Aeolian Hall in New York City. The first song is an authentic version of ODJB’s “Livery Stable Blues” which is merely meant to show how crude the real thing is, but most fans like it better than the ‘Symphonic Jazz’ which follows.
- Gershwin performs “Rhapsody in Blue.”
- Enrico Caruso is still widely popular.
- Twelve-string guitarist and Folk and Blues singer Huddie “Leadbelly” Ledbetter is released from a Texas Penitentiary where he was serving time for killing a man in a fight.
- Lloyd Loar leaves Gibson Musical Instruments to start his own company.
- Rhapsody in Blue, by George Gershwin, was performed for the first time. Gershwin was the piano soloist accompanied by the Paul Whiteman Orchestra.
- The roots of the Grand Ole Opry began on November 28th, 1925 as The WSM Barn Dance (It had only been five years since the first commercial American radio station). The National Life and Accident Insurance Company in Nashville, Tennessee, installed a radio station on the 5th floor of their downtown Nashville office building.
- Blind Lemon Jefferson recorded over eighty blues tunes between 1925 and 1929 and was generally responsible for the surge of popularity in the country blues in this period. The unexpectedly strong sales of Blind Lemon Jefferson’s Paramount 78s sent record scouts scrambling to sign male blues artists. One of their discoveries was Blind Blake, a swinging, sophisticated guitarist whose warm relaxed voice was a far cry from harsh country blues.
- Charlie Poole developed a three-fingered banjo playing technique after a baseball accident injured his right hand. This technique influenced many banjo players and would later be perfected by Earl Scruggs.
- In July, Tennessee legislators made it unlawful to teach anything but creationism. John Scopes, a high school teacher in Dayton, decided to test the law. He was convicted and fined $100.
- Kansas City, Missouri becomes the wildest city in America – a perfect match for Jazz – when Tom “Boss” Pendergast (the Democratic boss of Jackson county) begins his reign over the city.
- On December 9th, the Ben Pollack Band with Benny Goodman on clarinet records “Deed I Do” / “He’s the Last Word” for Victor. It is Benny Goodman’s recording debut. On the same evening, Benny Goodman’s father dies at the corner of Madison and Kostner streets in Chicago after being struck by a speeding auto. He never got to hear Benny’s first recording done that very same day.
- Henry Ford introduced the 8-hour workday and the 5-day workweek. This was in reaction to the depressed auto industry. Other industrialists were afraid of the precedent but the AFL welcomed the move as a means of controlling overproduction and reducing unemployment.
- In October of 1927 the film The Jazz Singer was released, the first full length ‘Talkie’ – motion pictures with sound.
- Charles A. Lindbergh flies a Ryan monoplane – named Spirit of St. Louis – on the first solo transatlantic flight and first non-stop fixed-wing aircraft flight between America and mainland Europe on May 20th – May 21st. The flight was 3,600 nautical miles (6,667 km), from Long Island to Paris, in 33.5 hours. The flight was timed by the Longines watch company.
- Americans will buy more than 100,000,000 phonograph records during this year.
- George Dewey Hay christened the show that would become radio’s longest-running musical program when he announced, “You’ve been up in the clouds with Grand Opera; now get down to earth with us in a shindig of Grand Ole Opry!”
- It seems as if the music of Oliver and Morton will capture the world but Armstrong makes the greatest of the hot fives and sevens. He is now setting whole phrases ahead of or behind the beat, not just pulling single notes. This will set the stage for Swing. Armstrong is now a star and because of him, New Orleans style ensemble playing is disappearing and is being replaced by Chicago and New York-style solos. In short, Jazz is becoming a soloist art primarily because of Armstrong. A few songs of significance include “Struttin’ with Some Barbecue,” “Big Butter and Egg Man,” and “Hotter than That.” In May, Warren “Baby” Dodds on drums and Pete Briggs on tuba are added to hot fives to make hot sevens.
- Bootlegger Joe Helbock (a friend of Jimmy Dorsey) opens a speakeasy called The Onyx on 52nd street. It becomes a musicians’ hangout featuring such attractions as Art Tatum.
- Bing Crosby joins the Paul Whiteman band.
- On February 7th, federal agents raided a dozen of Chicago’s North Side nightclubs. They took the names of everybody that was caught with alcohol. They had already closed a number of the South Side black-and-tans. This was all part of a “get tough on booze” policy of the new Republican mayor William Dever (Big Bill Thompson’s successor). Chicago would soon fall as the Jazz capital.
- The word bop appears in the song “Four or Five Times” by Mckinney’s Cotton Pickers.
- Bing Crosby, an early Jazz fan, visits Harlem to hear Ellington and other authentic Jazz players.
- Ralph Peer recorded Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family in Bristol, Tennessee. Rodgers, known as “The Father of Country Music,” reportedly sold over 20 million records in the six years of his career.
- Blind Willie McTell recorded his first sides for the Victor company in Atlanta.
- Andrés Segovia makes his first recording on 78 rpm disk.
- John Dopyera invented the resonator guitar in an effort to increase the volume of the 6 stringed instruments to better compete with banjos for the rhythm sections of bands. He joined forces with Vaudevillian George Beauchamp to start the National String Instrument Corporation. The partnership only lasted until 1929.
- The first signature series guitar was instigated by the Gibson Company for Nick Lucas – a popular singer and musician of the day. Gibson issued a concert-sized L-1 with extra depth as the ‘Nick Lucas Model’.
- Django Reinhardt is married at eighteen. He lives in a caravan near a cemetery. His wife sells silk flowers to support them. One night, Django is trying to remove a rat and he catches the flowers on fire with a candle. He burns his legs and his left hand badly saving his wife. His left hand never completely healed with two fingers partially paralyzed. He nevertheless became a great guitarist in months. Stephane Grapelli says that the injury probably improved Django’s playing because it slowed him down causing him to be more thoughtful. If you’ve ever listened to the speed of Django, it is hard to imagine him playing faster.
- Walt Disney released the first Mickey Mouse silent film Plane Crazy, and later the same year, Steamboat Willy, the first animated cartoon with sound.
- Amelia Earhart took off from Boston with two passengers in her airship ‘Friendship.’
- George Eastman demonstrated the first color motion pictures.
- Andrés Segovia (1893-1987) debuted on American soil at the New York City Town Hall. The event was very well received by a public that had not witnessed the broad potential of the classical guitar in the Maestro’s hands. His fiery and romantic performance touched the hearts and imaginations of the public and led to five more sold-out New York City performances and then an equally successful tour of 25 American cities. Hundreds of young musicians were inspired to take up the versatile and expressive instrument.
- The 78 rpm record is introduced.
- Martin introduces the OM sized and scaled flat-top guitar.
- Martin also introduced the first 14 fret neck-body intersection.
- On March 5th, in the early morning, Eddie Condon suggests to Tommy Rockwell (producer of the Hot Fives and Sevens) that he take the opportunity to record Armstrong with some of the superb musicians who have gathered to honor Armstrong. Rockwell is concerned about a mixed group but goes ahead anyway. As a result, Armstrong, Jack Teagarden (trombone), Eddie Lang (guitar), Happy Cauldwell (saxophone), Kaiser Marshall and Joe Sullivan record the classic “Knockin’ a Jug” in the Okeh studios after knockin’ back a bottle of whiskey.
- Duke Ellington appears in a short called Black and Tan. Ellington is portrayed as a handsome, elegant, hard-working composer even though the subject matter is degrading.
- Boogie Woogie piano player Clarence “Pine Top” Smith dies shortly after recording the influential “Pine Top’s Boogie Woogie.”
- Trumpeter Jabbo Smith records “Take Me to the River.”
- John Dopyera joined with his brother to form the Dobro brand of resonator guitars.
- On Friday, October 24th (Black Friday), the stock market crashes, the Great Depression begins and for the most part, the big party that was most of the 1920s’ ends.
- Memphis Minnie signed with Columbia records.
- 14 members of Bugs Moran’s North Siders were shot to death on February 14th, in a warehouse on Clarke Street in Chicago on orders from Al Capone. The incident became known as the Valentine’s Day Massacre.
- Louis Armstrong began enunciating no more than one beat per measure. ‘Swing’ takes on a new meaning and is fully underway. Louie recorded big band Swing sides including “St Louis Blues,” “Dallas Blues,” “Confessin,” “If I Could Be With You,” and others. Listen to Columbia CD St Louis Blues – Louis Armstrong – Vol 6, JSP CD Big Band – Vol 1, Classics CD Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra 1929-1930 or Classics CD Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra 1930-1931.
- Ellington records his first big hit in October, a masterpiece of tone color called “Dreamy Blues” (aka “Mood Indigo”).
- Young people begin to revolt against the standard of “niceness.. “Express your true feelings” becomes a catchphrase (much like the ’60s).
- Harmony musical instruments sold over 500,000 units.
- March 3rd: “The Star-Spangled Banner” was formalized as the National Anthem by a Congressional resolution (46 Stat. 1508, codified at 36 U.S.C. § 301), which was signed by President Herbert Hoover. Before 1931, other popular songs served as American hymns of officialdom: “Hail, Columbia” served at official functions for most of the 1800s. “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” (whose melody is identical to the British National Anthem) also served as a de facto anthem before the adoption of “The Star-Spangled Banner”. Although the song has four stanzas, only the first is commonly used today. The fourth stanza, “O! thus be it ever when free men shall stand…” was added for more formal occasions. The fourth stanza also includes the line: “And this be our motto: In God is our Trust”. The United States later adopted “In God We Trust” as its national motto in 1956.
- Adolph Rickenbacher (later spelled Rickenbacker) produces a working prototype of the electric guitar. Adolph Rickenbacher, George Beauchamp, Paul Barth and Harry Watson developed the lap-steel guitar with an electromagnetic horseshoe pickup known as the ‘Fry Pan’. The vibration of the strings over a coil of wire wrapped around a magnet created a current that could be electrically amplified.
- Martin starts selling Dreadnaught sized flat-top guitars under its own name. They had been making them for Ditson since 1916.
- The Japanese invaded Manchuria setting one of the stages for World War II.
- The first network broadcast of the New York Metropolitan Opera was heard on December 25th. The performance was Hänsel und Gretel. The broadcast series came about in the early years of the Great Depression to help the financially endangered Metropolitan Opera by attempting to enlarge its audience and support through national exposure on network radio.
- The New York Bank of the United States financially collapsed on December 11th, 1931, and The Great Depression begins.
- The earliest examples of guitar amplifiers appeared in the early 1930s with the introduction of electrolytic capacitors and rectifier tubes. These allowed the production of economical built-in power supplies that could be plugged into wall sockets. The design was developed by Western Electric and made available to the public. The earlier vacuum tube amplification designs required heavy multiple battery packs. Electronic amplification of guitar was first widely popularized by the 1930s and 1940s craze for Hawaiian music, to amplify the popular lap steel Hawaiian guitar.
- While still at National Guitar, George Beauchamp worked with Adolph Rickenbacker to develop the Ro-Pat-In Corporation to sell ‘Electro’ Hawaiian guitars.
- In France, classical guitarist Mario Maccaferri developed a new guitar design to increase volume. With the help of the Selmer Company, the instruments went public. They had an internal resonator, steel reinforced neck and cut-a-way. The design worked and the acoustic guitar was capable of becoming a lead instrument. An early version caught the eye and ear of Django Reinhardt…
- Chicago Worlds Fair – A Century of Progress is held.
- Lonestar / Monogram film Riders Of Destiny, Sandy Sanders starring a young John Wayne was released starting the ‘Singing Cowboy’ genre of films.
- RCA introduced the model 77A cardioid pattern dual ribbon microphone for recording and radio broadcast. The listening public could now hear the nuance of speech and music over the airwaves.
- Homer Capehart sold his Simplex record changer mechanism to the Wurlitzer Company. Wurlitzer used the invention to produce the jukebox. The jukebox changed the face of popular music by making new tunes available to all.
- Johnny Mercer had his first hit, “Lazy Bones.” He published 701 songs, had 90 film credits, starred in six Broadway Musicals, received four Academy Awards from 15 nominations, had 37 Hit Parade songs of which 13 were No.1, and he founded Capitol Records.
- Instrument manufacturer Dobro made a handful of modified resonator Spanish style guitars with electromagnetic horseshoe pickups. These can be argued to be the first manufactured electric Spanish style guitars (with electromagnetic pickups).
- Regular radio broadcasts of complete operas from the New York Metropolitan Opera began March 11th, with the transmission of Tristan und Isolde with Frida Leider and Lauritz Melchior.
- The Special Committee on Un-American Activities (1934-1937) was formed. From 1934 to 1937, the Committee was authorized to investigate Nazi propaganda and certain other propaganda activities.
- Gibson introduces the Super 400 at $400. The biggest archtop to hit the market and the highest price tag at the height of the depression.
- Benny Goodman’s ‘Let’s Dance’ broadcasts first aired in December.
- Folklorist John Lomax discovered and recorded Leadbelly at the Angola Prison Farm in Louisiana.
- Ella Fitzgerald made her singing debut at age 17 on November 21st at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York City.
- Epiphone introduced the Emperor Masterbuilt, slightly bigger than the Gibson Super 400. The competition for the biggest and flashiest instruments was on.
- Martin Block, a junior assistant from KFWB Los Angeles, moved to New York and used a recorded music format during breaks in the high profile Bruno-Hauptman trial. The trial was broadcast on network radio and the new format found an eager and appreciative audience. These record jockeys, as they were called, were soon entertaining listeners with discs all over the country.
- Benny Goodman’s Big Band performance at the Palomar in Los Angeles caused a surge of delight in young listeners. The Big Band Era had begun.
- Mahalia Jackson made her first Gospel recordings.
- T-Bone Walker began experimenting with a prototype electric guitar and was one of the first guitarists anywhere to play the instrument in public. The instrument was probably a Rickenbacker Vibrola model. He soon got his hands on a Gibson sunburst ES-250 that he played into the late 1940s.
- Robert Johnson, ‘King of the Delta Blues,’ made his first recordings in San Antonio, Texas.
- Gibson introduced the ES-150. The 150 was basically a modified L-50 archtop fitted with a bar electromagnetic pickup. It was viewed as the first readily available production model electric guitar. The “ES” refers to ‘Electric Spanish’ and is still used as the common Gibson classification today. ‘Spanish’ refers to the upright placement of the instrument on your knee, the way guitars are played today.
- In mid-1937, following the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, Japan began a full invasion of China. The Soviets quickly lent support to China, effectively ending China’s prior cooperation with Germany.
- Count Basie releases “One O’clock Jump,” a cross of swing and R&B.
- Gibson introduces the Super Jumbo flat-top acoustic guitar. It is seen in the hands of Ray Whitley and Gene Autry on the silver screen.
- Robert Johnson made his second and last recording session in Dallas, Texas.
- Patents were granted to George Beauchamp for the electromagnetic horseshoe pickups, filed originally in 1933 and 1934.
- Woody Guthrie moved to Los Angeles and got a job at KFVD as a radio show host. He used the public platform as a way to have his songs heard and tell stories of what he had seen and experienced through the American mid-west and the Dust Bowl years.
- The House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC or HCUA: 1938-1975) was formed as an investigative committee of the United States House of Representatives.
- John Hammond stages the Spirituals To Swing concert in New York City to highlight black musical styles. The stars of the show are the duo of singer Big Joe Turner and pianist Pete Johnson, who kick off a national ‘boogie-woogie’ craze.
- Saxophonist Louis Jordan leaves Chick Webb’s band to form the Tympani Five, a slimmed-down group that begins the rhythm & blues revolution.
- Bill Monroe forms the Blue Grass Boys, creating a fusion of Appalachian folk music with blues, polka and other genres from around the world.
- Bill Monroe made his first appearance on WSM radio in Nashville.
- Roy Acuff joined the Grand Ole Opry.
- Charlie Christian’s lively, inventive single-note playing helped popularize the electric guitar as a solo instrument and ushered in the era of bop.
- Clarence Leonidas Fender (“Leo” Fender) began “Fender’s Radio Service” in late 1938 in Fullerton, California. Leo Fender was a qualified electronics technician and had been asked to repair radios, phonograph players, home audio amplifiers, public address systems and musical instrument amplifiers. (At the time, most of these were just variations on a few simple vacuum-tube circuits.) All designs were based on research developed and released to the public domain by Western Electric in the ’30s and used vacuum tubes for amplification.
- All American coins now bear the motto: “In God We Trust.”
- In September the German army invaded Poland and war was declared on Germany by the United Kingdom, France and the British Dominions. World War II had begun.
- Leo Mintz opens The Record Rendezvous in Cleveland, Ohio, a store specializing in race music. 12 years later he will convince DJ Alan Freed to start playing those records on the air, which launches the Rock ‘n’ Roll era.
- The Grand Ole Opry began an affiliation with NBC that lasted until 1957.
- 225,000 jukeboxes were in operation and were said to be responsible for the sale of 13,000,000 records a year.
- Charlie Christian wrote the article published in Downbeat Magazine (December 1st, 1939) that called for “Guitar men, Wake Up and Pluck! Wire for Sounds; Let ’em hear you play.” It forecast the growing role of the electrified guitar in Jazz music.
- Billboard Magazine introduced the ‘Hot 100’ popularity chart in January 1940. The week-by-week listings were based on statistics accrued by Billboard Magazine from data pooled from record purchases and radio/jukebox play throughout the United States.
- Bob Wills became a national music figure with the recording of “San Antonio Rose.”
- Bob Wills and his band arrived in Los Angeles to appear in the film “Take Me Back to Oklahoma” starring Tex Ritter and Arkansas Slim. The film was a hit. Some historians feel that this marked the beginning of the Western Swing craze. Within a very short time cowboy hats, boots, string ties and rawhide vests were seen all over Southern California.
- South Carolina native Dizzy Gillespie began an innovative style of trumpet performance that would come to be called BeBop.
- North Carolina native Thelonious Monk was a member of the adventurous musicians who liked to gather at Minton’s in Harlem.
- Guitarist Les Paul signs an endorsement deal with Gibson, appearing in ads with the ES-300 electric archtop model.
- The Supreme Court – in Minersville School District v. Gobitis – ruled that students in public schools, including the respondents in that case, Jehovah’s Witnesses (who considered the flag salute to be idolatry), could be compelled to swear the Pledge of Allegiance. A rash of mob violence and intimidation against Jehovah’s Witnesses followed the ruling. (see 1892 & 1943)
- In 1940, Pete Seeger (5/3/1919 – 1/27/2014) and Lee Hays (3/14/1914 – 8/26/1981) co-founded the Almanac Singers. They had a passion for traditional songs, ‘folk’ songs and ‘music of the people’ for its simple, memorable melodies and poetic resonance of the human condition. They shared a political preference to promoted peace and isolationism before the start of World War II. They began working with the American Peace Mobilization (APM) group. They featured songs opposing entry into the war. In June 1941, following Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union, the APM changed its name to the ‘American People’s Mobilization’ and changed its position to support U.S. entry into the war. The Almanac Singers supported the change and began to produce many pro-war songs urging the U.S. to fight with the Allies. The Almanac Singers disbanded when the U.S. entered the war.
- In late June, Germany, along with other European Axis members and Finland, invaded the Soviet Union.
- On the morning of Sunday, December 7th, 1941, the Japanese navy conducted a surprise attack on the United States’ naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii resulting in the United States becoming involved in World War II.
- The onset of World War II results in limited record production, particularly non-pop records, slowing the growth of rhythm & blues music until war’s end in 1945.
- “From today on there will be no recording of music, classical or jazz, in this country by union musicians.” (DownBeat Magazine) Prexy Petrillo, president of the Musicians Union, AFM, began a strike, known as The Recording Ban.
- Epaminondas (Epi) Strathopoulo of Epiphone dies on June 6th, 1943 at age 49. He is replaced by his brothers Orpheus (Orphie) and Nicol (Frixo) Strathopoulo.
- Billboard magazine debuts the Harlem Hit Parade to chart the top singles in the “race” field, a precursor to rhythm & blues.
- Herman Lubinsky and Savoy Records begin operations in Newark, New Jersey, focusing on recording black artists.
- Illinois Jacquet kicks off the tenor sax as a primary R&B instrument with his wild solo on Lionel Hampton’s “Flying Home.”
- King Records run by Syd Nathan opens in Cincinnati, Ohio to record hillbilly music. In 1946 they begin recording rhythm & blues, becoming one of the most prominent independent labels of the next decade as a result.
- The Grand Ole Opry began airing nationally on more than 140 NBC affiliates.
- On June 5th, the Grand Ole Opry found a home at the Ryman Auditorium.
- The Supreme Court reversed its 1940 decision in Minersville School District v. Gobitis that students in public schools could be compelled to swear the Pledge of Allegiance. The Court ruled – in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette – that public school students are not required to say the Pledge of Allegiance. The Court concluded that “compulsory unification of opinion” violates the First Amendment of the Constitution. In a later opinion, the Court held that students are also not required to stand for the Pledge. (see 1892 & 1940)
- Louis Jordan, “Father of Rhythm and Blues,” had his first million-seller with “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby?”
- Luthier Albert Augustine used the new developments from WWII in nylon cord to experiment with guitar strings. With the support of one of his clients, guitarist Andre Segovia, he successfully introduced nylon strings for classical guitars.
- July 6th, Hartford, CT – the Ringling Bros. Circus Tent Fire. The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus was the largest circus in the country. They arrived late by train and erected the huge canvas tent called the “Big Top”. The tent could seat 9,000 around three performance rings. To keep it waterproof, the canvas had been treated with 1,800 lbs (820 kg) of paraffin wax dissolved in 6,000 gallons (23,000 l) of kerosene. On Thursday (a work day), the afternoon performance was estimated at 7,000, dominated by women and children. A small fire began on the Southwest sidewall of the tent while the Great Wallendas were performing. It accelerated quickly due to the flammable canvas treatment. Circus bandleader Merle Evans immediately directed the band to play “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” the tune designed to signal distress to all circus personnel. As Ringmaster Fred Bradna urged the audience not to panic and to leave in an orderly fashion, the power failed and his instructions could not be heard. The death toll is estimated at 168 with injury estimates of over 700 people. Young Robert Dale Segee (1929-1997) confessed to starting the fire but was never tried and later recanted. The Hartford circus fire was one of the worst fire disasters in United States history. Hal Blaine, famous percussionist of the Wrecking Crew, was one of the small children at the fire.
- On April 12th, U.S. President Roosevelt died.
- Harry Truman became president of the United States.
- Mussolini was killed by Italian partisans on April 28th.
- On April 30th Hitler committed suicide, succeeded by Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz.
- German forces surrendered in Italy on April 29th and Germany itself surrendered on May 7th.
- At the order of U.S. President Harry S. Truman, after 6 months of intense firebombing of 67 other Japanese cities, the nuclear weapon Little Boy was dropped on the city of Hiroshima on Monday, August 6th, 1945, followed on August 9th by the detonation of the Fat Man nuclear bomb over Nagasaki. These are to-date the only attacks with nuclear weapons in the history of warfare.
- The armistice of August 14th, 1945 marks an end to World War II.
- The House Committee on Un-American Activities became a standing (permanent) committee. Under the mandate of Public Law 601, passed by the 79th Congress, the committee of nine representatives investigated suspected threats of subversion or propaganda that attacked “the form of government guaranteed by our Constitution.”
- Though Capitol and Decca settled with the musician’s union AFM by 1943. RCA Victor and Columbia held out for nearly two years more. The Big Bands never recovered, and the Big Band Era was over.
- Les Paul invents echo-delay, multi-track recording and many other techniques that further expand recording possibilities.
- “The Honeydripper” by Joe Liggins is #1 on the black music charts for a record 18 weeks. The sexually suggestive term is an early indicator of the new direction of R&B music.
- The Bihari family forms Modern Records in Los Angeles, one of the most successful and groundbreaking R&B labels in the country.
- Cecil Gant’s “I Wonder” becomes the first R&B hit to be significantly covered for other markets.
- Lew Chudd forms Imperial Records and the following year Art Rupe forms Specialty Records, both in Los Angeles, to record rhythm & blues. Each label will also make significant recordings of New Orleans R&B over the next decade and a half.
- Leo Fender and Doc Kauffman start a business called “K and F” to build lap steel guitars and amplifiers. “K and F” folded in 1946.
- In October, Les Paul achieves his first #1 record, “It’s Been a Long Long Time” by Bing Crosby With The Les Paul Trio.
- “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie” by Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five becomes the biggest hit ever in the increasingly popular jump blues style that later leads to rock ‘n’ roll.
- Clarence Leonidas Fender (“Leo” Fender) struck out on his own with a new business to build guitars and amplifiers. The new business was called the Fender Electric Instrument Manufacturing Company. The first Spanish style design was the solid body, single pickup “Esquire”, followed by a 2 pickup version called the “Broadcaster.”
- Nylon strings replace gut strings on most classical instruments.
- Les Paul takes his homemade experimental semi-solid guitar to Gibson to try to sell the instrument commercially. Gibson says no.
- The bikini was introduced in Paris. Two-piece swimsuits had been in fashion since the early 1940s, and always covered the navel. In the summer of 1946 designer Jacques Heim came up with the more revealing two-piece outfit which he called the Atome (Atom), “the world’s smallest bathing suit.” But credit for the name goes to his competitor, French mechanical engineer turned swimsuit designer Louis Réard, who unveiled his design on July 5th. He predicted the new fashion would incite a cultural explosion to rival the recent nuclear tests at Bikini Atoll. The term “bikini” stuck. Initially, Réard couldn’t find a model who was willing to wear such a revealing outfit so he had to hire an exotic dancer from the Casino de Paris. It was a hit — he received 50,000 fan letters and famously stated in his ads that a swimsuit wasn’t really a bikini unless you could pass it through a wedding ring. It took a while for the bikini to catch on in the United States. Modern Girl magazine opined in a 1957 issue, “It is hardly necessary to waste words over the so-called bikini since it is inconceivable that any girl with tact and decency would ever wear such a thing.” By 1960, however, singer Brian Hyland had a hit with the song “Itsy Bitsy, Teenie Weenie, Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.” In 1964, Sports Illustrated debuted its first swimsuit issue and by 1965, only “squares” went to the beach in anything but a bikini.
- The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) launched investigations into Communist influence on the motion picture industry.
- Arthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith was one of the first musicians to use a (prototype) Fender Telecaster (then named the Broadcaster) to record “Guitar Boogie” in 1947. Leo Fender’s Telecaster was the design that would put the solid-body guitar on the map.
- Paul Adelbert Bigsby (1899-1968) had met Merle Travis for lunch in California in late 1946. Merle sketched an idea for a solid body guitar and asked if Paul could build it for him. It had all six tuning pegs on one side of the headstock and was completed in 1947 and played by Merle on numerous recordings, radio and public appearances. Merle claims that Leo Fender borrowed and copied the guitar, but no one seems to know for sure.
- The Ravens introduce a new form of harmony singing featuring bass vocalist Jimmy Ricks out front with tenor Maithe Marshall floating on top of the melody. Their radical reworking of “Old Man River” is the prototype for the new style of R&B group singing on the horizon.
- “Open The Door Richard” becomes the smash of the year with five different artists hitting the Top Three on the R&B Charts with a version, including its writer Dusty Fletcher. The comical song about a drunk trying to get into his apartment while his roommate is there with a woman signal a loosening of sexual mores, which become an R&B hallmark.
- New York’s Carnegie Hall welcomed Ernest Tubb and a group of Grand Ole Opry stars, acknowledging country music in the American musical lexicon.
- Ahmet Ertegun and Herb Abramson start Atlantic Records in September which will become the biggest R&B label in history.
- Ampex introduced the first commercially available magnetic tape recording machine in the US (The technology had been developed in Nazi Germany in the 1930s). The Ampex Model 200.
- In February, Les Paul’s solo record using new overdubbing techniques to create an orchestra of guitars; “Lover” charts at #21.
- At a meeting on February 12th, Lincoln’s Birthday, Louis A. Bowman (1872–1959), as Chaplain of ‘The Illinois Society of the Sons of the American Revolution’ led the Society in swearing the Pledge of Allegiance with two words added, “under God.” He stated that the words came from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Though not all manuscript versions of the Gettysburg Address contain the words “under God,” all the reporters’ transcripts of the speech as delivered do, as perhaps Lincoln may have deviated from his prepared text and inserted the phrase when he said “that the nation shall, under God, have a new birth of freedom.” (see 1892, 1951 & 1954)
- In April, Ted McCarty joins Gibson from the Wurlitzer organ company.
- On April 3rd, the Louisiana Hayride began a Saturday night broadcast from the Municipal Auditorium in Shreveport, Louisiana.
- June 1948 – Columbia launched the vinyl 12-inch 33-1/3 rpm album.
- The term “rhythm & blues” is coined by young Billboard reporter and future Atlantic Records producer Jerry Wexler. It will replace the negative “Race Records” chart a year later which signifies the new shift in black music.
- The Orioles, led by Sonny Til, become the first of the young black vocal groups to appeal to a teenage audience, scoring a #1 R&B hit with their debut, “It’s Too Soon To Know,” the first rock ballad.
- Wynonie Harris’s version of “Good Rockin’ Tonight” tops the R&B Charts.
- Saxophonist Wild Bill Moore releases “We’re Gonna Rock, We’re Gonna Roll”.
- Julia Lee’s releases “King Size Papa” and Bull Moose Jackson releases “I Want A Bowlegged Woman” The generation returning from the war connect with this music
- In November, Ronnie Gilbert (9/7/1926 – 6/6/2015), Lee Hays (3/14/1914 – 8/26/1981), Fred Hellerman (5/13/1927 – 9/1/2016) and Pete Seeger (5/3/1919 – 1/27/2014) formed a musical group called The Weavers. Hellerman’s suggested the name from an 1892 play by Gerhart Hauptmann, Die Weber (the Weaver). The play depicted the uprising of the Silesian weavers in 1844 and contained the line “I’ll stand it no more, come what may”. Like the Almanac Singers before them, they shared a passion for traditional songs, ‘folk’ songs and ‘music of the people’ for their simple, memorable melodies and poetic resonance of the human condition.
- March 31st, 1949: RCA Victor introduces the 45 RPM Record which is easier to produce, smaller, and cheaper than 78’s. RCA Victor offered a small record player for $12.95 to play the new records.
- The electric guitar takes hold with the blues recordings of T-Bone Walker, John Lee Hooker, and Muddy Waters.
- The saxophone becomes the sound of R&B as evidenced by Big Jay McNeely’s “The Deacon’s Hop” and Paul Williams “Hucklebuck”.
- Atlantic Records scores with Stick McGee’s “Drinkin Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee.”
- The Orioles continue their dominance of the market with eight Top 10 hits during the year and frequently cause riots at their performances.
- A failing white Memphis’ radio station WDIA hires Nat Williams, the first black disc jockey, and changes its format to rhythm & blues which promptly turns the station’s fortunes around. They also hire future singing stars B.B. King and Rufus Thomas as DJs.
- Louis Jordan’s hit “Saturday Night Fish Fry” marks the end of the jump blues dominance of the ’40s, while Jimmy Preston’s “Rock The Joint” points towards the rock ‘n’ roll of the ’50s.
- Leo Fender and George Fullerton developed the prototype for their new solid body guitar design, calling it the ‘Broadcaster.’
- Bing Crosby presented a gift to Les Paul — an Ampex Model 300 reel-to-reel tape recorder. Like every other piece of recording gear that Les Paul owned, he immediately began to tinker with the new machine by adding an additional playback head before the erase/record head. Multitrack magnetic recording was born.
- On June 11th, Hank Williams debuted at the Grand ‘Ol Opry. The 25-year old’s first hit “Lovesick Blues” had just been released and the crowd called him back for six encores.
- The Weavers landed a steady gig in Greenwich Village, New York City, at the Village Vanguard. The club featured traditional ‘Folk’ music, poetry readings, comedy and political discourse. Gordon Jenkins, an arranger-bandleader with connections to Decca Records, heard them there and was impressed. His discovery led to a record deal with Decca.
- Joseph Raymond McCarthy (11/14/08 – 5/2/57) served as a Republican U.S. Senator from the State of Wisconsin from 1947 until his death in 1957. Beginning in 1950, McCarthy became the public face of intense anti-communist suspicion inspired by the tensions of the Cold War. In a speech, he asserted that he had a list of “members of the Communist Party and members of a spy ring” who were employed in the State Department. The McCarthy era had begun.
- The Weavers had a double hit with recordings of Lead Belly’s “Goodnight Irene” and “Tzena, Tzena, Tzena.” “Goodnight Irene” remained at the top of the charts for 13 weeks and sold over one million copies. This was the first ‘Folk’ song to reach a broad audience and created a curiosity about ‘Folk’ and ‘Americana’ music. The early productions had orchestral strings added to the group’s simple banjo, guitar and whistle instrumentation. Because of the Red Scare of the early 1950s, Pete Cameron (their manager) advised them not to perform their most explicitly political songs and to stay away from performing at overtly “progressive” venues or events. As the growing ‘Folk’ community learned of this, the Weavers were criticized by some fans for diluting their core beliefs and commercializing their musical styles. The Weavers felt some compromises were worth getting the songs exposed to the public. The new approach initially proved successful.
- The Korean War began on June 25th, 1950.
- The forerunner of the Fender Telecaster was Introduced for national distribution as the Broadcaster in the autumn of 1950. The earliest versions (in the spring of 1950) were the single and dual-pickup Esquire models. From that time to the present, the Telecaster has been in continuous production in one form or another
- Fats Domino’s first record “The Fat Man.”
- The Johnny Otis Rhythm & Blues Caravan takes the R&B show on the road scoring ten Top 10 hits with vocalists such as 14-year-old Little Esther, Mel Walker, and The Robins.
- The R&B ballad takes shape with hits in that style by Ivory Joe Hunter, Percy Mayfield, and Laurie Tate.
- Arkie Shibley & His Mountain Dew Boys record “Hot Rod Race” sets the stage for white country music to meet rhythm & blues as rockabilly.
- Atlantic Records scores its first #1 record with Ruth Brown’s “Teardrops From My Eyes,” the biggest R&B hit for a female artist for the next 40 years.
- Ted McCarty is appointed president at Gibson, replacing the outgoing Guy Hart.
- The first jukebox that plays 45 RPM records is introduced.
- A wave of young black vocal groups springs up with variations of the style popularized by the Orioles. The Five Keys’ smooth harmonies hit with “The Glory Of Love.” The Clovers combine tougher harmonies with southern-inflected blues and hit with “Don’t You Know I Love You” and” Fool, Fool, Fool,” kicking off a string of 15 straight Top 10 hits. The Dominoes’ gospel-based singing and racy lyrics hit with “Sixty Minute Man.”
- In Memphis, Sam Phillips records Ike Turner’s band with Jackie Brenston on lead for “Rocket 88”, leasing it to Chess Records of Chicago. It tops the charts.
- Les Paul’s electric guitar work on the #1 Pop Hit “How High The Moon” with Mary Ford allows the song to cross over onto the R&B Charts.
- April 30th – The Knights of Columbus, the world’s largest Catholic fraternal service organization, also began including the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance (see 1948). In New York City, the Board of Directors adopted a resolution to amend the text of their Pledge of Allegiance at the opening of each of the meetings of the 800 Fourth Degree Assemblies of the Knights of Columbus by adding the words “under God.” Over the next two years, the idea spread through the Knights of Columbus organizations nationwide. (see 1892, 1948 & 1954)
- In July, Cleveland disc jockey Alan Freed begins his “Moondog Show” on WJW, broadcasting nothing but rhythm & blues. He coined the phrase “rock’n’roll” to describe the music. His initial audience was young blacks, but he quickly attracted young white listeners.
- Nat King Cole’s record “Too young” held the top place on Your Hit Parade for four consecutive weeks.
- Fender’s ‘Broadcaster’ is renamed the Telecaster after a dispute with Gretsch – the legal owner of the ‘Broadcaster’ name.
- The Weavers helped introduce new audiences (between 1950 and 1955) to ‘Folk Revival’ standards including “On Top of Old Smoky,” “Kisses Sweeter than Wine,” “Follow the Drinking Gourd,” “The Wreck of the John B” (“The Sloop John B),” “Rock Island Line,” “Pay Me My Money Down,” “The Midnight Special,” “Darling Corey” and “Wimoweh.” Pete Seeger would encourage audience participation by feeding lyric lines ahead of the melody so the audience could sing along. This helped burn songs into their collective memory. It helped shape the influences of a generation.
- The Gibson Les Paul, designed by Ted McCarty and endorsed, named and used by then-popular jazz/pop guitarist Les Paul is introduced.It remains in production today. The new design sported a gold-finish – later known as the ‘Goldtop’.
- Seth Lover joined Gibson as a full-time employee to work in the electronics department. Among other things, he began to work on new pickup designs.
- On the night of March 21st, DJ Alan Freed puts on the ever rock ‘n’ roll show, “The Moondog Coronation Ball” in Cleveland, starring The Dominoes, Varetta Dillard, Tiny Grimes & His Rockin’ Highlanders featuring Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, and Paul “Hucklebuck” Williams. The overflow crowds break down the doors, storming the arena where a full-scale riot ensues bringing the newly coined “rock ‘n’ roll” music its first widespread headlines and scrutiny.
- Renegade white country & western swing band Bill Haley & The Saddlemen record “Rock The Joint,” the first white rock song to become a hit.
- White pop vocalist Johnnie Ray records the two-sided smash “Cry” / “The Little White Cloud That Cried.” His emotional wailing leads many to believe he is both black and a female as the song tops the R&B charts.
- Johnny Ace, a former piano player with the Beale Streeters, a group that included blues legends B.B. King and Bobby “Blue” Bland, records his first record in Memphis, “My Song,” and watches it hit #1.
- In New Orleans, the rock ‘n’ roll beat is furthered by Lloyd Price’s hit “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” with Fats Domino on piano.
- Domino’s own “Goin’ Home” hits #1 on the R&B Charts and becomes one of the first rock songs to enter the Pop Charts as well, reaching #30.
- Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, still in their late teens, write their first hit “Hard Times “for R&B star Charles Brown, as well as the rock classic “Kansas City.”
- Sam Phillips starts his own label, Sun Records, at Sun Studios at 706 Union Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee, recording mostly blues musicians its first two years in business. Their first release was Johnny London’s moody R&B sax instrumental “Drivin’ Slow.”
- “Stormy Weather” by The Five Sharps was issued. For record collectors, it is one of the rarest of all R&B records. Only three 78rpm and no 45rpm copies are known to exist. At auction, an original record can fetch an estimated $20,000.
- Folk archivist Harry Smith released the “Anthology of American Folk Music” on 78s. The Folkways anthology presented African-American and white roots music as equally valid. Political ballads were treated the same as Creole Chants. Some feel this to be the definitive collection of early American music.
- Dwight David Eisenhower, nicknamed “Ike”, was elected as the 34th President of the United States. He was the former five-star general who served as Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in Europe.
- 15 million rhythm & blues records are bought in 1953, while that accounts for just five percent of all records sold it begins to draw notice in the industry that fails to note the growing interest among young white audiences.
- Clyde McPhatter leaves the Dominoes after three years and nine hits to form the Drifters for Atlantic Records. They hit #1 with “Money Honey.”
- The first clear evidence of soul music shows up with the “5” Royales, an ex-gospel group that turned to R&B and in Faye Adams, whose “Shake A Hand” becomes an R&B standard.
- Bill Haley changes his group’s name to the more youthful Comets and writes the first white rock hit, “Crazy Man Crazy,” reaching #13 on the Pop Charts in May, the highest position for a rock song to date.
- The Rhythm & Blues Charts begin to reflect the overwhelming dominance of emerging rock ‘n’ roll with such hits as Big Joe Turner’s “Honey Hush” Johnny Ace’s “The Clock” and Ruth Brown’s “Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean.” Only one pure blues record tops the chart the entire year.
- On May 15th, near his house in Samois-Sur-Seine France, while sitting with friends at a cafe, Django Reinhardt had a stroke. He died during the night. He was 43 years old.
- In June, the first major integrated rock ‘n’ roll show is staged in Cleveland with headlining co-stars The Dominoes and Bill Haley & His Comets.
- The Orioles “Crying In The Chapel” becomes the first R&B hit to approach the Top 10 on the Pop Charts.
- Major hostilities in the Korean War ended with the armistice signed on July 27th.
- The original ‘trapeze’ tailpiece on the Gibson solid-body electric Goldtop was replaced with a new ‘wrap-over’ combined bridge-tailpiece design.
- The RIAA (Radio Industry Association of America) arrived at a standard equalization curve for the recording and playback of records. This cleared the way for the manufacture of standardized preamplifiers and the beginning of the audiophile market — the research and development of better sounding playback equipment (speakers, preamplifiers, amplifiers, phonograph cartridges and turntables).
- In August, 18-year-old Elvis Aaron Presley (1/8/35 – 8/16/77) wandered into the street-front office of Sun Records in Memphis and approached receptionist Marion Keisker, asking to pay for a demo recording as a gift for his mother. The owner of Sun Records, Sam Phillips, was out that day. The arrangements were made and paid for and a two-sided acetate was pressed: “My Happiness” on the A-side and “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin” on the B-side. Elvis was hoping to be discovered (His mother’s birthday had recently passed). Marion Keisker made a note: “Good ballad singer – hold.”
- Pete Seeger (5/3/1919 – 1/27/2014) and Lee Hays (3/14/1914 – 8/26/1981) of the Weavers were called to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Seeger and Hays were identified as Communist Party USA members by FBI informant Harvey Matusow (who later recanted). Hays took the Fifth Amendment to avoid prosecution. Seeger simply refused to answer, claiming his First Amendment rights. He was the first to do so after the conviction of the Hollywood Ten in 1950. Seeger was found guilty of contempt and placed under restrictions by the court pending appeal. Seeger was added to the entertainment industry blacklist publication Red Channels. All of the Weavers were placed under FBI surveillance and not allowed to perform on television or radio. Decca Records terminated their recording contract and deleted their records from the Decca catalog. Since their recordings were denied airplay, they lost all income from royalties. Right-wing and anti-Communist groups protested at their performances and harassed promoters. As a result, the group’s ability to support itself fell apart and in 1952 the Weavers disbanded. After this, Pete Seeger built upon his solo career. He found interest and support in the College Circuit and teaching music to children. In 1961, Pete Seeger’s conviction was overturned on technical grounds. It was not until 1967 that Seeger’s blacklisting ended by his appearance on the nationally broadcast CBS-TV variety show, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.
- Mario Maccaferri introduced plastic guitars. It had worked well with plastic ukuleles in 1949, but the plastic flat-top G-30 and archtop G-40 never really caught on.
- December – The first issue of Playboy was published. The centerfold was a fully naked Marilyn Monroe stretched upon a deep red velvet background with an upraised arm, closed eyes and open mouth. Hugh Hefner, a 1949 graduate of Psychology from the University of Illinois, had worked in Chicago for Esquire magazine writing promotional copy, Publisher’s Development Corporation in sales and marketing, and Children’s Activities magazine as the circulation promotions manager, set out to create his own magazine. The first issue sold out within a few weeks. Mint condition copies of the first issue sold in 2002 for over $5,000.
- Joseph McCarthy’s support and popularity began to fade with the highly publicized Army-McCarthy hearings of 1954. Later in 1954, the Senate voted to censure Senator McCarthy by a vote of 67 to 22, making him one of the few senators ever to be disciplined in this fashion.
- February 8th: Rep. Charles Oakman (R-Mich.), introduced a bill in the Federal Congress to add the words “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance. Congress passed the necessary legislation and Eisenhower signed the bill into law on Flag Day, June 14th, 1954. The phrase “under God” was incorporated into the Pledge of Allegiance that day, by a Joint Resolution of Congress amending article 7 of the Flag Code enacted in 1942. (see 1892, 1948 & 1951)
- The Fender Stratocaster, designed by Leo Fender, George Fullerton and Freddie Tavares is introduced, and remains in production today.
- R&B music explodes into the mainstream with black vocal groups leading the crossover due to records such as the Crows’ “Gee,” The Chords’ “Sh-Boom,” The Charms’ “Hearts Of Stone” and The Penguins’ “Earth Angel.” The often crude recording techniques, amateurish vocals and sometimes nonsensical lyrics give the impression that the music is just a novelty.
- Pop record companies try desperately to capitalize on the fad by having white artists cover black vocal group records and the increased distribution and radio play assures many of those versions of becoming the hits.
- The Midnighters cause waves when their off-color “Work With Me Annie” and its equally suggestive sequels become the most popular R&B records of the year, resulting in many communities calling for a complete ban on rock ‘n’ roll.
- On April 12th, “Rock Around The Clock” was recorded by Bill Haley & the Comets.
- On July 5th, Elvis Aaron Presley returned to Sun Records in Memphis at the request of owner Sam Phillips. Phillips had assembled guitarist Winfield “Scotty” Moore and upright bass player Bill Black to see if he could capture something the public might like with the talented young singer. They worked for hours without much luck. Sam stepped out the back of the control room into the ally for a cigarette, tempted to give up on the session. A bit punchy from being stuck in the small studio for so long, Presley picked up his acoustic guitar and launched into Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup’s 1946 blues number “That’s All Right (Mama).” Moore recalled, “All of a sudden, Elvis just started singing this song, jumping around and acting the fool, and then Bill picked up his bass, and he started acting the fool too, and I started playing with them. Sam, I think, had the door to the control booth open … he stuck his head out and said, ‘What are you doing?’ And we said, ‘We don’t know.’ ‘Well, back up,’ he said, ‘try to find a place to start, and do it again.” For the B-side, they recorded Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky” over the next few days. Wide public exposure to Rockabilly was born with the release of the record on July 19th. Sam Phillips suspected he had found the man to bring Rhythm & Blues to the broader white American audience.
- On October 2nd, a teenage Elvis Presley made his first and only performance on the Grand Ole Opry. The audience reacted politely to this new brand of rock ‘n’ roll. Following the show, he was told by Opry manager Jim Denny that he should go back to Memphis and his truck-driving career. Elvis swore never to return.
- Among those records targeted for widespread bans are Clyde McPhatter & The Drifters’ explicit “Honey Love” and “Such A Night,” and the Midnighters’ “Sexy Ways.” As a result, of course, they all become R&B hits.
- 10,000 fans attend Alan Freed’s first east coast Rock ‘n’ Roll Show held in Newark, New Jersey, featuring the Clovers and Harptones. The success is a further indication that rock ‘n’ roll has national appeal…
- Freed moves to New York’s WINS in September and quickly becomes the city’s most famous DJ, attracting large audiences to his newly named ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Party.’
- Big Joe Turner and Bill Haley each record “Shake Rattle & Roll” and have dueling hits that stay on the charts for months.
- Rock ‘n’ roll suffers its first tragedy as one of its biggest stars Johnny Ace accidentally shoots and kills himself playing Russian Roulette backstage at a Houston Auditorium in between shows on Christmas Night.
- Gibson introduces three new Les Paul models alongside the ‘Goldtop’: the deluxe black Custom and the budget Junior and TV models.
- Gibson introduced the adjustable Tune-O-Matic bridge on the Les Paul Custom model.
- Gibson introduced the J-160E (for ‘Electric’). This would become a major instrument when exploited by the Beatles in the 60’s.
- On July 11th, just one month after the phrase “under God” was incorporated into the Pledge of Allegiance, Congress enacted Public Law 84-140 requiring the motto: “In God We Trust” to be placed on all currency (paper & coin). The law was signed by President Eisenhower on July 30th, 1956, and the motto was progressively added to paper money between 1957 & 1966. (see 1864 & 1938)
- After being used in the hit film about juvenile delinquency The Blackboard Jungle, Bill Haley & The Comets’ “Rock Around The Clock” becomes the first rock record to top the Pop Charts, holding the #1 position for two months and remaining in the Top 100 for a record 38 weeks. It would be 39 years before that record was broken.
- Disneyland opened in Anaheim, California.
- The Weavers were asked to perform at Carnegie Hall on Christmas Eve of 1955. It was a come-back for the group following their inclusion on the entertainment industry blacklist.
- Pete Seeger was convicted of contempt of Congress for refusing to discuss his political affiliations with the House Committee of Un-American Activities (HUAC), although the conviction was overturned on appeal in May, 1962.
- In May, Charles Edward Anderson “Chuck” Berry (born October 18th, 1926 in St. Louis, Missouri) traveled to Chicago where he met Muddy Waters. Waters suggested he contact Leonard Chess of Chess Records. Berry thought his blues material would be of most interest to Chess, but to his surprise, it was an old country and western recording by Bob Wills, entitled “Ida Red” that got Chess’s attention. At that time, Chess had seen the blues market shrink and was looking to move beyond the rhythm and blues market, and he thought Berry might be that artist who could do it. So on May 21st, Berry covered “Ida Red” (renamed “Maybellene”) with Johnny Johnson, Jerome Green (from Bo Diddley’s band) on the maracas, Jasper Thomas on the drums and blues legend Willie Dixon on the bass. “Maybellene” sold over a million copies, reaching #1 on Billboard’s Rhythm and Blues chart and #5 on the Hot 100. The song ushers in descending pentatonic double-stops, which becomes the essence of rock guitar.
- Crossover records start appearing on the Pop Charts led by Johnny Ace’s posthumous smash “Pledging My Love.” Others by Fats Domino, The Moonglows, The Platters and the first hits and Little Richard follow.
- Little Richard recorded “Tutti Frutti!” with the original lyric, “tutti frutti, good booty”. The original recording was at Cosmo Matassa’s J&M Studios in New Orleans.
- Bo Diddley’s self-titled debut record tops the R&B Charts and introduces the tribal “Bo Diddley” beat to rock.
- In May the first Rock long-playing record (LP) is released by Bill Haley & His Comets. Full-length albums with their higher prices limit their appeal for teenagers and remain largely the realm of adult pop singers for another decade.
- The increased attention to R&B has negative impacts with The Midnighters who faced the toughest scrutiny. It killed their hits for four years due to radio blackballing.
- In May a Rock ‘n’ Roll Show in Connecticut to be headlined by Fats Domino is canceled for fear it will lead to rioting. State police subsequently ban all further rock concerts in the state.
- Boston follows suit by assembling a record censorship board to prevent dirty rock records from being played on the air.
- With censorship prevalent, white cover records still hold a slight edge in radio play but not in sales. Pat Boone had the biggest impact with his cleaner versions of R&B hits.
- Miles Dewey Davis III (5/26/1926 – 9/28/1991) abandoned the bebop style he had influenced by turning to the music of pianist Ahmad Jamal. When Davis entered the studio in June 1955 to record Miles Davis Quartet, he wanted a pianist like Jamal and picked Red Garland. The albums Blue Haze (1956), Bags’ Groove (1957), Walkin‘ (1957), and Miles Davis and the Modern Jazz Giants (1959) were recorded shortly after his recovery from a decade-long addiction to heroin. It was ‘Cool Jazz.’
- In November, Elvis Presley’s contract is bought by RCA for an unheard of price of $35,000.
- Rock ‘n’ roll music warrants a mention in the year-end Encyclopedia Britannica music review, which derogatorily refers to it in racist terms as “jungle music.”
- Patsy Cline began recording for Four Star Records.
- Gibson’s Tune-O-Matic bridge becomes a stock issue on the Goldtop.
- Seth Lover begins work on a new humbucking pickup design at Gibson.
- Ray Butts begins work on a new humbucking pickup design for Gretsch.
- The Gibson Les Paul Special, (a two-pickup version of the Junior) is introduced.
- The Platters open the year on top of both the R&B and Pop Charts with “The Great Pretender.”
- Pop vocalist Kay Starr has a hit with “The Rock & Roll Waltz,” a song that attempts to cash in on the term “rock ‘n’ roll” while appealing to adults rather than kids, proving the industry feels the music is a novelty.
- By spring the white cover craze peters out as Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally” beats Pat Boone’s version, Fats Domino’s “I’m In Love Again” beats the Fontane Sisters remake and by years end white pop singers virtually give up covering R&B hits.
- Elvis Presley makes his national television debut on The Dorsey Brothers Stage Show in late January, and a month later his first RCA record “Heartbreak Hotel” races up the charts with his former Sun Records cohort Carl Perkins’ “Blue Suede Shoes,” as they claim the #1 and 2 spots.
- Presley scores five #1 hits in a seven-month span and causes a sensation with his performance of “Hound Dog” on the Milton Berle Show. He appears twice on The Ed Sullivan Show in the fall to big ratings, and releases his first film that November.
- Rock ‘n’ Roll enters the movies with cheaply made exploitation films with numerous cameos by artists singing their latest hits. The biggest is “The Girl Can’t Help It” starring blonde sexpot Jayne Mansfield, and featuring performances by Little Richard, Fats Domino and Eddie Cochran.
- Feedback is invented by The Johnny Burnette Rock ‘n’ Roll Trio on their record “The Train Kept A Rollin.”
- On April 10th, Fender patents the Tremolo.
- Gene Vincent is convicted of public obscenity and fined $10,000 by the state of Virginia for singing the erotic “Woman Love” on stage.
- “I Put A Spell On You” by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins sells over a million copies but faces a radio ban due to its “cannibalistic nature.” It became rock’s first underground hit.
- The Gibson Les Paul Junior hits a record for annual production among Les Paul models, shipping 3,129 units, and Gibson introduces a version of the Junior with a shorter ‘three-quarter scale’ neck.
- By the end of June, Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven” reached #29 on the Billboard Top 100 chart.
- In England, Lonnie Donegan released a version of Leadbelly’s “Rock Island Line.” It flew up the English charts. Donegan had synthesized American Southern Blues with simple acoustic instruments: acoustic guitar, washtub bass and washboard rhythm. The new style was called ‘Skiffle.’ The term came from America in the late 1920s, and referred to music from people with little money for instruments. The new style captivated an entire generation of post-war youth in England.
- “In God We Trust” was adopted as the official motto of the United States. The Legality of this motto was quickly challenged as the United States Constitution forbids the government to make any law respecting the establishment of a national religion. The United States Supreme Court, however, rejected the legal basis for this claim (“E Pluribus Unum” is the unofficial motto of the United States). “In God We Trust” has appeared on U.S. coins since 1864 and on paper currency since 1957.
- Joseph McCarthy died in Bethesda Naval Hospital on May 2nd, at the age of 48. The official cause of death was acute hepatitis. It is widely accepted that this was brought on by alcoholism.
- On The Road was published by author Jean-Louis “Jack” Lebris de Kerouac (3/12/1922 – 10/21/1969). It was the second book by the novelist/poet, and helped usher-in the Beat Generation. Kerouac is recognized for his spontaneous method of writing on topics including Catholic spirituality, jazz, promiscuity, Buddhism, drugs, poverty, and travel.
- This first Humbucker (humbucking pickup) that became known as the PAF (Patent Applied For) was invented by Seth Lover, a Gibson employee.
- Gretsch also introduced a humbucking pickup designed by Ray Butts that year at the Chicago summer NAMM show: the Filtertron. There is still disagreement as to who designed the first humbucker.
- The first test of FM broadcasting was performed by NHK in Japan.
- In March or April, Orphie Strathopoulo called Ted McCarty of Gibson saying that he was ready to sell whas left of the Epiphone company.
- On his final Ed Sullivan appearance, Elvis Presley is filmed from the waist up. The screams from the studio audience only make what the home viewer was missing even more suggestive.
- Jailhouse Rock, starring Elvis Presley, is considered the best rock film and introduces a precursor to the rock video, as the title song has an elaborate setting in a jail cell choreographed by Presley himself.
- Bill Haley & The Comets tour Europe, setting off riots and bringing rock ‘n’ roll to that continent for the first time.
- An Australian tour featuring Jerry Lee Lewis and Buddy Holly follows, making rock a worldwide phenomenon. Lewis’s performance of “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” that July on The Steve Allen Show brings rock music more reprimands as Lewis kicks over his piano stool and plays the keyboards with disturbing wild-eyed intensity. The ratings, however, beat the top-ranked Ed Sullivan Show for the first time that year.
- The stroll becomes the first dance associated with rock.
- Alan Freed has his short-lived televised rock ‘n’ roll show canceled when complaints pour in over seeing black teenage singer Frankie Lymon dancing on screen with a white girl.
- In a move to tame rock ‘n’ roll, ABC television launches the national version of a Philadelphia program called American Bandstand, which promotes the more wholesome side of rock.
- The Everly Brothers’ hit “Wake Up Little Susie” is banned from the airwaves in Boston for lyrical content.
- In August, The Weavers reassembled for a series of recording sessions for Vanguard. As Pete Seeger’s college concert bookings grew (unaffected by Blacklisting), the singer began to feel restricted by his obligations to the Weavers. The group was booked by Vanguard for a January 15th, 1958 session to record a rock-and-roll single. The results were embarrassing and Seeger’s frustration grew. In February, Gilbert, Hays, and Hellerman overruled Seeger about recording a cigarette ad (for a tobacco company). Seeger opposed the idea as a sell-out to commercial interests. He decided to resign. Seeger honored his commitment to record the jingle and then left the group on March 3rd, 1958.
- On a tour of Australia in the fall, Little Richard sees the Russian satellite “Sputnik” descending to earth and takes it as a sign from God to quit rock ‘n’ roll and join the ministry.
- Gibson and Epiphone bought by Chicago based CMI (Chicago Musical Instruments).
- In England, John Lennon formed a skiffle group called The Quarrymen. Lennon met Paul McCartney on July 6th and added him to the group a few days later.
- On Friday, October 18th, a young Paul McCartney performed with the Quarry Men for the first time for a dance at the New Clubmoor Hall. Following the dance, Paul played a few of his own songs. It was inspirational for John Lennon. White rockers seldom wrote their own music, except perhaps for Buddy Holly.
- Atlantic Records began to record and release stereo records.
- Clarence White (13) and his brother Roland (19) started the Kentucky Colonels to join and expand the tradition of Bluegrass music. As the band grew with experience they pushed the genre into a new form, ‘Newgrass.’ They would become significant influences to players like David Grisman and Tony Rice (who would come to own Clarence White’s Martin dreadnaught after his death in 1973).
- In England, guitar sales reached 250,000 units. This was up from 5,000 in 1950 due, in large part, to the popularity of Lonnie Donegan and Skiffle Music.
- Al Priddy, a disc jockey at station KEX in Portland OR, is fired for playing Elvis Presley’s version of “White Christmas”. The station instituted a ban of the song due to a behind-the-scenes deal with Irving Berlin (the composer), who detested The King’s version. KEX management released a statement stating, “The song is ‘not in the spirit we associate with Christmas'”.
- Jerry Lee Lewis weds Myra Gale Brown, his thid wife, his third cousin, and 13 years old.
- On January 6th, Gibson patented the Flying V guitar. Sales were not good initially but the iconic shaped guitar eventually found a home in electric blues.
- On February 6th, George Harrison was invited to watch the Quarrymen. Harrison joined the band as lead guitarist shortly after. John Lennon & Paul McCartney both played rhythm guitar at the time.
- Elvis Presley is inducted into the Army in March for a two-year hitch overseas.
- Lawrence Ferlinghetti (3/24/1919 – ) is an American poet, painter, liberal activist and co-founder of City Lights Booksellers & Publishers. The author of poetry, translations, fiction, theatre, art criticism, and film narration is best known for A Coney Island of the Mind (New York: New Directions, 1958), a collection of poems that has been translated into nine languages, with sales over 1,000,000 copies.
- Gibson introduced the ES-335 is an attempt to find a middle ground — a warmer tone than a solid body but still capable of producing little or no feedback. Though semi-hollow bodies like the ES-335 are essentially a compromise of earlier designs, for the same reason they are extremely flexible as evidenced by the ES-335’s popularity in a wide range of music, including blues, jazz, and rock. They paved the way for the 1960s.
- In April, singer/songwriter Chuck Willis dies of a perforated ulcer at age 30.
- In May, Alan Freed is indicted by Boston authorities for inciting a riot at a recent rock ‘n’ roll show he promoted where the audience stormed the stage during both Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry’s closing sets.
- In June, Jerry Lee Lewis’ first English tour results in scandal when it is learned his 3rd wife is his 13-year-old second cousin. He cuts the tour short and is blackballed by American radio and television.
- Billboard magazine begins the Hot 100, expanding the Pop Charts to allow more records to become certified hits.
- Rock’s songwriting connection to its audience becomes more apparent with the hits “Summertime Blues” by Eddie Cochran, “Sweet Little Sixteen” by Chuck Berry, and Leiber & Stoller’s #1 hit for the Coasters “Yakety Yak.”
- Chuck Willis’s double-sided posthumous hit “What Am I Living For” / “Hang Up My Rock ‘n’ Roll Shoes” is the first rock record released in stereo, engineered by Tom Dowd of Atlantic Records.
- The power chord first appears in records by guitarists Link Wray and Eddie Cochran.
- Distortion for electric guitar is first used by Lowman Pauling of The “5” Royales and a primitive form of fuzz bass is found on some of their records of this time as well.
- “Hard Headed Woman” by Elvis Presley becomes the first Rock Record to go Gold, a new designation for singles established earlier in the year.
- During the summer, some of the Gibson Goldtop models were replaced with a new sunburst finish. This later became known as the Les Paul “Burst.” That small visual alteration provided the basis for some of the most desirable and collectible Les Paul guitars ever made. Gibson produced a combined total of 434 Goldtops and “Bursts” that year.
- The Gibson Les Paul Junior, Junior three-quarter, and TV models were redesigned with new double-cutaway bodies.
- The EIA and RIAA established the 45/45 system for recording and reproducing stereo phonograph records.
- Andrés Segovia wins his first Grammy.
- The Vietnam War, also known as the Second Indochina War or the Vietnam Conflict, (and in contemporary Vietnam, known as the American War), began. It had been brewing with French involvement for years but saw a ramp-up of American advisors and servicemen in 1959.
- Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. (The Big Bopper) Richardson die in a plane crash while on tour in Clearlake, Iowa on February 3rd. It will become known as “The Day The Music Died” and memorialized in Don McLean’s 1972 hit, “American Pie.” All three were at the peak of their popularity and had collectively, in 12 months, sold over 10 million records worldwide. Holly had assembled a band for the winter tour made up of Tommy Allsup on guitar, Carl Bunch on drums and Waylon Jennings on bass, to be billed as The Crickets. Waylon Jennings gave up his seat on the small plane to go by bus. Holly joked to Jennings, “I hope your bus freezes up.” Jennings joked back, “I hope your ‘ol plane crashes.” The joke would haunt Jennings for years.
- Congress opens the payola hearings designed to squash rock ‘n’ roll DJ’s who receive money from record distributors in exchange for airplay, a common practice in all forms of radio for years. Alan Freed is its main target and becomes its biggest casualty, as he is found guilty and taken off the air as a result.
- Radio stations respond by voluntarily putting severe restrictions on what they will play, including widely adopting the Top 40 format which limits how many songs are approved for airing.
- Dick Clark acts quickly to distance himself from rock ‘n’ roll’s bad image as he increasingly showcases teen idols on American Bandstand.
- The first Grammy Award is presented by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. Originally titled the Gramophone Awards, the song of the year was awarded to Domenico Modugno for “Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu” (Volare).
- The rock instrumental has its biggest year ever in response to rock music facing bans for lyrical content.
- “Chega de Saudade” is the debut album by Brazilian musician João Gilberto (6/10/1931 – 7/6/2019) and is credited by some as the first ‘Bossa Nova’ album. The title roughly translates as “enough longing,” though the Portuguese word ‘Saudade’ carries some more complex meaning(s). Bossa Nova is a style of Brazilian music fusing samba and jazz, developed and popularized in Brazil during the 1950s and ’60s. The phrase ‘Bossa Nova’ means “new trend” or “new wave”. As a style, it washed over America well into the 1960s by artists including Laurindo Almeida, Badi Assad, Luiz Bonfá, Charlie Byrd, Oscar Castro-Neves, Stan Getz, João & Astrud Gilberto, Antônio Carlos Jobim, Sérgio Mendes, and many others.
- Ray Charles bursts into the mainstream after years as an R&B star with “What’d I Say.”
- A new version of the Drifters is produced by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who become the first to use strings and introduce Latin rhythms to rock with the hit “There Goes My Baby.”
- The Newport Folk Festival was founded by Theodore Bikel, Oscar Brand, Pete Seeger, George Wein (founder of the Newport Jazz Festival) and his partner Albert Grossman. The concept was to elevate the music of the people to greater public prominence.
- On August 17th, Columbia released Miles Davis’ studio album Kind of Blue, which sold over 4,000,000 copies in the US alone. It’s viewed by some as the most popular Jazz album of all time, making Miles Davis among the most influential figures in the history of jazz in the 20th century. By 1959, he had freed himself of a decade-long heroin addiction and emerged a stronger musician. His sound had evolved to include a Harmon mute (wah-wah mute) held close to the microphone. He began to distance himself from his ‘cool jazz’ & BeBop background with the use of more relaxed phrasing and greater space between notes and phrases. The resulting sound was referred to as ‘hard bop’, slower & less radical than BeBop in both harmony and melody. He frequently chose songs from the Great American Songbook as starting points for improvisation. Hard bop was a departure from cool jazz with a harder beat and blues-inspired roots. Some critics consider “Walkin'” (April 1954) to be the album that started the hard bop genre. In 2009, the US House of Representatives voted 409 to 0, passing a resolution to honor Kind of Blue as a national treasure.
- On August 25th, During the rise of popularity of Kind of Blue, Miles Davis had a run-in with the law. During a recording session for the US Armed Services in New York City at the Birdland nightclub, he stepped outside the front of the club during a break. As he was escorting a blonde-haired woman to a taxi, a policeman named Gerald Kilduff told him to “move on.” Davis explained that he was working at the club. Kilduff grabbed him and put him under arrest. Witnesses said the policeman used a nightstick to punch Davis in the stomach without provocation. Two detectives held back the crowd while a third came up behind Davis and beat him about the head. Davis was taken to jail and charged with assaulting an officer. He was then taken to the hospital and received five stitches. He was released on a $525 bail. By January 1960, he was acquitted of disorderly conduct and third-degree assault. He later stated the incident “changed my whole life and whole attitude again, made me feel bitter and cynical again when I was starting to feel good about the things that had changed in this country.”
- Berry Gordy starts Tamla-Motown Records. It will eventually become the most successful black-owned and operated company in American history, not just in music, with 600 million records sold.
- Gibson shipped 643 Les Paul Bursts during the year.
- In December, Chuck Berry encountered legal problems after inviting a 14-year-old Apache waitress he’d met in Mexico to work as a hat check girl at his night club. After being fired from the club, the girl was arrested on a prostitution charge and Berry was arrested under the Mann Act. After a trial and retrial, Berry was convicted, fined $5,000, and sentenced to five years in prison. This event, coupled with other early rock and roll scandals such as Jerry Lee Lewis’ marriage to his 13-year-old cousin and Alan Freed’s payola conviction, gave rock and roll an image problem that limited its acceptance into mainstream U.S. society.
- In December, The Weavers reunited to play a sold-out concert at Carnegie Hall. By the late 1950s, folk music was surging and McCarthyism fading. Following the April 1957 LP release of the Carnegie Hall concert by the independent label Vanguard Records (The Weavers at Carnegie Hall), the Weavers launched a month-long concert tour.
- A recent fatal human disease was identified and carefully documented in the Congo. It would later become known throughout the world as HIV.
- Since 1955 the market share for rock ‘n’ roll has increased from 15.7% to 42.7%, making it the fastest-growing style of music ever.
- Sam Cooke signed with RCA Records where he continued to write and record such No. 1 hits as “Chain Gang,” “Twisting The Night Away,” “Bring It On Home To Me,” “Having A Party,” and “Cupid”.
- John Lennon’s friend Stuart Sutcliffe joined the Quarrymen on bass in January. Stuart Sutcliffe suggested the name The Beetles as a tribute to Buddy Holly and The Crickets. They went through several band names, including Johnny and the Moondogs and Long John and The Beatles. After a tour in May through Northeast Scotland as The Silver Beetles, they settled on the name The Beatles. The drummer for the tour was Tommy Moore.
- The Beatles invited Pete Best to become their drummer on August 12th. Best had played with The Blackjacks in The Casbah Coffee Club, owned by his mother, Mona Best. Together, they began a 48-night residency in Hamburg at Bruno Koschmider’s Indra Club, and then moved to the Kaiserkeller in October.
- On November 21st, Harrison was deported for having lied to the German authorities about his age. A week later, after setting a condom on fire (which they had hung on a nail at the Bambi Kino where they had been living), McCartney and Pete Best were arrested for arson and deported. Lennon returned to Liverpool in mid-December while Sutcliffe stayed behind in Hamburg with his new German fiancée Astrid Kirshner. The reunited group played an engagement on December 17th at the Casbah Club, with Chas Newby on bass.
- Gibson ships 635 Les Paul Bursts before ceasing production of the model. The model is described in the Gibson catalog as the Les Paul Standard.
- In September, the FCC banned Payola — the common practice of record companies paying radio disc jockeys to play their new releases. The payment was not always in dollars.
- On May 11th, pharmaceutical company Searle received FDA approval to sell Enovid as a birth control pill. Searle is the first and only pharmaceutical company to sell an oral contraceptive and gain a lucrative monopoly. The pharmaceutical industry suddenly awoke to the substantial market for effective contraception and 13 major drug companies (nine of them American) began work to develop their own versions of the Pill. The sexual revolution began.
- March 1st: The Peace Corps was established by President John F. Kennedy by Executive Order 10924. The Act was then authorized by Congress on September 22nd, by passage of the Peace Corps Act (Public Law 87-293). The act describes the purpose of the program: “To promote world peace and friendship through a Peace Corps, which shall make available to interested countries and areas men and women of the United States qualified for service abroad and willing to serve, under conditions of hardship if necessary, to help the peoples of such countries and areas in meeting their needs for trained manpower”.
- April 11th: Adolf Eichmann’s trial began in Jerusalem, Israel. Eichmann was charged with 15 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity, crimes against the Jewish people and membership in a hostile organization. The charges accused Eichmann of being responsible for the enslavement, starvation, persecution, transportation and murder of millions of Jews as well as the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Poles and Gypsies. Eichmann’s defense was that he was just following orders. The trial was intended to shed light on the horror and reality of the Holocaust. The resulting press helped educate the world about the Third Reich. Three judges found Eichmann guilty on all 15 counts. On December 15th, Eichmann was sentenced to death (see 1962.)
- April 12th: The Soviets launched the first man into space. On the spacecraft Vostok 1, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first person to enter space and the first to orbit the Earth.
- April: In an attempt to overthrow the Cuban government of Fidel Castro, less than 3 months after John F. Kennedy became president, The Bay of Pigs Invasion began. It was an unsuccessful action by CIA trained Cuban exiles to invade southern Cuba. The Cuban armed forces (trained and equipped by Eastern Bloc nations) defeated the invaders within thee days.
- August 12th & 13th: A little past midnight during the night of the 12th, while most Berliners were asleep; East German soldiers with construction workers defined the border of West and East Berlin with the construction of concrete posts and barbed wire. When the Berliners awoke, they found themselves settled on the side of the border they had slept on. The Berlin Wall stood for nearly 3 decades.
- September 26th: Television presented the first Presidential debates for public scrutiny and entertainment, Richard M. Nixon vs John F. Kennedy.
- The FCC adopted the Zenith/GE system standard for FM broadcasting.
- FM broadcasts begin in the United States.
- A new Les Paul Standard is introduced by Gibson. The double-cutaway design will later be renamed the Les Paul SG.
- On January 24th, The Beatles signed a five-year contract with Brian Epstein for band management.
- Bob Dylan reached New York City and played the Gaslight Cafe. Here he transformed himself from a singer to a songwriter. On March 19th, Columbia Records released his debut album Bob Dylan, produced by John Hammond.
- April: David Michael Gordon “Davey” Graham (originally spelled Davy Graham) (11/26/1940 – 12/15/2008), of Market Bosworth, Leicestershire, England, released his debut album ¾ AD. On the album was an acoustic guitar instrumental named “Anji” (after his current girlfriend). He wrote the tune at age 19 in 1960. “Anji” captured the imagination and mood of a generation of guitarists including Bert Jansch (who got a tape copy before the album was even released), Paul Simon (who recorded it as “Angie” on the 1966 “Sounds of Silence” album), Arlen Roth, John Renbourn, Martin Carthy, Jimmy Page, Ralph McTell, Wizz Jones, John Martyn, Nick Drake, Richard Thompson, Ritchie Blackmore, and many others as well as folk-rock bands including Fairport Convention & Pentangle. Though not the first instrumental of it’s kind (consider Chet Atkins recording of “Windy and Warm”), it appears to have emerged at the right place and the right time. For those that could manage to learn and play it well, it was a passport to folk club bookings.
- Andy Warhol (August 6th, 1928 – February 22nd, 1987) as a precursor to the Pop Art movement, exhibited 100 Soup Cans with the iconic image of the can of Campbell’s Condensed soup.
- May 29th: Adolf Eichmann was hanged, cremated and his ashes scattered at sea.
- Chester Burton ‘Chet’ Atkins (6/20/1924 – 6/30/2001) released his 19th studio album “Down Home” that included two of his signature guitar instrumentals, “Trombone” and “Windy and Warm.” Like Davey Graham’s “Anji”, it was a seminal piece of instrumental acoustic guitar music that surged through the acoustic folk and country communities of the day.
- Stuart Sutcliffe dies from a brain hemorrhage.
- Producer George Martin signed the Beatles to EMI’s Parlophone label for a one-year renewable contract.
- Brian Epstein dismissed Pete Best from the Beatles on August 16th.
- Richard Starkey, known as Ringo Starr, joined the Beatles; Starr had performed occasionally with The Beatles in Hamburg.
- The September EMI recording sessions with the Beatles produced the minor UK hit “Love Me Do,” which peaked on the charts at number 17. “Love Me Do” would reach the top of the U.S. singles chart in May 1964.
- September: James Meredith won a lawsuit to secure admission to the segregated University of Mississippi. He first tried to enter the campus on September 20th, then the 25th, and again on the 26th. He was blocked by Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett, who said, “No school will be integrated in Mississippi while I am your Governor.” The Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held Barnett and Lieutenant Governor Paul B. Johnson, Jr. in contempt with fines of $10,000 for each day they refused to allow Meredith to enroll. On September 30th, Meredith entered the campus under US Marshal escort sent by Attorney General Robert Kennedy. Students and other whites began rioting that afternoon. They threw rocks and fired on the U.S. Marshals guarding Meredith at Lyceum Hall. Two people, including a French journalist, were killed; 28 marshals had gunshot wounds, and 160 others were injured. The Mississippi Highway Patrol withdrew from the campus and President John F. Kennedy responded by sending regular US Army forces to restore law and order. Meredith began classes the day after the troops arrived.
- The Beatles first televised performance was on the People and Places program, live from Manchester England by Granada Television on October 17th.
- October: A 13-day confrontation between the Soviet Union, Cuba and the United States became known as The Cuban Missile Crisis. During the Cold War and following the Bay of Pigs Operation, the Cuban and Soviet governments secretly began to build bases in Cuba for medium-range and intermediate-range ballistic nuclear missiles giving them the ability to strike most of the continental United States. Earlier, in 1958, America had provoked the Soviet Union by deploying Thor IRBMs in the UK (Project Emily) and in 1961 deploying Jupiter IRBMs in Italy and Turkey. By late 1961 there were more than 100 U.S. missiles in Europe capable of striking Moscow with nuclear warheads. On October 14th an Air Force U-2 plane established photographic proof of Soviet missile bases under construction in Cuba. The period that followed is generally regarded as the time the Cold War was closest to becoming a nuclear conflict. It also marked the first instance of the threat of Mutual Assured Destruction (M.A.D.) being a determining factor in a major international arms agreement. The U.S. set up a military blockade at sea and demanded that the Soviets dismantle the missile bases in Cuba and remove all offensive weapons. Through secret communications initiated by Khrushchev, a proposal evolved to resolve the crisis. The confrontation ended on October 28th when President John F. Kennedy and United Nations Secretary-General U Thant reached a public and secret agreement with Khrushchev. The Soviets would dismantle their offensive weapons in Cuba subject to United Nations verification – in exchange for a US agreement never to invade Cuba. Secretly, the US also agreed to dismantle all U.S. built Jupiter IRBMs in Turkey and Italy. The blockade ended at 6:45 pm EDT on November 20th. An additional result of the crisis was a Hotline Agreement and a direct communications link between Moscow and Washington, D.C. was established.
- One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest was published. Author Kenneth Elton ‘Ken’ Kesey (9/17/35–11/10/01) was a 1960s countercultural figure who considered himself a link between the Beat Generation of the ‘50s and the hippies of the ‘60s: “I was too young to be a beatnik, and too old to be a hippie.” . Kesey volunteered to participate in a secret study named: Project MKUltra (sometimes called the “mind control program”), financed by the CIA, at the California Menlo Park Veterans Hospital where he worked as a night aide. The purpose of the study was to assess the effects of psychotropic drugs on people (LSD, psilocybin, mescaline, cocaine, AMT and DMT). One of the results was the inspiration to write the book One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. He went on to entertain friends and acquaintances at chemically enhanced parties he called ‘Acid Tests’. The live music was frequently provided by Kesey’s favorite band, The Warlocks, which evolved into the Grateful Dead. These parties appeared in Alan Ginsberg’s (6/3/26–4/5/97) poems, Tom Wolfe’s (3/2/31-5/14/18) The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Hunter S. Thompson’s (7/18/37–2/20/05) The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs and Frank Reynolds (Secretary of the Hell’s Angels) Freewheelin’ Frank.
- The first compact cassette recorder is released by Phillips.
- Davey Graham records and releases From a London Hootenanny (EP), with the first recording of guitar open tuning DADGAD. “She Moved Thro’ The Fair” is also on this EP with the Thamesiders, with Marlon Grey and Martin Carthy on guitars, and Pete Maynard on bass. The album was recorded in front of a live audience in the Decca studio.
- August: Swan Records released the Beatles “She Loves You,” which failed to get airplay. A testing of the song on Dick Clark’s TV show American Bandstand produced laughter from American teenagers when they saw the group’s distinctive hairstyles.
- On November 10th, a five minute news story shot in England about the Beatlemania phenomenon was shown on the CBS Evening News. The segment first aired on the CBS Morning News on November 22nd and had originally been scheduled to be repeated on that day’s Evening News, but regular programming was canceled following the assassination of John F. Kennedy that day.
- President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22nd in Dallas, Texas. Lee Harvey Oswald was charged with the crime but was murdered two days later by Jack Ruby before he could be put on trial.
- The Beatles second album With The Beatles was released on November 22nd – the same day John F. Kennedy was shot. By the end of the first week of release, the album had sold more than 500,000 copies. “I Want To Hold Your Hand” was released as a single near the end of the year and reached the top of both the American and English charts. The way was clear for the Beatles to launch an American tour.
- Chuck Berry was released from prison.
- The Twist craze was diminishing and record companies began to shift toward the surf music boom.
- Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy released Muddy Waters: Folk Singer on Chess Records.
- Martin Luther King, Jr. (January 15th, 1929-April 4th, 1968), delivered his I Have A Dream speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial toward the Mall in Washington DC for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Estimates of the number of participants varied from 200,000 (police) to over 300,000 (leaders of the march). 22-year-old Bob Dylan sang “Only a Pawn in Their Game” and was then joined by Joan Baez for “When the Ship Comes in.”Peter, Paul and Mary performed Lee Hayes’ “The Hammer Song (If I Had a Hammer).”
- Odetta performed the song “I’m On My Way” in front of the Lincoln Memorial and with Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. right behind her during the March on Washington. The song became an anthem for the Civil Rights Movement.
- Violinist John Berry joined with audio engineer Les Barcus to develop the Barcus-Berry piezo pickup system. This was the first pickup suitable for acoustic guitar.
- February 1st: The Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand” went to number 1 on the U.S. Billboard Chart. It held that position for sven weeks. The single sold 1,000,000 copies in the first two weeks.
- February 7th: The Beatles took off for the United States.
- February 9th: The Beatles made their first live American television appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Approximately 74,000,000 viewers – almost half of the American population – watched the group perform on the show.
- Martin Luther King, Jr. became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to end racial segregation and racial discrimination through civil disobedience and other non-violent means.
- “Oh Pretty Woman” became Roy Orbison’s 9th and last top 10 single.
- Sam Cooke is shot and beaten to death by a motel manager in Los Angeles. Cooke, wearing only a sport coat and shoes, was chasing a young woman who had fled his room with his clothes after he had assaulted her. He broke open the door of the manager’s office, resulting in her shooting him three times and then beating him. He was pronounced dead when police arrived.
- The Righteous Brothers released the Phil Spector-produced hit “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin.” The song had several firsts: It is the first 4-minute single to hit number 1 in the U.S. and the first tune produced by Spector to top the charts in England. Spector refused to cut the song to the under 3-minute time required for radio. Instead, the last two digits of the running time were reversed to appear as 3:05. It took programming directors weeks to discover why shows were suddenly running long.
- January: Davey Graham released his fourth album Folk, Blues and Beyond. The music was a compilation of styles he had absorbed in his many travels including the study of the Arab oud. To deal with the mystique and modal approach of the oud, he devised the open tuning DADGAD, now common in acoustic folk music. Some feel that the album reshaped the music scene of the era by broadening the boundaries of an acoustic guitar’s potential.
- Simon and Garfunkel record and release Sounds of Silence EP. The final cut on side one is Paul Simon playing the guitar solo “Anji” by Davey Graham, bringing an English flavor to fingerstyle guitar in the US.
- In London, England, in May or June, Eric Clapton buys his first Gibson Les Paul ‘Burst’, playing it live with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers.
- A young Peter Green buys a sunburst Les Paul after seeing Clapton with one. Green soon joins his first band, Peter B’s Looners.
- Early solid-state preamplifiers are released in Japan, manufactured by Nippon Gakki (Yamaha).
- Dolby A noise reduction is developed for the professional recording market by Dolby laboratories, reducing the background hiss on tape recordings.
- 8 Track players are introduced and find their way into the automobile market of mobile music machines.
- At the Newport Folk Festival on July 25th, Bob Dylan took the stage with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band (with Mike Bloomfield on guitar). The audience did not respond well. The controversy remains whether the fans were upset by Dylan’s perceived abandonment of acoustic folk traditions or lousy sound quality and unusually high volume (for a predominantly acoustic venue).
- Mary Quant designed the miniskirt and made it available through her trendy clothes shop, Bazaar, in King’s Road, Chelsea, London. It was the beginning of an international trend that was picked up by many of the fashion designers of the day, including Yves St. Laurent. The new Mod look seemed a natural extension of fashion following the development of the birth control pill.
- Fender Musical Instruments was sold to CBS for $13,000,000 reflecting the belief by corporate America that there was money to be made in the business of popular music. (The New York Yankees had been purchased by CBS in 1964 for about $11,000,000). CBS was on a music industry buying spree — they acquired the Fender companies Fender Sales, Inc., Fender Electric Instrument Company, Inc., Fender Acoustic Instrument Company, Inc., Fender-Rhodes, Inc., Terrafen, Inc., Clef-Tronix, Inc., Randall Publishing Co., Inc., and V.C. Squier Company, and also acquired Electro-Music Inc. (Leslie speakers), Rogers drums, Steinway pianos, Gemeinhardt flutes, Lyon & Healy harps, Rodgers (institutional) organs and Gulbransen home organs.
- A new TV situation comedy is aired to appeal to the growing Baby Boom market of teenagers — The Monkees debuted on the NBC Television Network. The group was manufactured by producers at NBC and fed carefully crafted hit songs that were heavily promoted on radio and the new music media — television. The Pre-Fab Four were very successful.
- The success of The Monkees forced a young English singer to change his name from David Jones to David Bowie.
- July 4th: The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson. FOIA is a federal law allowing the full or partial disclosure of previously unreleased information and documents controlled by the United States government. The Act went into effect the following year.
- The Reproductive Biology Research Foundation of St. Louis published the research of William H. Masters and Virginia E. Johnson, Human Sexual Response. In the initial phase of Masters and Johnson’s studies, from 1957 to 1965, they recorded some of the first laboratory data on the anatomy and physiology of human sexual response. Their work was based on direct observation of 382 women and 312 men in an estimated “10,000 complete cycles of sexual response.” Their findings, particularly regarding female sexual arousal and orgasm, dispelled many long-standing social misconceptions.
- Evidence emerged of a new disease in the United States. The symptoms would later be related to earlier records from the Congo. The virus had not been isolated nor named. HIV/AIDS had found its way to America.
- Charles Kaman had developed groundbreaking helicopter technologies and turned his creative juices toward guitars. He felt that guitars could be improved by a different body cavity made of Lyrachord (a version of fiberglass). The new round backed instruments hit a chord with the space-race conscious public and Ovation Guitars were born.
- The Monterey International Pop Festival was held between June 16th and 18th on the Monterey County Fairgrounds in Monterey, California. This was the first widely promoted festival of Rock Music and regarded as the beginning of the Summer of Love. The promoters, Lou Adler, John Phillips (of The Mamas & the Papas), Alan Pariser and Derek Taylor wanted Rock to be elevated artistically to the prominence of Folk and Jazz. The festival helped place California at the center of the music counterculture and became a template for future rock festivals.
- June 12th: The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ended laws against interracial marriage.
- June 13th: Thurgood Marshall was nominated to be the first black Justice on the Supreme Court.
- Clive Davis became president of Columbia records. At the urging of his friend & business associate Lou Adler, Davis attended the Monterey Pop Festival. Inspired by what he witnessed and heard, he began to sign Folk-Rock and Rock bands to Columbia. He viewed the new sound as the future of popular music. Columbia doubled its market share within three years.
- June 17th: After only 26 months of development, China successfully detonated a hydrogen bomb.
- June 25th: The first international satellite television broadcast was the Beatles performing “All You Need Is Love” on the show Our World. The estimated viewing audience was 400,000,000.
- The Medium is the Message was published by Herbert Marshall McLuhan (7/21/1911 – 12/31/1980), a Canadian educator, philosopher, and scholar. McLuhan was a professor of English literature, a literary critic, a rhetorician and a communication theorist. His work is viewed as a cornerstone of the study of media theory and it’s practical applications in the advertising and television industries. McLuhan is known for coining the expressions “the medium is the message” and “the global village.” He also predicted the World Wide Web almost 30 years before it was invented.
- On July 23rd, Detroit police vice squad officers executed a raid on an after-hours drinking club in the predominantly black neighborhood at 12th Street and Clairmount Avenue. They found 82 people holding a party for two returning Vietnam veterans. The officers arrested everyone at the scene. While waiting for a police “clean-up crew” to transport the arrestees, a crowd gathered. As the police left, a small group lifted up the bars of an adjacent clothing store and broke the windows. The vandalism expanded to looting and arson. Fires spread through the Northwest end of Detroit and then crossed to the East end. Within 48 hours, the National Guard was called out. By the fourth day of riots, the 82nd airborne joined the fray. The violence escalated as the police and military attempted to regain control of the city. By the end of five days of rioting, 43 people were dead, 1,189 injured and over 7,000 had been arrested.
- August 27th: Beatles Manager Brian Epstein died from a drug overdose at the age of 32.
- August 27th: President Lyndon Johnson established the Kerner Commission to attempt to understand cause the race riots.
- Pete Seeger’s (5/3/1919 – 1/27/2014) McCarthy Era blacklisting formally ended by his appearance on the nationally broadcast CBS-TV variety show, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.
- November 2nd: The album Disraeli Gears is released by the British band Cream. The title is a malaprop by one of the band’s roadies, Mick Turner, as he discussed racing bikes’ “derailleur gears.”
- November 7th: President Lyndon B. Johnson signed a bill creating the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. This led to the launch of National Public Radio (NPR) in 1970.
- November 13th: The first black mayor of a major American city was elected: Carl Stokes, the 51st mayor of Cleveland, Ohio.
- November 22nd: The BBC created an unofficial ban of the Beatles tune “I Am The Walrus” for the line: “…let your knickers down.”
- November 27th: Magical Mystery Tour was released in America.
- Martin Luther King Jr. (1/15/29-4/4/68) was assassinated at 6:01 pm on April 4th in Memphis, Tennessee, by a sniper bullet as he stood on a balcony of the Lorraine Motel. According to Jesse Jackson (present on the balcony during the assassination), King’s last words were to musician Ben Branch, also present: “Ben, make sure you play “Take My hand, Precious Lord” in the meeting tonight. Play it real pretty.”.
- April: Mason Douglas Williams released “Classical Gas,” a nylon-stringed acoustical guitar instrumental that reached #2 on the charts. Williams was (at the time) the head comedy writer for the popular Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. The music was written and performed by Williams, backed by the Wrecking Crew in LA and arranged by Mike Post (who is said to have written the middle horn break). In 1969, the piece was awarded three Grammys — Best Instrumental Composition, Best Contemporary-Pop Performance as an Instrumental and Best Instrumental Arrangement. In 1998, Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI) awarded Williams a special Citation of Achievement. The piece had logged over 5,000,000 broadcast performances to become BMI’s all-time number 1 instrumental composition for radio airplay.
- June: Senator Robert Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles after winning the California primary. He was the front runner for the Democratic Presidential nomination.
- Sheffield Labs markets records made by direct cutting for higher sound quality.
- Dolby B magnetic tape noise reduction system was released for the consumer market making cassette tapes practical for reasonably high fidelity recordings.
- Wendy Carlos recorded Switched-On Bach on a keyboard synthesizer designed and developed by Robert Moog. This was the public’s first exposure to the potential sounds of synthesizers.
- 21-year-old Jimmy Webb spoke by phone to Ron Jacobs (program director) at AM Radio KHJ in LA. Jacobs wanted Webb to edit “McArthur Park” to 3 1/2 minutes. If he would do that, Jacobs would put it into full rotation at the influential station, pretty much guaranteeing a hit. By artistic integrity or pure stubbornness, Webb refused to shorten the 7 minutes, 21-second song. KHJ refused the song and Webb pitched it instead to several new underground FM stations. The song generated such a buzz that within a week KHJ relented and added it to their rotation. Within a month it rose to #2 nationally. It effectively ended the 3 1/2 minute AM format that had been the mainstay of popular radio for 2 decades. Before this, songs longer than 3 1/2 minutes were entirely relegated to FM — songs like In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” by Iron Butterfly, “Time Has Come Today” by the Chambers Brothers, and “Suzy-Q” by Creedence Clearwater Revival was championed by the newer free-form radio formats by DJs like Tom Donahue, Scott Muni, Jim Ladd, Raechel Donahue, and Dusty Street.
- November 22nd: The Beatles released the double album The Beatles, better known as The White Album. It was the first album the Beatles released under their own label Apple and the largest selling double album of all time.
- The Elvis ’68 Comeback Special was a grand return of the King to public awareness. His acoustic set with Scotty Moore and others including “That’s All Right” underscored the roots of Rock-n-Roll in Rock-a-Billy. This public jam session set the stage for future concepts like MTV’s Unplugged.
- Richard Milhous Nixon (1/9/13 – 4/22/94) (R-CA) was elected the 37th President of the United States.
- The Beatles performed their last public concert on the rooftop of the Apple Building at 3 Savile Row, London. It was a lunchtime concert on January 30th that lasted 42 minutes in the cold winter wind, and was conceived as a filming opportunity for the climax of the Film Let it Be. Billy Preston joined them on keyboards. The concert was broken up by the police as a disturbance of the peace.
- In March, the US Air Force began 14 months of secret bombings of Cambodia. Cambodia was recognized as a neutral country at the time. President Nixon had called for the bombings, bypassing the normal chain of command.
- On July 20th Astronaut Neil Armstrong was the first human to walk on the moon. He was heard to say: “That’s one small step for Man, one giant leap for Mankind.” President Nixon declared it the greatest event since the Creation.
- The Woodstock Music & Arts Fair, billed as An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace and Music, was held at a 600-acre farm owned by Max Yasgur in White Lake, New York, between August 15th and 18th (ultimately four days). White Lake is part of the town of Bethel, 43 miles Southwest of Woodstock. The gathering was estimated at 500,000.
- August 9th: The notion of a peaceful counterculture came to an abrupt end. On the night of August 8th, Charles Milles Manson directed Charles Watson to take fellow commune members Susan Atkins, Linda Kasabian, and Patricia Krenwinkel to “that house … and totally destroy everyone in it, as gruesome as you can.” The house at 10050 Cielo Drive, Benedict Canyon, Los Angeles was occupied by actress Sharon Tate (8 ½ months pregnant) wife of film director Roman Polanski, her friend and former lover Jay Sebring, aspiring screenwriter Wojciech Frykowski, and his lover Abigail Folger, heiress to the Folger coffee fortune. Polanski, was in London working on a film project. All five were murdered. The next evening, Manson and six commune family members including Leslie Van Houten, Steve “Clem” Grogan and the four from the previous night headed for 3301 Waverly Drive in the Los Feliz section of Los Angeles, the home of supermarket executive Leno and Rosemary LaBianca. They too were brutally murdered. This was all to foster the beginning of ‘Helter Skelter’; Manson envisioned an inevitable racial war where he would arise the ultimate ruler. The term came from the song of the same name by the Beatles.
- At age 47, Jack Kerouac died from internal bleeding due to long-standing alcohol abuse.
- The parent company of Gibson Musical Instruments, Chicago Musical Instruments, was taken over by South American brewing conglomerate ECL. ECL then changed its name to Norlin Inc. (ECL president Norton Stevens and CMI president Maurice Berlin). So began the era characterized by corporate mismanagement and low-quality products; similar to the period of Fender ownership by CBS.
- A Free Concert at the Altamont Speedway (in Northern California, between Tracy and Livermore) on December 6th was organized by The Grateful Dead, The Rolling Stones and others to be a ‘Woodstock West.’ The event drew approximately 300,000 people. The Altamont Speedway Free Festival suffered considerable violence including one homicide and three accidental deaths. The stage was only four feet high,. and an arrangement was made with the local chapter of Hell’s Angels for $500 worth of beer and ice to help keep the audience off the stage. The crowds were not peaceful, and drug use and lack of facilities contributed to the unrest. Ironically, the Grateful Dead never played due to the level of violence and there were four births on-site during the day at the festival.
- The internet was born when two computer networks were linked between UCLA’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and SRI International in Menlo Park, California. It was known as the ARPANET and was interconnected on October 29th.
- A single individual became infected with HIV in Haiti and brought the infection to the United States sometime during 1969. The genetic make-up of that particular strain of the HIV virus appears to be the one that initially spread rapidly through the high-risk portions of American society — gay men and intravenous drug users. Within a few years, the infection found its way into all aspects of society.
- Buck Owens brought his Bakersfield Honky Tonk style of playing to the broader American public by regular appearances on the new TV show Hee Haw. Roy Clark brought the 5-string banjo back to popularity at the same venue.
- Jim Morrison of the Doors was convicted of exposing himself in Miami and sentenced to 6 months in jail.
- James Taylor released “Fire and Rain” and entered the public consciousness as an individual voice, a singer-songwriter with a personal perspective and something to say. The era of the singer-songwriter had begun. He had been discovered by Paul McCartney and his first release was on Apple Records.
- Dennis Hopper married Michelle Phillips of the Mamas & the Papas. Proving wrong the many people that said the marriage wouldn’t last a week, they divorced eight days later.
- February 26th: National Public Radio replaced the National Educational Radio Network, following congressional passage of the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967.
- On April 30th, American troops began what President Nixon described as an “incursion” into Cambodia.
- On May 4th, National Guardsmen killed four students at Kent State University in Ohio after a campus protest of the Cambodian invasion. Nixon called the students involved in the antiwar protests “bums.” The Ohio National Guardsmen had fired 67 rounds in approximately 13 seconds. Four students were killed, nine wounded, and one of the nine wounded was paralyzed for life. Some of those hit were simply watching the protest. The event was the culmination of four days of increasing tension since the Nixon announcement of the Cambodian incursion.
- On May 5th there was a nation-wide student strike on most college campuses protesting the extension of the war and the killing of the Kent State students. The estimated numbers of students, faculty and administrators involved were 4,000,000.
- On October 27, Congress passed the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970, which, among other things, categorized controlled substances based on their medicinal use and potential for addiction.Schedule I substances are described as having all of the following:
• A high potential for abuse.
• No currently accepted medical use for treatment in the United States.
• A lack of accepted safety protocols for use under medical supervision.
Schedule I substances include (partial list):
Marijuana, Heroin, LSD, Mescaline & Peyote.
Schedule II substances are those having all of the following:
• A high potential for abuse
• Some currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, or currently accepted medical use with severe restrictions
• Abuse of the drug or other substances may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence
Schedule II substances include (partial list):
Amphetamines, barbiturates, cocaine, fentanyl, methadone, morphine, oxycodone, opium & PCPs.
Schedule III through V have less severe warnings or descriptions and subsequently, fewer restrictions.
This list was used by President Richard Nixon to declare the “War of Drugs” in June of 1971.
- December 31st: Paul McCartney filed a lawsuit against band manager Allen Klein, Apple Records, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr to officially dissolve the Beatles.
- The Beatles’ “Helter Skelter” is played during the Charles Manson trial. He was obsessed with the song and was certain it carried a political message.
- dbx Inc. (David E. Blackmer) developed dbx noise reduction for magnetic tape systems. The process would virtually eliminate tape noise from recordings.
- Duane Allman of the Allman Brothers Band lost control of his Harley Davidson motorcycle and crashed while trying to avoid a construction vehicle that made an abrupt stop. He was declared dead at the scene.
- Jim Morrison of the Doors (James Douglas Morrison 12/8/43 – 7/3/71), who had been living in Paris since March with long-time girlfriend Pamela Courson, was found unresponsive in his apartment bathtub on the night of July 3rd. Though official accounts differ; according to Alain Ronay, who arrived shortly after Morrison’s death, Morrison and Courson had a night out drinking. Upon returning to their apartment, they took heroin and Courson nodded off. Morrison found Courson’s heroin and thought it was cocaine. He snorted it, starting a bad internal reaction. Ultimately, he hemorrhaged to death while Courson slept.
- John Denver released “Take Me Home Country Roads.”
- On April 24, 500,000+/- people march on Washington DC to protest the US involvement in the Vietnam War, the largest protest march to date.
- June 1: Ed Sullivan hosts his final show on CBS.
- June 17: President Nixon declares a War on Drugs.
- June 30: The 26th amendment to the Constitution of the United States was passed allowing 18-year-olds to vote.
- July 1: Louis Armstrong died of a heart attack at age 69.
- August 1st saw the birth of large-scale benefit concerts. The Concert for Bangladesh provided relief for the combined disaster of the 1970 Bhola cyclone (500,000 lives lost) and the starving refugees of the Bangladesh Liberation War. The concert was organized by George Harrison and Ravi Shankar. The effort attracted more than 40,000 people for two shows at New York City’s Madison Square Garden. Other musicians supporting the event included Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Leon Russell, Badfinger, Billy Preston and former Beatle Ringo Starr. Large sums were raised but Apple manager Allen Klein had neglected to register the event for tax-exempt status. Questionable expenses (under Klein’s management) and subsequent tax issues tied up most of the proceeds for years. Ultimately, the combined concert, album and documentary film raised an estimated $45 million. Apple Corporation released a newly arranged concert DVD and CD in October 2005 (with all artists’ sales royalties continuing aid through UNICEF).
- September 3: John Lennon leaves the UK for New York City. He never returns.
- 1,500 police killed 31 prisoners and nine hostages while retaking control of Attica State Prison in upstate New York. The prisoners had held the prison for four days to seek redress for a host of grievances. Governor Nelson Rockefeller had refused to meet with them.
- On October 25, The United Nations agrees to admit The Peoples Republic of China — the next day they vote to replace Taiwan with China.
- December 20: Gloria Steinem publishes the first issue of MS magazine.
- Five Men were arrested on June 17th for breaking into the Democratic National Committee headquarters, located in the Watergate Office complex in Washington DC. It eventually became clear that the men were connected to the 1972 Committee to re-elect the President by a slush fund.
- Eric Clapton wandered into the Sho-Bud Guitar Shop in Nashville and discovered a rack of used Fender Stratocasters for $100 each. He bought seven of them. He had seen photos of several of his blues influences playing them and reckoned that they would make good gifts for his friends Steve Winwood, Pete Townshend, and George Harrison. He gave away the cleanest three of them and picked over the remaining four for parts; taking what he liked from each and assembling a personal Stratocaster that would come to be known as Blackie, his main guitar for the next 12 years.
- The Joy of Sex, an illustrated sex manual by British author Alex Comfort, M.B., Ph.D. was published and spent 11 weeks at the top of the New York Times bestseller list and more than 70 weeks in the top 5 between 1972 and 1974. The intention was to use the same approach as the cookbook The Joy of Cooking with section titles including “starters” and “main courses.” The book featured practices including oral sex, different positions, and brought practices such as sexual bondage and ‘swinging’ to the attention of the general public.
- Bill Withers released “Aint’ No Sunshine.”
- The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band released Will The Circle Be Unbroken.The Long Beach, California band built a bridge between Appalachian Folk and popular rock by joining forces with acoustic legends including Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs, Merle Travis, Roy Acuff, Jimmy Martin, Mother Maybelle Carter, and others. The album reached #68 on Billboard’s Album Chart; not bad for a double album of traditional music.
- On January 13th, Eric Clapton performed with his new (used) Stratocaster Blackie for the first time at the Rainbow concert in London.
- January 22nd: Roe v. Wade – 410 U.S. 113: The United States Supreme Court decided that a woman has the right to privacy in the United States Constitution under the due process clause in the 14th Amendment in her decision to have an abortion. The right was to be balanced against the state’s two legitimate interests for regulating abortions: protecting prenatal life, and protecting the mother’s health. The Court felt that the State’s interests become stronger over the course of pregnancy and tied State regulation of abortion to the mother’s trimester of pregnancy. The Court later rejected the trimester framework but affirmed Roe’s central belief that a person has a right to abortion up to viability. The decision defined “viable” as being “potentially able to live outside the mother’s womb, albeit with artificial aid,” adding that viability “is usually placed at about seven months — 28 weeks — but may occur earlier, even at 24 weeks.” The case was decided with a 7-2 majority vote.
- Ampex develops the A standard for 1″ Video Tape Recording— VTR.
- Clive Davis was fired from Columbia (CBS) ostensibly for using company funds to pay for his son’s Bar Mitzvah. The larger political issues for Columbia were the allegations of corporate payola for DJs to saturate airplay of Davis’ Columbia artists. There were also rumors of drug use.
- Richard M. Nixon was elected to a second term as President of the United States.
- On July 14th following a dinner at their mother’s house, the White brothers — mandolin player Roland (35), bass player Eric (32) and guitar player Clarence (29) — stopped at a local Palmdale, California club to sit in with Floyd ‘Gib’ Guilbeau (soon to work with the Flying Burrito Brothers). Clarence had just left The Byrds and reunited with Roland, who had spent the last 4 years with Lester Flatt & the Nashville Grass. Following the session with Floyd, they were packing their cars with their instruments when Clarence was hit by a drunken driver and dragged up the street about 20 feet. He died the next day.
- At the funeral of Clarence White on July 19th, a distraught Gram Parsons told his road manager Phil “the Mangler” Kaufman, “Phil, if this happens to me, I don’t want them doing this to me. You can take me to the desert and burn me. I want to go out in a cloud of smoke.” Two months later, he did just that.
- On October 17th, Arab nations began an oil embargo on the United States in an effort to raise oil prices and attempt to alter the American support of Israel.
- Augustino and Thomas LoPrinzi sold their small but reputable guitar manufacturing business to AMF/Maark Corporation, a longtime producer of leisure products like bowling balls, bicycles, Harley Davidson motorcycles, Alcort sailboats, Hatteras Yachts, Head skis, snowmobiles, tennis rackets, and nuclear power plants. Augustino LoPrinzi quit the company and opened a new guitar manufacturing facility next door in Rosemont New Jersey.
- Michael Kasha, a molecular biophysicist, set about to improve the efficiency of vibration transfer in guitars from the poor 5% that existed on normal instruments to something better. Working with luthier Richard Schneider he developed a new approach to bracing the instruments. All other aspects of the construction were also affected.
- The Federal Energy Administration printed 4.8 billion gas rationing coupons at a cost of $11 million (to print). They were never used and continued for some time to cost $11,000 per month to store.
- Clive Davis became the president of Arista records after taking the time to write his memoirs. He continued his long history of recognizing and signing major talents to the new label.
- President Richard M. Nixon resigned his office on August 9th facing near-certain impeachment in the House of Representatives and conviction in the Senate for conspiring to cover up the Watergate Break-in of 1972. He was succeeded by Gerald Ford who eventually issued a full pardon. President Nixon is the only President to date to resign his office.
- Between 1974 and 1984 production of Gibson guitars was shifted from Kalamazoo to Nashville Tennessee. Quality of the early instruments built in Nashville was plagued by climate-control problems in the humid South and inexperienced workers. The Kalamazoo plant was temporarily kept operating as the Gibson Custom Shop.
- Betamax video cassette tape recording format was released by Sony for television and quality sound recordings.
- Janis Ian released “At Seventeen.”
- VHS Videocassette tape recording format was released by JVC.
- The film Saturday Night Fever sparks a new lifestyle, Disco.
- On August 16th, Elvis Presley died at age 42 at his home, Graceland, just south of Memphis. He was found unresponsive, naked on his bathroom floor and was pronounced dead at 3:30 pm at Baptist Memorial Hospital.
- LaserDisc technology was released and marketed as Discovervision. It was the first optical format and the precursor to the CD and DVD.
- United States copyright law was amended to give artists the right to regain legal rights to their work 35 years after January 1st, 1978. The date of transition: January 1st, 2013 for eligibility for ‘termination rights’. Agreement is required by the ‘majority’ consent of a band. It is expected that record companies will litigate when the time comes to retain the rights. They may argue that the music was ‘work for hire’ and therefore owned by the record company. There is a lot at stake: at one of the four major record companies; the back catalog constitutes 90 percent of their income.
- The first test tube baby is born in the United Kingdom.
- Sony introduces a portable music listening device in July, the Walkman. The small cassette player could be carried in a pocket and used with small headphones. A new market was born.
- On the evening of December 8th, John Lennon autographed a copy of his album Double Fantasy for Mark David Chapman, who appeared to appreciate the gesture. At about 10:50 pm, as John and Yoko Ono approached the entrance to their apartment building (The Dakota on New York City’s Central Park West), Chapman, approaching from behind, shot John Lennon four times in the back. Lennon was pronounced dead upon arrival at the emergency room of the Roosevelt Hospital at 11:07 pm. Lennon was cremated and his ashes spread over the area of Central Park, where the Strawberry Fields memorial now stands. Chapman remains in prison where he has been repeatedly denied parole.
- AMF Corporation gave up trying to make money building guitars. They ceased production of ‘LoPrinzi’ Guitars (see 1973).
- An English independent contractor at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Switzerland, Tim Berners-Lee, built ENQUIRE, as a personal database of people and software models, but also as a way to play with hypertext – each new page of information in ENQUIRE had to be linked to a page. Berners-Lee’s considered the problems of information management: physicists from around the world needed to share data, yet they had no functional platform to do it. He participated in installing TCP/IP protocols on some key non-Unix machines at the institution, creating the largest Internet site in Europe. Berners-Lee wrote a proposal in March 1989 for “a large hypertext database with typed links,” and began to implement it on a newly acquired NeXT workstation. This was the birth of the World Wide Web (www.) (see 1990.)
- Phillips and Sony join forces to establish a standard for compact disk recording, Phillips DAC1; the CD is born.
- MTV was launched on August 1st by a New York City-based cable network to play music videos hosted by on-air hosts who became known as ‘VJ’s’ (Video Jockeys).
- The Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report reported on what was later to be called AIDS. The first cases were a cluster of intravenous drug users and homosexual men who showed symptoms of Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP), a rare opportunistic infection that was known to only occur in people with very compromised immune systems. Soon afterward, an unexpected number of gay men developed a rare skin cancer called Kaposi’s sarcoma. The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) took notice and a CDC task force was formed to monitor the outbreak.
- The CD is launched in Japan in October.
- dbx tape noise reduction systems were released as small integrated circuits making possible their use in car stereos as well as Walkman cassette tape machines. This made cassette tape sound very similar in quality to records. Unfortunately, CDs were released the same year.
- MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) was defined as an industry-standard protocol enabling electronic musical instruments (including keyboards) to communicate with computers. A MIDI trigger could generate any sound sample or waveform within a computer program that could then be directed to an amplifier and speakers.
- Michael Jackson releases the album Thriller which quickly became the largest selling album in history, topping 25 million sold.
- September: The CDC started referring to the new spreading immune disorder/disease as AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome.)
- Barney Clark receives the Jarvik-7 artificial heart implanted by Dr. William DeVries. Clark lived for 112 days.
- The CD is launched worldwide in March.
- The Rock and Roll Foundation was created on April 20th, but had no place to call home for several more years.
- The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd became the longest-running album ever on the Billboard chart: 491 weeks.
- Two separate research groups published their findings in the same issue of the journal Science. One led by Robert Gallo and the other led by Luc Montagnier declared that a unique retrovirus may have been infecting AIDS patients. It would not be until 1986 that the research community would agree on a name for their discoveries — Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).
- The first Video Music Awards were held at Radio City Music Hall in New York. The event was created by the relatively new MTV (Music Television). The awards were statuettes of an astronaut with an American flag on the moon. The event was hosted by Bette Midler and Dan Aykroyd. Awards were given to Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, the Police, Herbie Hancock.
- Gibson sold off its original manufacturing facilities in Kalamazoo Michigan. A group of Gibson Kalamazoo employees led by former Gibson plant manager Jim Deurloo acquired the old factories and a new line of instruments emerged; Heritage Guitars, based upon some original Gibson designs.
- January: almost 20 years after the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) had acquired the Fender Musical Instrument Companies in 1965 for $13 million, they sold it to an investor group led by William Schultz (then president of Fender) for $12.5 million. The sale was completed in March. CBS did not make it easy for the new owners — they sold the Fullerton, California factories separately. Fender was forced to start from scratch.
- Eric Clapton retired his Fender Stratocaster Blackie from service after 12 years of using it as his main guitar, following his world tour.
- Madonna launched her first major tour, The Virgin Tour.
- Suzanne Vega released her debut album of the same name. She would later, in 1997, open the first Lilith Fair show.
- Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was established as a US National Holiday after considerable debate and over significant opposition.
- The Beastie Boys debut License to Kill, the first Rap album to reach #1.
- Three Harvard Business School graduates (Henry E. Juszkiewicz, David H. Berryman, and Gary A. Zebrowski) bought Gibson Musical Instruments for the inherent value of its name and about $5,000,000. The grand old company had been reduced to a single line of Les Paul guitars and was reported to be within three months of closing its doors. Henry Juszkiewicz became CEO and David Berryman became president.
- Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) was the name agreed by the research community and the CDC for the isolated virus found to be the cause of AIDS.
- DAT (Digital Audio Tape) was released by Sony as a recording and playback system. This made it possible to make an exact clone copy of CDs or any other audio source (16 bit, 48, 44.1 or 32 kHz sampling rates). This made the CD industry a bit nervous.
- Ahmet Ertegun was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, of which he was one of the founders.
- Andrés Segovia (1893-1987) dies at the age of 94 after a career of more than 5,000 concerts and relentless global touring.
- January 20th: The Beatles were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility. The induction speech was delivered by Mick Jagger.
- The American Mobile Satellite Corporation (AMSC) was formed. It was a consortium of organizations dedicated to satellite broadcast of telephone, fax and digital signals — the precursor to satellite radio.
- Kurt Cobain of Nirvana smashed his guitar onstage at the Evergreen State dorm room party in Olympia Washington. The audience seemed to like it.
- Fender honored Eric Clapton as the first artist to have a Stratocaster signature model. Clapton had contributed to the success of the Stratocaster by his extensive use of the instrument Blackie for performance and recording during the 1970s.
- Vinyl records are outsold by CDs.
- Tracy Chapman released her debut album of the same name. She emerged from the active Cambridge, Massachusetts acoustic-folk scene, and brought a black woman’s perspective to the broader music public awareness.
- The Indigo Girls released their debut album.
- MTV launched Unplugged and brought fresh performances of major and minor acts to the acoustic world. It breathed new life into some classic music and past musical heroes.
- April: At Sotheby’s Auction House in London, Lot 490 was the 1968 Fender Stratocaster played by Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock. The instrument had been in the possession of Mitch Mitchell (Hendrix’ drummer) since 1970. The auctioneer was Hilary Kay. She would later become well-known for her appearances on the BBC TV Antiques Roadshow series. The bidding started at £48,000 and quickly rose to £180,000, driven by two phone-based bidders. After the buyer’s premium, the final cost to the winning bidder was £198,000, or about $350,000 at the time. It was the largest sum ever paid for an electric guitar. This would be eclipsed by another Stratocaster in about 15 years — Eric Clapton’s Blackie.
- Ani DiFranco releases her debut album.
- By Christmas 1990, Tim Berners-Lee (see 1980) had built all the tools necessary for a working Web — the HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP) 0.9, the HyperText Markup Language (HTML), the first Web browser (named WorldWideWeb, also a Web editor), the first HTTP server software (later known as CERN HTTPd), the first web server (http://info.cern.ch), and the first Web pages that described the project itself. The browser could access Usenet newsgroups and FTP files as well. However, it could run only on the NeXT. Nicola Pellow then created a simple text browser, called the Line Mode Browser, that could run on almost any computer.
- MP3, or more accurately known as MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3, was developed as a digital audio recording format (highly compressed for low memory storage) and approved as an ISO/IEC standard. Now there was a standard format for music compression that could allow music to be sent easily over the internet.
- Rock promoter Bill Graham died on October 25th in a helicopter that struck a utility tower. A commemorative free concert for Graham at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, A Benefit for Laughter, Love & Music, drew a crowd of approximately 300,000.
- Grunge goes mainstream with the release of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.
- The American Mobile Radio Corporation was formed as a unit of AMSC (see 1988). The concept was to set up a satellite-based digital radio service.
- Beck released his debut album – a new approach as “anti-folk.”
- Dave Matthews and the Dave Matthews Band reached the public consciousness as an acoustic jam band.
- The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame grand opening was held in Cleveland on September 2nd. The ribbon was cut by a small group that included Yoko Ono and Little Richard.
- Jewel (Jewel Kilcher) released Pieces of You.
- The DVD standard is established and introduced.
- On June 15th, Ella Fitzgerald (4/25/17 – 6/15/96), the First Lady of Song, died after a 59-year career, 14 Grammy Awards, The National Medal of Art (awarded by President Ronald Regan) and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (awarded by President George H. W. Bush).
- Janet Jackson becomes the highest-paid musical artist in history with an $80 million deal with Virgin Records.
- July 7–16: At the 11th International Conference on AIDS in Vancouver, British Columbia, David Ho, MD, of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center, New York, NY, and George Shaw, MD, Ph.D., of the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine, presented viral dynamics data showing that the average person with HIV infection produced 10 billion virions per day, bringing into focus that HIV was a viral infection that required antiviral treatment. Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (HAART) was developed for the treatment (not cure) of HIV.
- Dolly the Sheep became the fitst mammal cloned from an adult cell. Dolly died in 2003.
- An 18-year-old hacker from Sedona Arizona by the name Justin Frankel developed ‘WinAmp’, a free MP3 player that became a fixture within the Windows operating system and contributed to the wild success of the digital music revolution. In the first 18 months of its availability, it was downloaded by 15 million users.
- March 11th: Paul McCartney was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. He commented, “proud to be British, wonderful day, and it’s a long way from a little terrace in Liverpool.”
- Sarah McLachlan, frustrated that the Music Industry assumed it was not ‘good business’ practice to book two women acts in the same line-up, started the Lilith Fair Festival with an all-female line-up. The first year included Jewel and was the top-grossing tour of 1997.
- Francis Albert Sinatra (12/12/15 – 5/14/98) died at 10:50 pm on May 14th at the age of 82 of complications from a heart attack. On the next night (May 15th) the lights of the Las Vegas Strip were dimmed for ten minutes in his honor. Sinatra had suffered from senile dementia and had made no public appearances following a heart attack in January of 1997. Frank Sinatra had begun his musical career during the Swing Era with Harry James and Tommy Dorsey. Following the Big Band strike of the 1940s, he began a successful solo career as an idol of the Bobby Sox’ers. After a bit of a stall during the early 1950s, Sinatra was re-born by winning an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in From Here To Eternity. He continued to record and, during the 1960s, was an influential member of the Rat Pack: Humphrey Bogart, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop.
- XM Satellite Radio Holdings was formed as a spin-off of the American Mobile Radio Corporation.
- 19-year-old Shawn Fanning, a Northeastern University freshman, created Napster. By writing this code, he pioneered peer-to-peer file sharing and removed the big music studios and major retailers as profit-minded intermediaries and created an entirely new paradigm for music and media consumption.
- “DVD Jon” developed a program to decrypt commercial DVDs. He turned out to be a 15 year old Norwegian by the name Jon Lech Johansen. He worked out the decryption with two other programmers whose identities are still unknown.
- At 3:30 am on December 30th, 35-year-old Michael Abram broke into George Harrison’s’ Friar Park home in Henley-on-Thames and started yelling for Harrison. Harrison left his bedroom to investigate while his wife, Olivia, phoned the police. Abram attacked Harrison with a seven-inch kitchen knife, inflicting seven stab wounds, puncturing a lung and causing head injuries before Olivia Harrison stopped the attack by beating Abram with a fire poker. The attack lasted almost fifteen minutes. Abram, apparently believed he was possessed by Harrison and was on a “mission from god” to kill him.
- Bob Taylor developed and patented the NT (New Technology) neck joint for Taylor acoustic guitars. Before this, his bolt-on necks still required the fretboard extension to be glued to the top. With this development, the neck was fully independent and was fitted into a pre-formed pocket. The claim was that neck resets would be simpler, but the whole assembly followed the Leo Fender notion of simplified mass-production and greater potential profit.
- Volkswagen chose to use Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon” as the soundtrack for its Cabrio TV ads. The English folk singer-songwriter had died 25 years earlier and his 1972 final album Pink Moon had a small cult following but had originally sold only a few thousand copies. The VW ad exposure pushed Pink Moon to the #5 spot on Amazon, changing Drake’s status forever.
- 21-year-old Justin Frankel wrote the peer-to-peer file-sharing protocol Gnutella, which is so decentralized that, unlike Napster, it could not be shut down.
- On September 11th, between 8:46 and 10:28 am, a series of coordinated attacks on United States soil by 19 Al-Qaeda suicide terrorists were launched. Four commercial passenger jetliners were hijacked. Two of the planes were slammed into Tower 1 and 2 of the World Trade Center in New York City. One was crashed into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, and one plot was foiled by the passengers, and ultimately crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. There were no survivors on any of the flights. In total, 2,993 people died in the attacks.
- iTunes was introduced by Apple as a proprietary digital media player application to organize, distribute, and maintain some copyright control over audio and video media. Songs could be found, bought and cataloged individually.
- On October 23rd, iPod portable media players were introduced by Apple to store and play the music and video purchased on iTunes.
- XM Satellite Radio was launched on September 25th as a digital radio service with 73 music channels, 39 news, talk, sports and entertainment channels, 23 play-by-play sports channels, and 21 regional traffic & weather channels. The new service was subscription-based at $9.95 per month / per receiver.
- On September 7th, Acoustic Music.Org opened its doors in Guilford, CT.
- 26-year-old Bram Cohen wrote a peer-to-peer file sharing protocol that worked well with large files and called it BitTorrent. This protocol has become a standard for distributing large amounts of data on the internet.
- In August alone, more than three billion music files were traded on-line by a peer-to-peer protocol like Napster for free. The music industry was not amused.
- Napster was attacked with traditional lawsuits and forced to shut down for encouraging, aiding and abetting copyright infringement.
- In November, George Harrison began radiotherapy at Staten Island University Hospital in New York City for lung cancer that had metastasized to his brain. He was under the care of Dr. Gilbert Lederman, a staff radiation oncologist. A complaint was later brought against Dr. Lederman by the Harrison estate alleging that the doctor repeatedly revealed Harrison’s confidential medical information in television interviews and, close to death, forced him to autograph a guitar. The complaint alleges that Dr. Lederman and his family came to visit Harrison and began singing and playing a guitar they brought. In labored breaths, Harrison asked, “please stop talking.” After the performance, Dr. Lederman asked Harrison to autograph the guitar. Harrison responded I do not even know if I know how to sign my name anymore. Dr. Lederman took Harrison’s hand and guided his hand while encouraging him by saying, “Come on, George. You can do this. G-E-O…” The suit was settled out of court under the condition that the guitar be disposed of.
- On November 29th George Harrison died at a Hollywood Hills mansion that was previously owned by Courtney Love. The cause of death was listed on his Los Angeles County death certificate as metastatic non-small cell lung cancer. He was cremated at Hollywood Forever Cemetery and his ashes were scattered in the Ganges River by his close family in a private ceremony according to Hindu tradition.
- Jack Johnson released his debut album.
- Sirius Satellite Radio was launched nation-wide as competition to XM Satellite Radio on July 1st (It had been available in four States on February 14th).
- Jam-Master Jay of Run-DMC (Jason William Mizell 1/21/65-10/30/02) is shot and killed in his recording studio in Jamaica, Queens. The murder has not yet been solved.
- January 1st saw the introduction of the Euro to replace francs, lire, guilders, marks, pesetas, drachmas, escudos and markkas.
- November 25th the Department of Homeland Security was formed to unify 22 separate intelligence agencies.
- The human genome project was completed on April 14th.
- On April 28th, Apple unveiled the iTunes Music Store music could be downloaded for 99 cents per song. It was a theoretical win-win small amounts of money, legal rights, and the artists would be paid. It was not at all clear whether the system would work since it was so easy to download music for free. The landscape of music distribution was changing now you could legally buy the music you wanted – not forced to buy whole albums for a single song. Every track had to compete for the public’s acceptance.
- Eric Clapton is honored at a Buckingham Palace ceremony as a Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
- Thursday, June 24th Auction House Christies – New York held the 1st of several sales of the Eric Clapton guitar collection for the benefit of the Crossroads Centre for addiction rehabilitation in Antigua. Lot number 88 was Blackie, the Fender Stratocaster that Clapton had assembled from various used Strats (see 1972). The instrument had been used steadily by Clapton since 1972 for touring, writing, and recording. The winning bid was $850,000 before the buyer’s premium, approximately $959,000 after. The bidders were financially backed by Guitar Center. This set a new record for the highest amount fetched by an electric guitar. Also sold at the same auction was the Gibson ES-335 TDC used by Clapton during the Cream years ($750,000 before buyer’s premium) as well as the 1966 Martin Style 00-21 used by George Harrison to write “Here Comes The Sun” and later given to Clapton ($75,000 before buyer’s premium). The auction raised approximately $6,000,000 for the Crossroads Centre.
- YouTube was introduced on April 25th. Among its many other voyeuristic opportunities, musicians could actually see how it was done.
- August 29th, Hurricane Katrina made landfall near New Orleans, Louisiana. The catastrophic failure of the poorly engineered and poorly maintained protective levee system left the reality of a man-made disaster. The roots of the levee failure included environmental policies that systematically removed and/or destroyed the coastal wetlands that had provided the first line of hurricane defense for centuries.
- Ahmet Ertegun, at age 83, slipped backstage at a Rolling Stones concert at the Beacon Theatre in New York City on October 29th. He struck his head on the concrete floor, was rushed to the hospital, but never recovered. He died on December 14th and was buried next to family members in Turkey. Arguably, Ahmet Ertegun brought more diverse music together and to the American public than any other promoter/producer in the short history of rock ‘n’ roll, blues, soul, rhythm & blues, metal, jazz, bebop and country.
- Universal Music Group, five months after settling payola charges with NY Attorney General Eliot Spitzer for $12 million, is charged with engaging in pay-to-play practices at two of its labels to boost its chart positions of JoJo and Nickleback.
- On the 50th anniversary of the adoption of “In God We Trust” as the official national motto of the United States of America, the Senate reaffirmed its use by resolution (see 1956)
- The Avett Brothers released their breakthrough 5th album Emotionalism.
- During the George W. Bush administration, the FCC approved the merger of the only two competing satellite radio providers, XM Satellite Radio and Sirius Satellite Radio. On July 29th the merger was complete and a monopoly established in satellite, subscription-based, radio distribution.
- September 14th – Securities consisting of Bundled mortgages that had been sold all over the planet by major American Investment Houses began to falter. Faith in the securities devolved as they became better understood. A mortgage represents a promise from one person to a bank for repayment. They are effectively the creation of money. Once these were resold, bundled with others and sold again, these creative investment instruments had been separated from the original promise and no longer represented any measurable value. In essence, the Emperor had no clothes.
- September 15th Lehman Brothers (heavily leveraged in bundled mortgage securities) filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. This became the largest filing for bankruptcy in US history to date. Lehman Brothers held over $600 billion in assists. The money supply that had fueled economic expansion for the past eight years collapsed.
- In December 2008, President George W. Bush signed the PRO-IP Act into law. The Act was designed to strengthen protection for rights holders and increase penalties for counterfeiting and infringement of intellectual property rights. Among other amendments to the Copyright Act, the PRO-Act established that registration is not a prerequisite for criminal prosecution of copyright infringement. Additionally, the PRO-IP Act calls for the President to appoint an Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator (IPEC) who is required to develop a Joint Strategic Plan to help combat infringement and counterfeiting of intellectual property in the US and in foreign countries.
- By March 6th, The Dow Jones Industrial Average had dropped 54% to 6,469 from a peak of 14,164 on October 9th, 2007. The drop occurred over only 17 months.
- June 22nd Kodak stopped production of the iconic 35mm Kodachrome color film – the digital imaging technologies had rendered the rich colors of traditional film obsolete.
- November 5th U.S. Representative John Conyers (5/16/1929 – 10/27/2019) of Michigan sponsored a measure in the United States House of Representatives to commemorate the album Kind of Blue by Miles Davis (5/26/1926 – 9/28/1991), on its 50th anniversary, as a National Treasure. The measure also encourages the United States government to preserve and advance the art form of jazz music. It passed with a vote of 409 to 0 on December 15th, 2009.
- The FCC, under the George W. Bush Administration, decided to sequester the ‘white spaces’ of the frequency spectrum for the use of the ever-expanding digital computer-related device market. The frequencies between 698 to 806 MHz (700MHz spectrum) had traditionally been used for music and entertainment industry wireless devices wireless headsets, microphones, guitar remotes, personal monitor systems, etc. The use of the 700 MHz bandwidth was ordered to cease operations by June 12th, 2010. The cease and desist applied to all wireless systems users even if they had a valid FCC license.
- iPod sales rose to 52.3 million units from only 381,000 in the year 2000. Video game industry sales top $19.6 billion, up from $6.6 billion in 2000.
- In a 396-9 vote, the US House of Representatives passed an additional resolution (see 2006) reaffirming In God We Trust as the official motto of the United States. According to a 2003 joint poll by USA Today, CNN, and Gallup, 90% of Americans support the inscription In God We Trust on U.S. coins (see 1956).
- The Pledge of Allegiance was added to the National Anthem at the opening of basketball and football games.
- Digital sales of individual music tracks exceeded CD sales for the first time. 300,000,000 CDs are sold.
- The collected recordings and images (including videos) of John and Alan Lomax are made available online, for free, through the Lomax family Cultural Equity Project. This was supported by the Library of Congress.
- Termination rights take effect United States copyright law was amended in 1978 to give artists the right to regain legal rights to their work after 35 years. The date of transition is January 1st, 2013 for eligibility for germination rights.
- October 2018, President Trump signed the Music Modernization Act into law, finalizing landmark reform to United States copyright law. See reference.
- March 11th, Hal Blaine (2/5/29 – 3/11/19) (born Harold Simon Belsky) died in Palm Desert, CA. Hal was an American drummer and West Coast session musician —part of the players roughly known as the Wrecking Crew — and one of the most recorded studio drummers in the history of the music industry. He was present at more than 35,000 recording sessions and featured on 6,000+ singles. He was the drummer on 150 US top 10 hits, 40 of which went to number one, as well as many film and television soundtracks.
Assembled, edited and expanded by Leonard Wyeth
Special thanks to the ‘All About Jazz’ website and the ‘Digital Dream Door’ website for some historical information.
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