American Music Timeline - 1930-1960

Updated August 5, 2020 | Infoplease Staff
American Music Timeline

Part V: 1930-1960

by David Johnson
1932 1936 1944 1948 1954 1959 Next: 1960s


Blues pianist Thomas A. Dorsey, "father of gospel music," writes song "Take My Hand Precious Lord"

Circa 1935

Clarinetist Benny Goodman named "King of Swing"; Tommy Dorsey, Harry James, Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw lead popular dance bands


Aaron Copland composes El Salon Mexico, major orchestral work; uses jazz, American folk music to create American-sounding music for ballet, film, symphony orchestra

Electric guitar debuts


Roy Acuff brings nationwide popularity to Grand Ole Opry radio show, helps standardize style with its nasal "high-country" twang


Versatile composer, conductor, pianist, Leonard Bernstein composes musical On the Town, followed by string of others, including West Side Story, 1957


Irving Berlin musical Annie Get Your Gun is huge hit; Call Me Madam, 1950

Circa 1947

Singer Mahalia Jackson inaugurates "golden age of gospel music" through 1965


Tenor Mario Lanza performs at Hollywood Bowl, draws accolades, launches career of "the voice of the century"


Columbia Records introduces "long playing" vinyl record


Cleveland disc jockey Alan Freed uses term "rock 'n' roll" to promote rhythm and blues to white audiences

Avant-garde composer Elliott Cook Carter Jr. finishes String Quartet No. 1

Circa 1954

Bill Haley and the Comets become first major white band to use black rock 'n' roll forms, featuring heavy, danceable beat and repetitive patterns, "Rock Around the Clock" becomes huge hit


Chuck Berry's "Maybellene" is first of series of hits for "Mr. Rock' n' Roll"

Circa 1955

Elvis Presley becomes first "rock star"


Country Music Association, established in Nashville

Billboard magazine begins Hot 100 chart listing popular songs. Ricky Nelson's "Poor Little Fool" is the first No. 1 record.


National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences presents first Grammy Award for music recorded in previous year

Berry Gordy Jr. founds Motown record company to mass-market black music, the Miracles, "Shop Around," 1961, is company's first song to sell one million copies; in 1960s stars include the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye

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