Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, September 17, 1999


HNA archive photo
The jukebox took the country by storm with the rise of popular music.

Masses take to the
popular song

Like herbs, music was once something grown at home. Only the very rich could afford to have other people play music for them, and musicians and composers lived off the largess of wealthy patrons. Musical knowledge was largely word-of-mouth.

Info Box But then songwriter Stephen Foster created songs that could be played by anyone, widely printed on sheet music and easy enough to be played on mass-produced, standardized instruments like guitars and pianos.

By the dawn of the 20th century, the popular song was a new phenomenon; by the sunset of the 20th century, "pop" music defined music in general -- canny, crafted, impulse-oriented, cheap, easily available, easily forgotten.

As a worldwide musical culture began to homogenize, homegrown musical knowledge began to vanish. Music became something left in the hands of elite professionals, groomed and pampered like athletes.

Like every other product in an industrial society, music became a commodity. It could even be administered in prepaid doses, like a vending machine. Here, a priest uses a jukebox to play hymns-on-demand. Beats training real citizens to sing in chorus.

By Burl Burlingame

"Everyday Life" is a photo feature that examines the 20th Century.
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