Music Throughout the Years

Photo Source: Apple Music

Photo Source: Apple Music

Alyssa Persichetti, Writer

“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” – Plato


Music and its artists have influenced each decade whether it be defining moments in history such as improving societal norms or something as simple as what style dress one might wear on a night out. The power music has over our lives has been a constant force since its creation. 




In the 1920s, average income was going up. People had spare money to spend on luxury items such as the radio. The radio was one of the most popular ways to listen to music in the 20s (Source 1). One thing the radio was able to accomplish was bridge the divide of culture between the west and east coasts in America. Some forms of music that became extremely popular at this time were jazz, blues, and dance music. Jazz music was definitely the most popular. One thing about jazz that should be noted is that black artists were ripped off and exploited by white populations. Jazz artists such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and King Oliver would influence the dances, fashion, and culture of the decade (Source 1). Some dances created from the jazz music being produced include the Jitterbug, the Charleston, Swing, Boogie Woogie, and more which would often take place at dance rooms, clubs, speak-easies, or parties. The prominent change in dance caused a change in fashion as well. Women needed to be able to move more fluidly, so their restrictive clothing would not work. A new style of clothing for women would consist of sequins, bugle beads,and  tulle on dresses and lots of leather and metallic accessories on shoes (Source 2).   




With the top genre of the decade being jazz, there was much more room for black artists to make their influence on the decade. Duke Elllington was at the top of his game in the ‘30s. One influential progression Ellington made was to tear down racial barriers in society (Source 3). One way he did this was his performance of “Black, Brown, and Beige” at Carnegie Hall. At this performance he played for an audience full of people of different color and different financial backgrounds. In the same crowd a black working class family was sitting in watching Ellington perform, Frank Sinatra was sitting a few seats away watching the same performance (Source 4). In this performance, Ellington sang about the black experience making a statement about the horrors black men and women have faced since slavery. Ellington’s music was able to display racial injustices and fight those problems to find a solution. The influences artists had on the decade were able to start the end of racial segregation. 




Unlike the previous years, the 1940s was dominated by war. World War II was in full force and many people at home and in war turned to music as a piece of comfort, specifically jazz. Music wasn’t just going to war though, musicians were too. Famous artists like Glenn Miller and Tony Bennet were enlisted into the war. Miller was able to form a band and perform for soldiers in the US Air Force, but unfortunately died in service (Source 5). Tony Bennet was an active member of the army constantly fighting on the frontlines, but also performing in the army’s band whenever he got a chance (Source 6). Men like them were not only making an impact on the war, but also the sanity of the men in it. Music brought joy to people during many long, joyless years in the 40s. Although the war took up any space for cultural impact, music was able to shine through.




The 1950s was the era that changed music forever, it was the birth of rock and roll. Rock and roll was a new form of music that took all the best elements of r&b, pop, etc. and mashed them together. Rock and roll was a new, thrilling, and powerful form of music that brought all kinds of people together. Racial relations were still very rough in the 50s, but rock and roll changed this. Black and white people were singing in the same bands, playing the same songs, and even recording at the same stations (Source 7). The most influential man of this era was Elvis Presley. Elvis’s music introduced “black” music to white people which would eventually limit separation between the two races in one aspect of society. Elvis’s fashion choices also had a significant impact. He pushed gender boundaries and encouraged young men to experiment with their clothing as well (Source 8). With his music and influence, Elvis was able to change the way people look at the world rather than follow practices that have been acted upon forever. Rock and roll had a huge effect on the racial tensions in the world, it started to break down that barrier. Black artists were able to be played on white radio stations and white people were singing black people’s music. There was a huge change in the division of race made through music in the 50s. 




The 1960s were a defining moment in culture and it was all because of music. Many influential groups and artists of the 60s had huge cultural impacts such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and more. British music made its way into mainstream American radio which became known as “The British Invasion” (Source 9). These artists, especially The Beatles, made a tremendous impact on American culture. At the start of their rise to fame, it was post-war. Men in America were following a “macho man” routine, but The Beatles wore bright colors, psychedelic patterns, and overall had a more flamboyant style. They changed the way young American men and women would dress (Source 10). Their music was like nothing anyone has ever heard before; it was new and invigorating and it drew all kinds of people in allowing for the Beatles to become one of the most influential groups of the 60s. 




The 1970s was the birth of many new genres and many new artists. Punk rock, hard rock,  heavy metal, and soft rock all made their debut in the 70s (Source 11) . Some majorly influential artists of this era include David Bowie, Fleetwood Mac, Queen, and Led Zeppelin. To start, Queen was extremely influential in society and in music. They were creating music that had not yet been seen in this era, but their major impact on the era was their positive effect on society’s views on social norms such as homosexuality. The frontman of the band, Freddie Mercury, was very open about his sexuality. By having both male and female lovers, he was able to diminish many hateful beliefs about homophobia in society. He was one of the first to be really open about his sexuality and share it with the world (Source 12).  Mercury was also very flamboyant on stage and embraced femininity rather than conforming to hypermasculine roles that were ever so present in the world of rock and roll. Led Zeppelin was another extremely influential group in the 70s. To start, they are often credited with being the forebears of the heavy metal genre and they faced major success early on in their career. They were one of the first artists to be able to perform at sold out stadiums. With this, their performances were able to consist of sophisticated light and sound systems which allowed for theatrical and never seen before performances (source 13). They defined the way live music was performed and set the bar for live performers. They were able to create new sounds and genres that would influence artists up into the present day. Artists in the 70s were able to make huge improvements on social norms and the way music would develop. 




The 80s were a defining era of music. MTV, or Music Television, was born in the 80s. It created the birth of music videos which allowed for people to connect to music easier by having the ability to see what their favorite artists are trying to portray with their words. Unlike previous years, many genres were able to take hold of the 80s and all have major influences. Michael Jackson, Prince, and Madonna dominated pop, NWA and Beastie Boys were the biggest names in Hip-Hop/Rap, and Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, and Van Halen were some of the most influential in Metal (Source 14). Known as the King of Pop, Michael Jackson is probably one of the most iconic and known artists in history. Due to his incorporation of multiple genres, Jackson was able to gain fans from all over the world. Jackson’s style among all things was one of his most influential effects on the era. Each new outfit worn at one performance played part in the message Jackson was singing in his music (Source 15). His music and fashion influenced the entire decade. Starting with his music, Jackson challenged the norms set in place for black men in the country (Source 16). He also worked hard pushing racial boundaries in his music and music videos. He succeeded in these efforts by being able to educate and inform those who turn a blind eye to these topics by using his music. Artists and their music were such a monumental part of defining and educating an entire decade. By taking risks, artists were able to define new genres paving the way for future influence in music. 




The east vs. west coast feud between Biggie Smalls and Tupac was one of the most impactful events of the 90s. Tupac was more of a poet, his lyrics were meaningful and were always able to get his deeper point across, meanwhile Biggie used his skill with rhythm and effortless flow to gain this respect (Source 18). Tupac was raw with his audience, displaying the struggles of being a young, black man looking out to reach his audience so they can feel those struggles with him. Biggie on the other hand had music that anyone could connect to. He still used his experiences and struggles in his music, but portrayed them in a more theatrical way. Both these men made major impacts on the world with their music as well. Tupac brought awareness to social issues such as poverty, classism, drugs, police brutality, and racial segregation. He drew inspiration from political figures such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. He wanted to create change with his music and succeeded in these changes (Source 19). Tupac was a major influence on society and how they started to think in a new light regarding social norms. Biggie on the other hand wrote more about his personal struggles in a way that can lift those who experience the same struggles up (Source 20). Each man has had one of the biggest impacts on music to this day. The genre of grunge also did a lot with the influential impact on clothes and media. It was a new way people were able to portray themselves. One band that was able to express themselves this way was Nirvana. They would also pave the way for future generations of grunge music as well.




In the 2000s, people were listening to pop, hip-hop, and country music all on their iPods. Artists of all genres were able to control the decade. To start with pop, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry were the biggest names. Their interesting choice of outfits for performance brought confidence to their fans shaping the way many styled themselves. Bright colors, funky accessories, and more were a major part of the decade. Lady Gaga not only made an impact on how society dressed or acted, she also made a major impact on LGBTQIA+ and bullying with her Born this Way Foundation. She used her massive influence to make a change on the world.  Other artists made a major influence on music as a whole. Kanye West changed the entire genre of hip hop. He would include artists of different genres such as rock or alternative artists (Source 21) in his music. He adapted and expanded on what people knew as hip hop then and changed it into what it is today. His risk taking and constant experiments changed the way people looked at music as a whole. Kanye West changed the future of music. 


Music has shaped each and every decade in major ways. It is a long lasting form of an expression that has developed throughout each decade. Without music, the world would be a much different and much darker place than it is today.