Popular music in the 1940s comprised of swing, jazz and big band music early in the decade. These styles suffered in popularity due to musicians’ strikes in 1942 and 1948 and eventually gave way to crooners later in the decade.

Swing music typically involves a lot of brass instruments that are led by a strong rhythm section. Its origins were decades earlier, but the genre was in its prime early in the 40s. Swing music started to decline in part because of the war: many musicians were directly involved in the war effort, and other bands suffered due to the cost of travelling with so many members and so much equipment.

Big band music is called such because of having a large ensemble of 12-25 musicians playing various instruments. Big band music is also considered a form of jazz. Glenn Miller and The Dorsey Brothers were leaders among big band musicians.

“Crooners” was a term used to describe male vocalists that often had powerful, professionally trained voices and maintained a specific posture or stage presence that could be described as intimate. Successful crooners include Nat “King” Cole, Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, and Dean Martin, among many others.


"Rock and Roll” was a term first used by Alan Freed, a disc jockey from Cleveland, Ohio, to describe the new form of music that was taking shape. It was influenced by rhythm and blues, gospel, and country music. The artists were often showmen, and the music usually included guitar solos. Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and Fats Domino were some of the first successful artists in the genre. Elvis Presley soon emerged on the scene and was as successful as he was controversial. Other popular groups include The Platters and The Coasters.

Doo-wop is a style of music that was most popular throughout the 50s. The style is characterized by harmonizing vocals that use syllables (real or not) to form the music backdrop for the lead vocalist. Musical instruments were sometimes used, while other songs were entirely a cappella. Popular artists include The Moonglows, The Penguins, and The Del-Vikings.

Jazz music, which was also popular during the 1940s, remained so throughout the 50s. Well-known artists include Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonius Monk, Dave Brubeck, Ella Fitzgerald, and Billie Holiday. Jazz began to take new forms during the decade, which led to the sub-genres of Bebop (scat singing) and Cool Jazz (modern jazz).


One of the first things that come to mind when thinking of the music scene in the 1960s is the “British Invasion”, where music groups in England experienced breakthrough success in the U.S. The Beatles were responsible for creating the breakthrough, and would go on to become the best-selling rock group of all time. Other British groups that followed include: The Rolling Stones, The Animals, The Yardbirds, Manfred Mann, and Herman’s Hermits.

Motown Record Corporation was established in 1960. This label provided the impetus for R&B and soul music to gain mainstream popularity. Featured artists included Diana Ross & The Supremes, The Jackson Five, The Four Tops, The Temptations and The Marvelettes.

Rock music was defined by a number of different sub-genres, such as folk rock, psychedelic rock, and surf rock, among others. Fold rock often included political messages; Bob Dylan, The Mamas & The Papas, Simon and Garfunkel, and Crosby, Stills & Nash. Psychedelic rock grew out of folk rock combined with the drug culture prevalent during the decade. The Doors, The Byrds, and The Grateful Dead are a few examples of such groups. The Beach Boys are the most popular group to emerge from surf rock, which was born on the west coast.


Only a handful of music genres were of the most successful and most popular during the 1970s. The first was soft rock (which was the “pop music” of that generation) and was led by artists such as Elton John, Chicago, The Eagles, Paul McCartney and Wings, The Doobie Brothers, Fleetwood Mac and Bruce Springsteen.

Another style that had much influence, especially in the latter half of the decade, was Disco, which was a dance style that was characterized by an electric sound and a strong beat. KC and the Sunshine Band, ABBA (the most successful group of the 70s), Village People, Donna Summer and The Bee Gees were the leading talents in this genre. The popularity of the genre was propelled by successful films featuring the music and lifestyle, such as Saturday Night Fever.

The last of the most successful styles of music was rock. In general, rock music became edgier during this time as a response to the lighter, peppier offerings of the disco genre. Led Zepplin was the most successful of this group (falling second overall to ABBA); others included The Who, Pink Floyd, AD/DC, Aerosmith, Joan Jett, Alice Cooper, and Blue Oyster Cult.

The decade saw the passing of many great musicians, some of which include: Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, 3 members of Lynyrd Skynyrd (plane crash), Elvis Presley and Bing Crosby.


There are two artists that epitomize 80s music. The first is Michael Jackson. The songs “Beat It”, “Billie Jean”, and “Thriller”, were of his tops hits throughout the decade. The album Thriller has yet to be unseated as the best-selling album of all time. The other artist is Madonna. It was her second album, Like a Virgin, that catapulted her to the top of the charts. Her controversial lyrics and behavior quickly made her a household name, while her look influenced fashion throughout the decade.

Metal and hard rock were influential styles during the 80s. Artist such as Def Leppard, Poison, Metallica, Guns N’ Roses, Bon Jovi and Megadeth dominated the genre and helped perpetuate the popularity of rock artist from the 1970s such as KISS and AC/DC. This genre included “Hair Bands” (named for their heavily teased tresses), which some of the aforementioned artists were a part of. Other noteworthy hair bands were Van Halen, Scorpions, and Quiet Riot.

Although it was in the 70s that the genre began, it was during the 80s that hip-hop really gained momentum. Artists such as Run-DMC, The Beastie Boyz (who opened for Madonna on her first North American Tour), LL Cool J, and DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince were of the most influential.


There were many popular styles of music in the 90s. One style having a powerful influence was alternative rock, an umbrella term that encompasses a number of different sub-genres such as indie rock and grunge. Some of the most notable alternative rock groups of the decade include: Red Hot Chili Peppers, Goo Goo Dolls, The Smashing Pumpkins and Stone Temple Pilots. Grunge music, which combines rock, punk and metal sounds, was popularized in the 90s by groups such as Pearl Jam and Nivana. Pop punk, another strand of alternative music, gained mainstream popularity thanks to the success of groups such as Green Day, Blink-182, and Weezer.

Country music enjoyed major growth as a genre during the decade as newcomers such as Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood. These ones paved the way for others’ success later in the decade, including Shania Twain, Lonestar, The Dixie Chicks, and Martina McBride. Reba McEntire was one of the most successful female solo artists of the decade, selling over 20 million albums throughout the decade. In 1992 Time magazine detailed country music’s rising popularity with a cover story featuring Garth Brooks.

Pop music was driven by many European artists through the decade. All Saints, the Spice Girls, George Michael, Ace of Base, Robert Palmer and Oasis were some of the top groups/artists. Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera had their first chart-topping hits in the late 90s, and their careers boomed in the 2000s. Paula Abdul, Hanson, and R. Kelly are just a few of the others’ enjoying success in the 1990s.

Adult contemporary music was popular in the form of soft-rock and singer-songwriter styles throughout the decade. Lilith Fair exemplified the singer-songwriter style and provided an outlet for a feminist wave. Participating artists included Sarah McLachlan, Jewel, Lisa Loeb, Joan Osborne and Meredith Brooks. Other popular artists in this genre that borrowed from this style included Sheryl Crow, Alanis Morissette, Dave Matthews Band, Natalie Merchant and Edwin McCain. Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey topped the adult contemporary charts in the early 90s.


The styles of music that were considered popular truly evolved in this decade. Hip-hop and rap music became influential with the popularity of artists such as Eminem, The Black Eyed Peas, Jay-Z, Kanye West and Timbaland. Traditional “pop” music maintained a strong hold with teenage female vocalists such as Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears rising to stardom and “boy bands” such as The Backstreet Boys and The Jonas Brothers remaining popular. Meanwhile, Justin Timberlake (of N’Sync fame) launched what has become a very successful solo career. Other “pop” artists enjoying great success were Jennifer Lopez, Lady Gaga and Kelly Clarkson (the first winner of American Idol – see the 2000-2009 Entertainment page).

Adult contemporary music continued to remain strong on the scene thanks to contributions from artists such as Alicia Keys, Daughtry, Colbie Calliat and Sara Bareilles. Some contributions to this category included “crossover” music from artists in other genres such as country music. Country became a very strong category with successful artist like Carrie Underwood, Kenny Chesney, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw became a huge draw.

Destiny’s Child, Mariah Carey, Rihanna, Beyonce and Usher all enjoyed success in the R&B genre. Emo music saw new life in the 2000s with the popularity of Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance and Panic At The Disco.

It was during this decade that Michael Jackson (2009), Lisa Lopes of TLC (2002), Aalihah (2001), and Jam Master Jay of Run DMC (2002) passed away.javascript:;

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