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Table of Contents What Is A Song? American Popular Song: A Brief History Who Created the Song? What Is the Song's Structure? What Was the Song's Historical Context? What Does the Song Mean? What Can Songs Tell Us About People and Society? Model Interpretation Sources of Song American Song Online Annotated Bibliography Try It Yourself! Download Entire Essay (Adobe PDF) Annotated Bibliography

Austin, William W. “Susanna,” “Jeanie,” and “The Old Folks at Home”: The Songs of Stephen C. Foster from His Time to Ours. New York: Macmillan, 1975.
Austin puts Foster and his songs in an extraordinarily rich historical perspective.

Popular Music and Society. Published by the Sociology Department of Bowling Green State University. Began in 1971.
Articles tend to put songs into historical contexts and to consider them to be “reflections” of their society.

Cockrell, Dale. Demons of Disorder: Early Blackface Minstrels and Their World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
Although several good books about blackface minstrelsy appeared in the past decade, this is probably the best for discussing its musical and performative aspects.

Crawford, Richard. America’s Musical Life: A History. New York and London: W.W. Norton & Company, 2001.
An up-to-date and comprehensive attempt to capture the diversity of American popular music.

Forte, Allen. The American Popular Ballad of the Golden Era, 1924-1950. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995.
Analyses of melodies, harmony, and lyrics of American “standards.”

Fuld, James J. The Book of World-Famous Music: Classical, Popular and Folk. Foreward by William Lichtenwanger. New York: Crown Publishers: 1966.
Important, useful, and trivial information about a wide range of music, including many American songs.

Grove Dictionary of American Music. Restricted database available online at through some schools and colleges.
Good information about composers and performers. The online version is more current and searchable.

Hamm, Charles. Yesterdays: Popular Song in America. New York and London: W.W. Norton & Company, 1983.
Yesterdays remains an extremely helpful, engaging overview of major works of American popular song.

Krummel, Donald William. Bibliographic Handbook of American Music. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987.
Annotated commentary of resources for American music history, resources.

Lawrence, Vera Brodsky. Strong on Music: The New York Music Scene in the Days of George Templeton Strong. 3 vols. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987-1999.
A wonderful thorough look at New York’s music scene between 1836 and 1865, mostly through the eyes of an elite and astute observer, George Templeton Strong.

Levine, Lawrence W. Highbrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America. Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 1988.
Levine devotes only one chapter to music—and that to the popularity of opera in nineteenth-century America—but makes an important case regarding the distinction between “popular culture” and “art.”

Music of the United States of America. Middleton, WI: A-R Editions, 1993-.
This is an extremely valuable series of works containing a wealth of primary material on a wide range of American music.

Nathan, Hans. Dan Emmett and the Rise of Early Negro Minstrelsy. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1962.
An early and excellent study of minstrelsy and minstrel songs.

Nevins, Allan, ed. The Diary of Philip Hone, 1828-1851. New York: Krause Reprint, 1969.
A day-by-day view of life in New York, with many of Hone’s comments and activities pertaining to music.

Nineteenth-Century American Musical Theater. New York: Garland, 1994.
A series that includes works on shows that introduced many important American songs.

Peterson, Richard A. Creating Country Music: Fabricating Authenticity. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1997.
Peterson traces the development of country music and its institutionalization from Fiddlin’ John Carson’s pioneering recordings in Atlanta in 1923 to the posthumous success of Hank Williams. He separates country music into “hard core” and “soft shell” subcategories and explores what it means to be authentic within popular culture.

Riis, Thomas Laurence. Just before Jazz: Black Musical Theater in New York, 1890-1915. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989.
Detailed study of African-American composers, performers, songs, and shows at a turning point in American song.

Southern, Eileen. The Music of Black Americans: A History. New York: Norton, 1983. 2nd ed.
A classic, comprehensive study that includes much material and many songs.

Toll, Robert. Blacking Up: The Minstrel Show in Nineteenth-Century America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1974.
Even after the appearance of recent works on minstrelsy, Blacking Up remains indispensable for continuing the story past the Civil War and for its inclusion of African-American minstrels, generally left out of later accounts.

Wilder, Alec and James T. Maher. American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.
Analysis of music and lyrics, written by a noted songwriter.


What Is a Song? American Popular Song: A Brief History Who Created the Song? What is the Song's Structure? What WAs the Song's Historical Context? What Does the Song Mean? What Can Songs Tell Us About People and Society? Model Interpretation Sources of Songs American Song Online Annotated Bibliography Try it Yourself! Go to MAKING SENSE OF AMERICAN POPULAR SONG Home Page Go to MAKING SENSE OF EVIDENCE Browse Page