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Music of immigrant communities in the United States

Music Sound

Music of immigrant communities in the United States

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The vast majority of the inhabitants of the United States are immigrants or descendents of immigrants. This article will focus on the music of these communities and discuss its roots in countries across Africa, Europe and Asia, excluding only Native American music, indigenous and immigrant Latinos, Puerto Rican music, Hawaiian music and African American music. The music of Irish- and Scottish-Americans will be a special focus, due to their extreme influence on Appalachian folk music and other genres. These sorts of music are often sustained and promoted by a variety of ethnic organizations.



Following the 1915 massacres of ethnic Armenians by the Young Turk government in Turkey, large numbers of Armenians settled in the Central Valley area, especially around Fresno. Of the second- and third-generation musicians from this community, Richard Hagopian became a minor star in the Armenian-American community.

The ethnically-Armenian heavy metal band System of a Down has included references to the Armenian genocide in their lyrics.

Cape Verde

There are more Cape Verdeans outside of their homeland than there are in the island chain itself. In the United States, California and Hawaii are home to large Cape Verdean populations, but the largest concentration is in New England, especially Boston and Rhode Island. Many of these immigrants came via whaling ships in the 19th century. Cape Verdean music is most famously morna, but other genres exist and the Cape Verdean community has produced string bands like The B-29s, Notias, Augusto Abrio and the Cape Verdean Serenaders. There were also Cape Verdean big bands, including the Creole Vagabonds and the Don Verdi Orchestra. More modern musicians include Frank de Pina, Mendes Brothers (and their influential record label, MB Records), Saozinha, Creole Sextet and Rui Pina.


Chinese-American bands include Bok Gwai. The pop-rapper Jin has lately gained some national renown as well.


Though associated with Slovenia, Germany and Poland as well, the Czech Republic includes Bohemia, the ancestral home of polka music. Polka has a long history in the United States, and the city of Chicago, among others, had produced numerous innovations in the genre.

Eastern European Jews

Early in the 20th century, Eastern European immigrants settled across the United States. Many were Ashkenazi Jews, who brought with them their swift, eminently dance-able klezmer music. Harry Kandel, a clarinetist, stood out in the field, alongside Abe Schwartz, Naftule Brandwein and Dave Tarras.

Later, in the 1980s, a new generation of klezmer roots revivalists made innovative fusions of klezmer with punk rock and other influences. These bands include the Flying Klezmer Bulgar Band and The Klezmatics.


Main article: Anglo-American music

As the homeland of many of the settlers of the original 13 Colonies, and a major source of immigration thereafter, England's musical traditions are closely tied to those of the United States, especially Appalachian folk music. In the 1850s, there was a thriving brass band tradition in the US, drawing on British bands formed around factory workers.


There is an organization that gives out Filipino American Music Entertainment Awards.

External links:


The most well-known kind of French music in the United States is that of the Cajuns of Louisiana. Cajun and Creole music has spawned many popular artists in the zydeco genre, including Clifton Chenier.


German immigrants brought with them a variety of music, waltzes, polkas and oom-pah bands among them. A German musical society of the mid-19th century formed the Seventh Regiment Band, the only exclusively regimental band of the time and one of the most popular brass bands of the Civil War-era. German bandleader Friendrich Wilhelm Wieprecht was also influental, collecting full scores for his compilation of instrumentations of popular works, für die jetzige Stimmenbesetzung. Instruments included the bassoon, contrabassoon, bass tuba, trumpet, trombone, clarinet, piccolo, oboe, French horn, saxhorn, drums and cymbal. Wieprecht was recognized at the time as a key figure in the reorganization of the Prussian military bands.

The Amish are a religious community found in the Midwest, descended from German (and Swiss) settlers. They eschew modern technology in favor of simple living. Amish music is entirely religious, and is sung in a style that has not been widely performed in Europe for centuries.

Pennsylvania German culture is a mixture of British, South German and other elements. The songs are primarily German, many based on British tunes. Pennsylvania spirituals are a well-known kind of folk hymn, most of which date to the early 19th century.


Greek-American music includes styles like rebetiko. Performers include Annaboubala, Johnny Otis, Tatiana Troyanos and Dimitrius Mahlis.


After the 1979 revolution, the new Iranian government banned all pop music and many other genres. Numerous Iranians, including musicians, entered into exile, many settling in the Los Angeles-area. The Iranian-American scene produced several stars in the Iranian-in-exile community, including Dariush, Ebi, Homeira, Hayedeh, Mahasti, Moein, Farzin and more.

There are also many newcommers in Persian/Iranian Music who have made huge impression. Below are a list of them:

Andy, Mansour, Sandy, Leyla Foroohar, Farshid Amin, Shahrzad Sepanlou, Kamran Delan, Arash, Shadmehr Aghili, Jamshid, Cameron Cartio, Mohammad, Kamran & Hooman, Fereydoun, Hi-5, Shaghayegh, Shahriar and much more


Main article: Celtic music in the United States

Joseph Halliday, a Dubliner, is notable for having introduced the keyed bugle in 1810. While not a technical innovation (the keyed trumpet was already known), it did become extremely popular in the burgeoning brass band tradition and inspired a whole family of instruments, the ophicleides. In the middle of the 19th century, Irish bandleader Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore was very influential, having introduced a wide range of reed instruments as well as developing instrumentation that allowed a large wind ensemble to approximate the effects of a full orchestra.

The 1960s saw the Clancy Brothers (with Tommy Makem) become minor celebrities in the United States, especially in the Irish-American community. They appeared at Carnegie Hall and on the Ed Sullivan Show. Mick Moloney’s Irish-American Music and Dance Festival has existed for over twenty years and remains an important part of the Irish-American scene.

In the eighties several high-profile Irish artists emigrated to the USA, including Mary Black, Dolores Keane and Maura O'Connell. At the same time groups sprang up in America to play Irish music at a professional level. Mick Moloney founded Green Fields of America in 1977 to bring together immigrant Irish and native-born players of Irish music. Although they did not record an album until 1989, they created a ripple. The band contained several people who went on achieve international fame - Seamus Egan, Eileen Ivers and Jerry O'Sullivan. Another early Irish-American band was Cherish The Ladies formed in 1985.

The rules of the All-Ireland championships allowed certain non-Irish citizens to complete. Thanks to Irish cultural centres in New York and Chicago, young US citizens began to win in dancing and fiddling. Chicago-born Liz Carroll came second in 1974 with her fiddling. In 1992 she was a member of Trian, who recorded two highly regarded albums of strictly traditional no-frills Irish instrumentals. Some films gave exposure to Irish music - "Barry Lyndon" (1975 - The Chieftains), "The Brothers McMullen" (1984 - Seamus Egan), "Dancing at Lughnasa" (1998 - Arty McGlynn) and "Titanic" (1997). The touring stage show "Riverdance" (1995) was probably the biggest single publicity blaze in the cause of Irish-American music. The New York "Kips Bay Ceilidh Band" recorded an admired album of dance tunes (1993).

Celtic new age music from Clannad (Ireland), harpist Loreena McKennitt (Canada) and Nightnoise (Ireland) were popular in a low-key way in the USA. Tríona and Mícheál O Dhomhnaill from Nightnoise had emigrated to the US in the 70s and started recording in 1984. There were pop hits for Enya (originally from Clannad). Among the immigrants from Ireland was Susan McKeown. She had been recording since 1990 but won international praise for "Lowlands" (2000). In 1996 the Irish-American supergroup Solas was formed. The group contained multi-instrumentalist Seamus Egan and a powerful new singer Karan Casey. The Chieftains had been visiting America since the 70s but by 2003 the audience was big enough to justify a DVD, live from Nashville. You can now confidently say that no Celtic musician has made the grade till he has performed in America.


Italian-Americans are concentrated on the Eastern Seaboard, especially in New York City. Their music includes square dances, tarantellas, mazurkas, waltzes and polkas, and music for mandolin, banjo, guitar and accordion.

Italian folk traditions have had a lasting influence of barbershop singing and doo wop. Neapolitan bandleader Francis Scala was bandleader of the U.S. Marine Band after immigrating in 1840; as is common in Naples, he placed the clarinet (which he played himself) in a prominent place in his performances.


Undoubtedly the most influential Jamaican-American entertainer is DJ Kool Herc, who is often credited as the inventor of hip hop. He immigrated to New York City and brought with him the roots of hip hop -- a DJ isolating and repeating a percussion break while an MC spoke over the beats.

Second generation Jamaican Busta Rhymes was later an important gangsta rapper during the 1990s; his style is similar to that found in Jamaican dub and dancehall.

For more information about Caribbean cultural influence in the United States, see Holger Henke's, The West Indian Americans, Westport: Greenwood Press 2001.


Large-scale Japanese immigration to the United States began early in th 20th century, and traditional music came with them. California and Hawaii were two of the biggest destinations for these immigrants. The first North American taiko group was Seiichi Tanaka's San Francisco Taiko Dojo in San Francisco, which was founded in 1968.


Norwegian-American folk music in the United States is mostly found in Minnesota and surrounding states. Reinlenders, polkas and waltzes are played; of these, waltzes are by far the most common [1]. Instruments include the psalmodikon, fiddle and accordion. Celebrations like Syttende Mai have become an important outlet for traditional Norwegian music.


The Polish community is strongest in the area around Detroit, Michigan. The city's Polish-American community spawned a wave of musicians that are usually considered polka players, though their actual output is quite varied. New York City, Chicago and Minneapolis also have Polish-American musical traditions. Chicago's Orkiestra Makowska, led by George Dzialowy, defined that city's unique sound for many years.

More than 50,000 Polish-Americans live in the area around Houston, Texas. There is a rich tradition of Polish fiddling from Texas that had declined into obscurity until a recent revitalization by performers like Brian Marshall. Polish settlers arrived beginning in the middle of the 19th century, settling in Panna Maria, a village just south of San Antonio. A few decades later, a new wave of Polish migrants settled in Chappell Hill, Stoneham, Brenham, Bremond, Anderson, Carlos and New Waverly. These people's folk music consisted of bowed bass, fiddle and sometimes a clarinet, with the later additions of drums, accordions and guitars. Within Texas, Polish music was diverse, with a rhythmic style predominant in the Chappell Hill/Brenham area, and a melodic sound in Bremond.

Serbia and Montenegro

There is a Serbian rock scene in the Greater Cleveland area.


Slovenian-American polka musician Frankie Yankovich is by far the most famous musician of that genre. He began his career in the 1930s, beginning with some regional hits in the Detroit and Cleveland areas, followed by mainstream success in the later 1940s.


Ukrainian-Americans in the Cleveland and Detroit area have kept a folk scene alive, also producing a minor crossover star in the 1920s and 30s, Pawlo Humeniuk, the King of the Ukrainian Fiddlers.


There is a Vietnamese American Philharmonic orchestra. Popular musicians in the Vietnamese-American community include Thanh Lan.

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Music Sound, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

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