During our “Americana” SHORT, we focus mainly on American folk music and original songs that refer to American genres. The Americana music category, however, is wider ranging, including blues, country, R&B, bluegrass, gospel, rock ‘n’ roll, American folk, and all the forms in which these genres merge together. With this in mind, we’ve compiled this page as a (far from comprehensive) look at some uniquely American music.
*These are all YouTube videos, which may include ads. Most of them are also not intended specifically for children. While we have previewed all content, we invite you of course to preview the videos before sharing them with your child. We hope you enjoy : ).
(Want to suggest a video to add to this page? Email us!)
“Down By The Riverside” is an African-American spiritual dating from before the Civil War but first published in 1918. Its pacifistic imagery led to its use as an anti-war protest song, especially during the Vietnam War.
In this footage from the March on Washington in 1963, folk trio, Peter, Paul and Mary, sing Pete Seeger’s & Lee Hays’ song, “If I Had A Hammer,” written in 1949 in support of the progressive movement.
At President Obama’s inauguration in 2009, activist and folk music icon, Pete Seeger, his grandson, Tao Rodríguez-Seeger, rock legend, Bruce Springsteen, and a youth chorus sang Woody Guthrie’s famous folk song, “This Land is Your Land,” to a crowd estimated at over 400,000.
American singer, songwriter, and guitarist, Sister Rosetta Tharpe (1915-1973), was the first great recording star of gospel music. Her unique style blended spiritual lyrics and rhythmic accompaniment, and she influenced many early rock-and-roll musicians. In this video, she sings the gospel song, “This Little Light of Mine,” accompanying on electric guitar.
Huddie William Ledbetter (1888-1949), better known as Lead Belly, was an American folk and blues singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist, best known for his expertise on the twelve-string guitar, his vibrant vocals, and the folk songs he popularized, including his famous renditions of “Goodnight, Irene” and “Midnight Special.” The song above was included in the compilation album Lead Belly Sings for Children, along with other blues songs, children’s songs, work songs, and spirituals.
American singer, songwriter, and mandolinist, William (Bill) Monroe (1911-1996) is credited with creating the bluegrass genre, which takes its name from his band, the Blue Grass Boys. (The band was named after the bluegrass of Monroe’s home state of Kentucky.) The bluegrass genre was influenced by traditional English, Scottish and Irish music, and traditional African-American blues and jazz.
Considered one of the most important figures in American western folk, Woody Guthrie (1912-1967) influenced scores of major American musicians and songwriters. He wrote hundreds of songs, including a long list of children’s songs, like the one above.
Big Mama Thornton (1926-1984), born Willie Mae Thornton, was an American rhythm-and-blues singer and songwriter, and the first artist to record the song “Hound Dog,” written by Jerome Lieber and Michael Stoller. “Hound Dog” was a hit record for Thornton four years before its best known recording, by Elvis Presley, in 1956. Thornton also wrote, and made the original recording of the song “Ball and Chain,” which was later covered by Janis Joplin.
In this 1968 performance, the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Elvis Presley (1935-1977), sings a song written by Delta blues singer/songwriter, Arthur Crudup, and originally recorded in 1946. Elvis’ recording of “That’s All Right” in 1954 was his debut single.