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The Rhythm of America’s Southeast

Music may not have been born in the Southeastern part of America, but it certainly started kicking up its heels there. New Orleans jazz; the Delta Blues; Country Western; Soul; Appalachian; Cajun and Zydeco music—all have roots in the south, and all have influenced musicians around the world. From honky-tonks to elegant music venues, the heartbeat you’ll hear is often home-grown and American. There are many categories of music from this part of the country—these are just a smattering.

The Rhythm of America’s Southeast

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New Orleans Jazz

Many well-known jazz musicians had their start in brass marching bands, playing both low-down dirges and upbeat music, for New Orleans jazz funeral processions. That tradition, started in 1890, moved forward with talent such as Louis Armstrong, Henry “Red” Allen, and King Oliver. These marching bands live on today in New Orleans, with musicians such as the Marsalis family doing some of their earliest work here. New Orleans, Louisiana, strongly associated with jazz music, is universally considered to be the birthplace of the genre.

Delta Blues

One of the earliest-known styles of blues, it comes from the Mississippi Delta. Guitar and harmonica are the main instruments, and slide guitar is a seductive part of its style. Vocals in Delta blues range from introspective and soulful to wildly passionate. Son House first recorded in 1930 for Paramount Records. Robert Johnson, a Delta blues icon, recorded his only sessions, for ARC, in San Antonio in 1936 and Dallas in 1937. After hearing the musicians, the early Delta blues (as well as other genres) was recorded by John Lomax and his son Alan Lomax. These recordings are in the Smithsonian Institution.

Country Western Music

The origins of country music are found in the folk music of working class Americans and blue-collar American life. Inspired by American popular and folk music, country has roots in Celtic music, traditional English ballads, cowboy songs, corridos, African-American, French folk music, and other local traditions. Legends such as Jimmy Rogers, Hank Williams, and the Carter Family brought it to Nashville, and the Grand Ole Opry is home base. It is the most-listened to music on American radios.

New Orleans Jazz

Many well-known jazz musicians had their start in brass marching bands, playing both low-down dirges and upbeat music, for New Orleans jazz funeral processions. That tradition, started in 1890, moved forward with talent such as Louis Armstrong, Henry “Red” Allen, and King Oliver. These marching bands live on today in New Orleans, with musicians such as the Marsalis family doing some of their earliest work here. New Orleans, Louisiana, strongly associated with jazz music, is universally considered to be the birthplace of the genre.

Soul Music

Soul music dominated the Rhythm and Blues charts in the 1960’s. It was used as theme music in movies, and many recordings crossed over and topped the pop music charts in both the United States and the U.K. According to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, soul is “… music that arose out of the Black experience in America through the transmutation of gospel and rhythm & blues into a form of funky, secular testifying.” Catchy rhythm, punctuated with handclaps and dance, are an important part of soul music. The style often includes improvisational additions that give it a totally unique sound. Soul music reflects African-American identity, and it stresses the importance of an African-American culture. It boasts of pride in being Black.

Appalachian Music

Immigrants from England, the Scottish lowlands, and Ulster arrived in Appalachia during the 17th and 18th centuries. They brought English and Scottish ballads, actually stories set to music, accompanied by fiddles. Early recorded Appalachian musicians include the Carter Family, Clarence Ashley, and Dock Boggs. Several Appalachian musicians became legends during the folk music revival of the 1960’s, including Jean Ritchie and Doc Watson. Country and bluegrass artists such as Loretta Lynn, Roy Acuff, Dolly Parton, Earl Scruggs, Chet Atkins, and The Stanley Brothers were influenced by traditional Appalachian music early in their lives, and many have had cross-over hits on the pop charts.

Cajun Music

Cajun music, in French it’s called Musique cadienne, is an emblematic music of Louisiana played by Cajuns, and rooted in the ballads of French-speaking Acadians from Canada. French Louisiana sounds have influenced American popular music for decades, especially country music. We hear it played in movie scores and soundtracks for commercials. When the music starts up, it’s impossible to sit still! It has intense drive, and the accordion is usually at the center. (There’s usually an accordion, a fiddle, voices, and a triangle.) Find music played by BeauSoleil avec Michael Doucet. Dance in your kitchen. The beat is the best.

Zydeco (French: Zarico)

This music grew up in Southwest Louisiana from people who spoke French Creole. It blends blues, rhythm and blues, and music indigenous to Louisiana Creoles and the Native American people of Louisiana. It’s got a fast tempo, and the sound that comes forward is a button or piano accordion. This is music to dance to! There’s also a rub-board, frottoir in French, that was created just for Zydeco. This music was originally heard at house parties where families and friends got together to have a good time and cut a rug. Dances are a combination of waltz, shuffles, two-steps, blues, and rock and roll.

Zydeco music pioneer Clifton Chenier, “The King of Zydeco” or “The King of the Bayou,” popularized zydeco and brought it to a larger audience. He signed with Specialty Records, the same label that first recorded Little Richard and Sam Cooke.

We’re grateful for the wings of creativity that make music from the Southeast part of America soar. It lifts our spirits and makes us feel good to be alive.

Interested in filling your soul with music, bourbon and history? Discover our Southeast itineraries.