The Phonograph and the Evolution of “Foreign” and “Ethnic” Records

William Howland Kenney

in Recorded Music in American Life

Published in print January 2004 | ISBN: 9780195171778
Published online October 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199849789 | DOI:
                   The Phonograph and the Evolution of “Foreign” and “Ethnic” Records

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Cultural stereotypes in the United States constrained the involvement of immigrants with recorded music while simultaneously opening limited avenues of opportunity, especially for those from continental European nations. Just as Victorian tradition considered females particularly musical and, therefore, apt consumers of recorded music, so it taught that Europeans had invented and most skillfully developed the traditions of concert hall music that had been grafted onto the American artistic life. The phonograph industry therefore quickly turned to recording “foreign” concert hall vocal artists from Europe. Surprisingly enough, this colonial attitude eventually led the recording industry to a variety of multiculturalism dominated by European musical traditions. The importation into America of “foreign records” by European artists became a regular practice of the recording industry, interrupted (but not ended) by the two world wars. A second, culturally distinct, ethnic recording concept accelerated during World War I: that of recording for American ethnic customers the music of European immigrant musicians living in the United States.

Keywords: United States; Europe; foreign records; ethnic recording; immigrants; recording industry; phonograph; recorded music

Chapter.  10591 words. 

Subjects: American Music

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