Hearing the Americas

explores the early decades of the recording industry (1898-1925), posing new questions about the origins of popular music.

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The emergence of the record industry had a powerful impact on popular music, carrying songs and styles across national borders and pushing innovation in unexpected directions. These early recordings can sound very strange, since the technology was limited, and most of the genres we are used to did not yet exist. 

This website provides multiple paths into this sonic world, revealing new perspectives on the history of this period.


This site contains historical content which may be upsetting or offensive to some visitors. Please see the content notice for a full statement.



Check out the musical categories that accounted for many of the recordings sold in this period.

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Some of these performers are still famous today. Many more you’ve never heard of, though they sold hundreds of thousands of records.

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Test your knowledge with these questions about music at the dawn of the recording era. You may be surprised by what you find.

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Explore the technical, commercial, and musicological aspects of the early record business.

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Click on the discs below to find in-depth answers to deep questions about music in the early years of recording.

What was the dance craze that inspired W.C. Handy’s legendary “St. Louis Blues” (1914)?

A: The tango

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What was the most popular kind of band in America and worldwide in 1900?

A: The brass band

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How did recording transform music listening?

A: It brought new kinds of music into the home.

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What role did Black people from the British Caribbean play in the Jazz Age?

A: Migration patterns and the record business made them central.

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