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This site contains historical content which may be upsetting or offensive to some visitors.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.

Did jazz come from Latin America?

A: In part. Jazz may be quintessentially American, but its origins were transnational.

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Who was the first African American recording star?

A: George W. Johnson

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Was the United States the only country where the racist tradition of blackface performance was popular?

A: No. Racist caricature was prominent in many other countries in the Americas.

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What musical instrument was invented for use in early recordings?

A: The "Stroh" violin

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