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A look at the raw numbers…

America was mostly rural until the 1920s

Note: The dramatic shift in percentage starting in the late 19th century was contributed to significantly by mass immigration from central and southern Europe which centered on the cities.

Year            Urban        Rural

1800           6%               94%

1840           11%             89%

1860           20%             80%

1880           28%            72%

1900            40%            60%

1910            46%            54%

1920            51%            49%

1990            75%            25%

2020            80%            20%

Church people

As recently as 1938, three out of every four Americans had a formal affiliation with a local church. As of 2020, it’s now less than one out of two. In the 19th century, African Americans were very active in forming their own churches which became important social and political organizations as well as spiritual ones.

Media evolution

The dates various media technology were first introduced.

Keep in mind it often took years, in many cases decades, for some of these technologies to become commonplace.

1860 – silent films
1877 – recorded music
1895 – radio
1896 – player piano
1906 – audio amplifier
1927 – sound films
1927 – television
1928 – magnetic audio tape
1954 – portable radios/transistor radio
1991 – the world wide web

To put this in context, obviously, there was no such thing as the Internet, TV, or portable music in pre-1920s America, but even things like radio and recorded music were either in their infancy or hadn’t gotten mass popularity traction yet. And there was no such thing as nightclub culture for the overwhelming majority of Americans.

For all practical purposes, in the crucial formative years of America’s music culture, all music was live, acoustic, and without amplification of any kind and the venues for music were: 1) the home, 2) the church, and 3) local social events like parades, community picnics, and dances.

From those humble beginnings, which included a great deal of communication across communities, the foundation of American music was set.

– Ken McCarthy
Jazz on the Tube

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