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MUH3025 Class Differences

MUH3025 Class Differences

Jacklyn Dougherty

At the beginning of the 20th century, jazz and blues were regarded as improper music, and Tin Pan Alley songs often represented refined behaviour and tastes. This extreme contrast indicates the differences between classes and perceptions of society at that time.

Jazz and blues originated from the African American populations and had a connection to labourers and the urban city setting. Tunes such as Tiger Rag by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band and Dipper Mouth Blues by his Holiness King Joe Oliver and the Creole Jazz Band challenged the white upper class as raw, sensual and unconventionally natural. These genres were viewed as threatening to the fabric of society they portrayed the ‘diseased’ behaviour of the poor.

Conversely, Tin Pan Alley compositions like Duke Ellington and Bubber Miley’s “East St. Louis Toodle-Oo,” were deemed expressions of refined decorum and sophistication. These songs were all written by hired composers in New York and were aimed at the rich and prestigious people. They were seen as polished and cultured in accordance with the society around them.

According to Washabaugh, (2020), the definition of “immoral” music in contemporary society is highly subjective and depends on personal values, cultural background, and the way music is accepted by the society. While genres like rap and heavy metal can be criticized for the explicit lyrics and aggression or connection to counterculture. Nonetheless these perceptions are extremely subjective and actually promote discrimination and stigmatization.

The notion of “elite” music in popular music is not entirely objective. There are certain genres of music, such as classical or jazz, which may be considered as more intellectually or artistically mature, but the concept of “elite” music can also be attributed to the subjective elitism. Popular music is an industry that is always changing and different genres are created for specific audience needs.

Since the beginning of time, music has been embodying the class struggle. There are certain genres and styles that are perceived to be reserved for certain social classes in their origin or influence or that appeal particularly to certain social classes. But one must not forget that music is also a very effective medium of communication spanning across social classes and it has the ability to create a kind of empathy and understanding between the classes.

To put the matter simply, historical perceptions of jazz, blues, and Tin Pan Alley songs reveal class and racial discrimination of the early 20th century America. Still, the idea of immoral or elitist music remains relevant today; however, it is crucial to understand the history of such perceptions and appreciate polyphony’s richness and value.


"Dipper Mouth Blues" written by King Joe Oliver, performed b the Creole Jazz Band, recorded 1923

"East St. Louis Toodle-Oo" written by Duke Ellington and Bubber Miley, performed by Duke Ellington and His Washingtonians, recorded 1927

“Tiger Rag" performed by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, recorded 1918

Washabaugh, W. (2020). Introduction: Music, dance, and the politics of passion. In The Passion of Music and Dance (pp. 1-26). Routledge.

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