Dialectic of Pop, 133–144


I. Temporal Paradoxes


The history of modern popular music doesn’t begin in the 1950s with rock and television. It goes as far back as the first recordings of popular music—that is, to the very end of the nineteenth century, when the first discs were not only cut, but also put into circulation. In the America of the late 1910s, a music of rural origin started to be recorded and broadcast both by folklorists without any commercial intent—such as Howard W. Odum and the eccentric Lawrence Gellert—and by the early record companies that would flourish up until the 1929 crash put paid to many of them. In 1927, Jimmie Rodgers released ‘Blue Yodel’ on the Victor label, to considerable success: Thousands of farm boys discovered it on the radio and started to yodel like him. In the last years of his life, Jimmie Rodgers appeared on screen in a miner’s costume even though by that time he owned a limousine and a guitar worth two thousand dollars. A decade earlier, after ‘Dallas Blues’ by Hart Wand and ‘The Memphis Blues’ by WC Handy (both white), in 1920 the vaudeville singer Mamie Smith produced the first blues recording made by an African American, with her famous version of ‘Crazy Blues’ by Perry Bradford. It sold 75,000 copies in its first month…