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Beginning with the rise of popular sheet music in the early 20th century, New York's Broadway musical theater and Tin Pan Alley's songcraft, New York became a major center for the American music industry. Since then the city has served as an important center for many different musical genres.
New York's status as a center for European classical music can be traced back to the early 19th century. The New York Philharmonic, formed in 1842, did much to help establish the city's musical reputation. The first two major New York composers were William Fry and George Frederick Bristow, who in 1854 famously criticized the Philharmonic for choosing European composers over American ones. Bristow was committed to developing an American classical music tradition. His most important work was the Rip Van Winkle opera, which most influentially used an American folktale rather than European imitations.
The best-known New York composer, indeed, the best-known American classical composer of any kind, was George Gershwin. Gershwin was a songwriter with Tin Pan Alley and the Broadway theatres, and his works synthesized elements of many styles, including the music of New York's Yiddish theatre, vaudeville, ragtime, operetta, jazz and the post-Romantic music of European composers. Gershwin's work gave American classical music unprecedented international recognition. Following Gershwin, the next major American composer was Aaron Copland from Brooklyn, who used elements of American folk music and jazz in his compositions. His works included the Organ Symphony, which earned him comparisons to Igor Stravinsky, and the music for the ballet Appalachian Spring and the Piano Variations.
The New York blues was a type of blues music characterized by significant jazz influences and a more modernized, urban feel than the country blues. Prominent musicians from this field include Lionel Hampton and Joe Turner. In New York, jazz became fused with stride (an advanced form of ragtime) and became highly evolved. Among the first major New York jazz musicians was Fletcher Henderson, whose jazz orchestra, first appearing in 1923, helped invent swing music. The swing style that developed from New York's big jazz bands was catchy and very danceable, and was originally played largely by black orchestras. Later, white bands led by musicians like Jimmy Dorsey and Benny Goodman began to dominate and produced a number of instrumentalists that had a profound effect on the later evolution of jazz. Star vocalists also emerged, mainly women like the bluesy Billie Holiday and the scat singer Ella Fitzgerald.
Beginning in the 1940s, New York City was the center of a roots revival in American folk music. Many New Yorkers took a renewed interested in blues, Appalachian folk music and other roots styles. Greenwich Village, in Lower Manhattan, became a hotbed of American folk music as well as leftist political activism. The performers associated with the Greenwich Village scene had sporadic mainstream success in the 1940s and 50s; some, like Peter Seeger and the Almanac Trio, did well, but most were confined to local coffeehouses and other venues. Performers like Dave Van Ronk and Joan Baez helped expand the scene by appealing to university students, while Bob Dylan came to national prominence in the local folk music scene in the 1960s.
Disco music diverged from the funk, soul and jazz of the 1960s, elevating music from the raw sound of 4-piece garage bands to refined music composed by producers who contracted local symphony and philharmonic orchestras and session musicians. A musical idiom that was strongly associated with minority audiences (especially black audiences and gay audiences), discotheques grew popular in the 1970s and began moving to larger venues. Many of the major disco nightclubs were in New York, including Paradise Garage and Studio 54.
In the 1970s, punk rock emerged in New York's downtown music scene with seminal bands such as the New York Dolls and Ramones. Anthrax and KISS were the best known heavy metal and glam rock performers from the city. The downtown scene developed into the "new wave" style of rock music at downtown clubs like CBGB's.
Hip-hop first emerged in the Bronx in the early 1970s at neighborhood block parties when DJs, like DJ Kool Herc, began isolating percussion breaks in funk and R&B songs and rapping while the audience danced. For many years, New York was the only city with a major hip-hop scene, and all of the early recordings came from New York. People like Kurtis Blow and LL Cool J brought hip hop to the mainstream for the first time, while so-called East Coast rap was defined in the 1980s by artists including Eric B. & Rakim, Kurtis Blow and Run-D.M.C.. Major New York stars emerged to go on and produce multi-platinum records, including Puff Daddy, Jay-Z and Notorious B.I.G., along with critically acclaimed acts like Wu-Tang Clan, Nas, Big L, and Busta Rhymes.
New York is also one of only five cities in the United States with permanent professional resident companies in all of the major performing arts disciplines: the New York City Opera, New York Philharmonic, New York City Ballet, and the Public Theater. The Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, actually a complex of buildings housing 12 separate companies, is the largest arts institution in the world. It is also home to the internationally-renowned Jazz at Lincoln Center. Other notable performance halls include Carnegie Hall, Radio City Music Hall, and the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
With nearly 8 million people riding the city's subway system each day, New York's transit network is also a major venue for musicians. Each week, more than 100 musicians and ensembles - ranging in genre from classical to Cajun, bluegrass, African, South American and jazz - give over 150 performances sanctioned by New York City Transit at 25 locations throughout the subway system.
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