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The Guitar in America

Victorian Era to Jazz Age

Jeffrey J. Noonan

Publication Year: 2008

The Guitar in America offers a history of the instrument from America's late Victorian period to the Jazz Age. The narrative traces America's BMG (banjo, mandolin, and guitar) community, a late nineteenth-century musical and com-mercial movement dedicated to introducing these instru-ments into America's elite musical establishments. Using surviving BMG magazines, the author details an almost unknown history of the guitar during the movement's heyday, tracing the guitar's transformation from a refined parlor instrument to a mainstay in jazz and popular music. In the process, he not only introduces musicians (including numerous women guitarists) who led the movement, but also examines new techniques and instruments. Chapters consider the BMG movement's impact on jazz and popular music, the use of the guitar to promote attitudes towards women and minorities, and the challenges foreign guitarists such as Miguel Llobet and Andres Segovia presented to America's musicians. This volume opens a new chapter on the guitar in America, considering its cultivated past and documenting how banjoists and mandolinists aligned their instruments to it in an effort to raise social and cultural standing. At the same time, the book considers the BMG community within America's larger musical scene, examining its efforts as manifestations of this country's uneasy coupling of musical art and commerce. Jeffrey J. Noonan, associate professor of music at Southeast Missouri State University, has performed professionally on classical guitar, Renaissance lute, Baroque guitar, and theorbo for over twenty-five years. His articles have appeared in Soundboard and NYlon Review.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

This book began as my doctoral dissertation and I reiterate the thanks and acknowledgments I offered in the opening pages of that document several years ago. Craig Monson, principal reader on that project, has continued to go above and beyond...

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pp. 3-6

In the second half of the twentieth century, the guitar became America’s instrument. In the hands of innovators like Les Paul, Charlie Christian, Merle Travis, Jimi Hendrix, and a host of other players, the instrument helped define—and was in turn defined...

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Chapter One: The Guitar in America to 1880

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pp. 7-20

Histories of musical instruments, with rare exceptions, document their organological evolution, repertoires, or significant and innovative performers. In most cases, the histories of the guitar in America favor the organological approach, primarily because...

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Chapter Two: Interlude: The BMG Movement—The Sources

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pp. 21-40

Beginning in the early 1880s, the guitar entered a new period of popularity, this time in the carefully orchestrated company of the banjo and, eventually, the mandolin. Highlighting the similarity of playing techniques, instrument manufacturers and music publishers...

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Chapter Three: The Guitar in the BMG Movement 1880—1900

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pp. 41-60

The BMG movement instigated by S. S. Stewart grew out of the two great themes of his life—unstinting devotion to the banjo and an unrelenting desire to make money. Given this dedication to the banjo and to business, later readers should recognize...

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Chapter Four: Interlude: A New Generation of Guitarists

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pp. 61-76

The history of the guitar in America remains largely a history of players. Before the late twentieth century no important American composer wrote for the guitar and no American guitarist achieved any lasting reputation as a composer. Although the guitar....

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Chapter Five: Transitions: From the Parlor to the Concert Hall

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pp. 77-95

Following S. S. Stewart’s unexpected death in 1898, his heirs and business partners succeeded in keeping the business, including his Journal, afloat for several years into the new century. But conflicts arose among the different parties (at one point leading...

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Chapter Six: Interlude: The Guitar as Icon

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pp. 96-116

In recent years cultural historians have expended considerable energy “reading” the guitar, especially the electric guitar, for its symbolic value. By examining not just the instrument’s sounds, but its appearance, its uses, and what is said or written about it, observers have...

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Chapter Seven: A New Instrument

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pp. 117-137

The nineteenth century witnessed important changes in the construction of musical instruments as growing audiences for public concerts in Europe and America filled larger and larger venues. These larger halls created a need for more powerful instruments, leading to the development of reconfigured bowed instruments capable....

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Chapter Eight: Interlude: The Wizard and The Grand Lady

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pp. 138-154

Since the 1960s popular guitar players have regularly become cultural icons, with musicians such as Jimi Hendrix or Eric Clapton achieving the status of pop music divinities. As seen in chapter 4, the BMG movement also had its share of acclaimed...

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Chapter Nine: The Old World Reclaims Its Instrument

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pp. 155-171

For much of the BMG era, players had prided themselves on their ability to play several (if not many) of the plectral instruments, but through the teens other BMG promoters followed Vahdah Olcott-Bickford’s lead, encouraging musicians to focus their energies on one instrument.1 This specialization eventually extended to the...

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Chapter Ten: Summary and Conclusions

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pp. 172-178

Crescendo celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary in 1933. A number of guitar-related articles appeared in the magazine that year, including a full-page biography of William Foden, a testimonial to the instrument and Segovia by a French correspondent,....


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pp. 179-214

Works Cited

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pp. 215-222


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pp. 223-225


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pp. 227-239

E-ISBN-13: 9781604733020
E-ISBN-10: 1604733020
Print-ISBN-13: 9781934110188
Print-ISBN-10: 1934110183

Publication Year: 2008