A diverse collection of musicians reflect on how they’ve been shaped by the USA
The unique musical innovations born in the United States range from the internationally acclaimed pop and R&B of Detroit’s Motown, to the rock and roll of New Jersey’s Bruce Springsteen. Regional delicacies like Louisiana cajun and Tennessee bluegrass keep the world hungry for more American music. The basic ingredients of all of these sounds are the homegrown musical genres of blues, jazz, gospel, and country western, and each is as American as apple pie or hot dogs.
On the eve of Independence Day, we asked a wide range of amazing American musicians how the culture, geography, and history of the United States has influenced them, both personally and musically.
International performer and 2013 Independent Country Music Association Award winner Doug Briney spent many years in the 49th state—Alaska. This has impacted his Independence Day traditions.
Having lived in Alaska for 21 years where the sun doesn't really go down on July 4, I usually spent it with my family watching firework shows at 1am so we could see them a little. Last year was my first year here in Tennessee, and for the 4th, I played a festival in Chester County, TN. during the day and then really enjoyed several firework shows.
It’s Only Rock and Roll—But it Can Change Your Life
Glen Carroll is a singer with Stickyfingers, a tribute band to the Rolling Stones. He is also a third-generation veteran of the US military, and he first served in the Air Force, and then in the Army as a helicopter pilot. Carroll has seen a marked increase in American patriotism.
A couple of decades ago most professional musicians like myself could count on working every New Year’s Eve performing at a function. I believe recently in the past decade the Fourth of July weekend has become a more celebrated holiday than New Year’s Eve. Perhaps it is a combination of Americans becoming more in touch with their patriotic feelings in a post-9/11 world...The past 15 years I’ve performed every Fourth of July weekend. However, I have not performed every New Year’s Eve in the past 15 years and that tells me where the demand is, where the American heart is.
The well-traveled Carroll understands the gifts that American life has offered him.
We’ve performed in Russia, China, Indonesia, Australia, Europe, Central and South America, and most large cities across America. I’ve never seen or read about any other country that offers the opportunities and rights to the average citizen that our country does. What other country can you think of where a kid growing up with modest means can become President of United States or perhaps become a pilot in the military or maybe even a rock ’n’ roll musician?
Born in the USA—Where Opportunity Rocks
Can music be any more distinctly American than what is played by a man called the “Cajun Springsteen?” Grammy winner Wayne Toups has played at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival for 27 consecutive years. Playing the uniquely American music of Louisiana, Toups knows how unique his life is.
I absolutely love my country, this is still the land of opportunity. I am able to make a living doing exactly what I love; how awesome is that!? I have the freedom to make choices about my religion and my beliefs, hard work still pays off, and there is still diversity and unity. We have freedom and adventure. We may have ups and downs, like with the economy but always seem to bounce back. These things make the USA special, not everyone in this world has those opportunities.
Tennessee band Monroeville’s name comes from the father of bluegrass music, Bill Monroe. The band members appreciate living in America based on their life experiences.
Some of us have traveled a lot around the world and some have even lived in third-world countries. We do not take lightly the sacrifices that have been made for us to have the freedom and opportunities we all enjoy.
Monroeville loves America because of the opportunities they have had to make their dreams come true.
What we love most about this country is that we have the resources to put together a band and a team, start a record label and a publishing company, and from the ground up start a successful business doing what we love. That is truly AMAZING if you think about it!
Singer, songwriter, producer, and arranger Adoniz has been performing since childhood days in church. He knows that growing up in America gave him an exceptional life.
Having parents who migrated from a different country, Haiti, America provided them with the opportunity to establish themselves in ways they would not have been able to had they stayed in Haiti. Their achievements in this new land made it possible for me to do the things I have a passion for and afforded me a great education.
Sonically Supporting Our Troops
Musicians and other entertainers have a long history of performing for American troops, from the Andrews Sisters to Aerosmith. Glen Carroll has performed for our American military members many times, and he always enjoys it.
I remember the first time playing for our troops as if it were yesterday. July 4, 1998, was a Saturday. We were performing at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. It was an International Joint Military Exercise that began earlier in the late part of June but was timed for all of the troops to arrive at the parade grounds by Saturday, the 4th of July, to reunite with their families.
After the concert, Carroll was given a special gift.
The base commander presented me with one of my most cherished belongings. It was a beautifully signed matted photograph from the Golden Knights with my name on it along with all of their signatures. I recall the base commander saying, and I quote,, ‘We don’t have a lot of money for these concerts but we make up for it with hospitality.’
Wayne Toups has performed on base, and may even give you a much-needed ride home.
I have been blessed to play for the troops a couple times at Ft. Polk and one time at Ft. Hood, there were 6 soldiers who were heading home but they were going to have to wait something like 10 hours for the bus, so I went and picked them up and brought them home.
Briney has been lucky enough to see the emotional power of his music in action.
I have had the chance to play at a number of fundraisers for our troops where there were many in attendance. I am hoping to very soon play for the troops themselves just for them. I was honored to perform at the grand opening of the Veteran's Museum of Alaska. I sang three songs and saw tears in the eyes of many of the older veterans when I sang the Toby Keith song, "American Soldier."
Giving Back With Music
As the son of an opera singer, Charles Glenn had very early training in both singing and percussion. Glenn has had the opportunity to sing the National Anthem for the St. Louis Rams, St. Louis Cardinals and St. Louis Blues. One of his greatest experiences was performing both the National Anthem and "God Bless America" for the St. Louis Rams versus the New York Giants football game just two weeks after September 11, 2001.
Glenn remembers another memorable performance—a celebration for the the airmen at Scott Air Force Base commemorating one soldier’s retirement.
We played all types of music for them, and they had such a great time partying with us that many of them brought their instruments and sat in with the band!
Monroeville has supported the United States Military in an unexpected way. They used the Veteran's Memorial Building in their home town of Newport, TN to shoot promotional photos and videos.
We were given permission to shoot promo photos and videos in the amazing old building as a way of showing the community that it deserved repair and a new purpose. We got to visit with veterans like JC Williams who spent the entire day with us sharing stories about his experiences. We played some songs for him and even got to interview him, but the most amazing experience was reciting the ‘Pledge of Allegiance’ with him before we began our photo shoot. Thank you for your service Mr. Williams!
What Makes An American Sound?
Numerous instruments are employed to create the distinct sounds of different American musical genres. Wayne Toups has found fame playing his own special American musical recipe.
I created this style of music back in the eighties, that was a fusion blend of cajun, rock, rhythm and blues, all put together and I called it ZyDeCAJUN...and it worked. That is still what I do today and I also have the opportunity to share this awesome culture we have with the world. My accordion is what makes my music stand out.
Singer Glen Carroll has always loved playing the guitar and drums, and music remained an important part of his life during his time in the service.
While I was in the military, I would go to the recreation center and check out a guitar or a drum set and spend what little free time I had playing music. Playing music or flying an aircraft are the only two things I found that you can do and not think of anything else except what you’re doing at that exact moment.
Country music is an American institution, and Doug Briney thinks that its unique sound can be defined by a few select instruments.
For me, there are a couple instruments that really define country, the first being the guitar. The second is the steel guitar and last I'd say is a good fiddle. When you put those three together, it sounds great!
A Melting Pot of Musical Influences and Instruments
From Scott Joplin’s ragtime to Toby Keith’s country vocals, the sounds of American musicians continue to inspire future generations. Certain instruments are essential to certain musical styles—what do you need for an authentic tune?
Charles Glenn loves the fact that, in America, you have true freedom of expression, and that can include reinvention.
I started out as a drummer and percussionist. I always loved the sound of jazz and the feel of it, but never sang out in public—I only played it. There was a local music group that needed a jazz singer to cover their gigs due to an emergency, and I thought I could give it a shot. It was great! I was hooked.
Jazz and gospel music originated in America, and each have many instruments that make up their unique sounds. Charles Glenn knows what his must-haves are.
For some people, saxophone defines jazz music, but for me, it is piano: Ramsey Lewis, Oscar Peterson, Herbie Hancock, Joe Sample, Joe Zawinul really define it for me.I got into gospel music when I joined Central Baptist Church 12 years ago, and it was through the minister of music that I was able to travel to Germany to teach gospel music performance. I think the Hammond B3 organ really defines gospel music.
For bluegrass music, Monroeville knows that there is an international influence on this classic American sound.
One of the most distinguishing sounds in (American) bluegrass music comes from an instrument that is ironically from African descent. The banjo has a twang to it that was technically developed into that machine-gun sound by using three finger rolls made famous by Earl Scruggs. That sound is what drives a lot of the rhythm and power behind bluegrass.
From the Classical Concert Hall to the Motor City
Nikki Glenn is a vocalist and violinist with a very diverse career that includes working with The Black Eyed Peas and in musicals such as The Night of The Living Dead. Nikki Glenn had classical training at the University of Missouri—St. Louis, but found influences everywhere in the diverse world of American music.
I was majoring in music performance in college, and after my senior recital, I was really feeling dissatisfied with classical performance, so I started going to listen to different bands. I found a band that did rock, blues, and jazz fusion. One day I got up the courage to sit in with them, and eventually joined the group. The leader of the band was really encouraging and I learned the basics of improvisation from him.
Nikki Glenn’s education about American R&B and Motown increased when she started working as a wedding singer.
I really only knew Aretha Franklin and the Temptations at first, I had no idea there were so many artists that came from Motown...The bass and drums really define Motown. If you think about how recognizable the bass and beats are, it’s amazing. So many times during our performances, all you have to play is the drums and the bass for songs like ‘My Girl’ and ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’ and people immediately head for the dance floor!
Adoniz also had diverse influences, his family exposed him to many great American musicians at a young age.
I ended up playing pop and R&B by falling in love with great musicians that I heard growing up. My parents played a lot of Michael Jackson, Bob Marley, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and secretly Kenny Rogers throughout the whole house. So I was always jamming as a kid. When my older brother had girls over the house he would play the cool and sexy stuff like H-Town, Silk, Jon B, and Boys to Men.
For Amber Waves of Sound
America truly has one of the most exceptional music landscapes in the world. Music can enhance celebrations, raise troop morale, and inspire others all over the world. Want to help American troops while enjoying new tunes on this Independence Day? Doug Briney invites anyone to download a copy of his current single "Unknown Soldier". Briney has offered that “all the way through Labor Day, 100% of the profits from this song are going to our troops through Operation Troop Aid”.