How African American Spirituals Moved From Cotton Fields to Concert Halls

After the Civil War, Touring Groups of Black College Singers Popularized Slavery-Era Songs, Giving Rise to a New Musical Genre

“Swing low, sweet chariot….” These words are familiar to many Americans, who might sing them in worship, in Sunday school, around campfires, in school, and in community choruses. But the black singers responsible for introducing this song, and hundreds of other slave spirituals, to white America after the Civil War remain underrecognized almost 150 years later.

Spirituals are sacred songs composed anonymously by black Americans. Before the Civil War they were sung in the privacy of black spaces—the brush arbor, the praise house, the cotton field, the levee. After the …

When Numeracy Superseded Literacy—and Created the Modern World

The Renaissance's Embrace of Numbers Revolutionized Commerce, Science, and Art

In 1025, two learned monks, Radolph of Liége and Ragimbold of Cologne, exchanged several letters on mathematical topics they had encountered while reading a manuscript of the sixth-century Roman philosopher, …

The ’70s Pop Idol Who Was a ‘Safe’ Sex Symbol for Girls

The Partridge Family's David Cassidy Had an Androgynous Sweetness That Made Him Part Older Brother, Part Girlfriend

When David Cassidy died, aged 67, in November 2017, reports in the press suggested that legions of middle-aged women were plunged into mourning. Cassidy, whose career was kick-started with the …

How Nashville ‘Killed’ Traditional Country Music—and Then Reinvented It

The Genre Created by 'Hillbillies' and Folkies Now Speaks to Pickup-Driving Suburbanites

25 years ago, American Heritage writer Tony Scherman declared traditional country music dead and done with, asking, “How far from its social origins can an art form grow before it …

When L.A.’s Recording Studios Ruled the Music Scene

The City's Irreplaceable "Temples of Sound" Were Customized With Hot Tubs, Personal Chefs, and Waterbeds

It was 1962, and the rock and roll record business was on the rise after the multiyear slump that had followed the debuts of artists like Elvis, Chuck Berry, and …

The Alabama Recording Studios Where Music Was Never Segregated

How the Muscle Shoals Sound Made a Rich Brew Out of Rock, Country, and R&B

Rod Stewart wasn’t pleased.

It was 1975, and the British rocker had traveled to Sheffield, Alabama, with a specific mission in mind: He wanted to record at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio …