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America's Musical Heritage

Build an epic playlist of more than 200 years of musical sounds and styles drawn from all four corners of the United States of America.
America's Musical Heritage is rated 3.7 out of 5 by 38.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Delightful Survey of American Music What could be better--Pete Seeger's nephew on American musical history? Anthony Seeger mines the Smithsonian's Folkways collection to introduce a wide variety of musical influences from the cultural tapestry of this country. I enjoyed his focus on musical instruments and the occasional anecdotes from his family. Only wish it had been longer.
Date published: 2023-06-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fun and informative! This was one of those courses that left me wishing for more; indeed, a lot more! Taught by a member of the Seeger family, to whom we owe a great deal for their own musical contributions to American music, we are introduced to the many different traditions of music in America, as well as to some fascinating information about the evolution of the instruments that feature so prominently much of that music, including the guitar, banzo, brass instruments, and piano. With the assistance of several guests, each of whom is an expert in a field of our musical heritage, and featuring many selections from the Smithsonian American Folkways collection of American musical genres, each lesson -- for they are too informal and fun to be called "lectures" -- explored the history, evolution, and blending of various musical styles. We learn -- or relearn, as the case might be -- of just how truly multi-cultural what has come to be known as "American music" truly is, and of what a great debt we owe to African spirituals, camp songs and dances, and rhythms in today's vast range of music. It was hard to watch some of these lessons while on the treadmill, because I could not tap my toes at the same time!
Date published: 2023-06-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from America's Musical Heritage A very interesting course, especially the historical aspects of both music and dance that relate to politics and religion.
Date published: 2022-12-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great content but a little dry There is some great content here, but I found the course a little dry.
Date published: 2022-12-08
Rated 2 out of 5 by from A bit on the boring side While I am interested in this topic, the instructor just sat and read from a prompter. It was not up to the usual high standards of the other Great Courses I have purchased.
Date published: 2022-11-28
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Entertaining, but not great I'm a big fan of folk music and roots music so I thought this would be interesting. Not sure what I was expecting, but this was not quite it. Having said that I did learn several things about America's musical heritage that I did not know before, so that made it worthwhile. He had a tendency to play large segments of songs when snippets would have given the flavor he was trying to share. Also too many remote interviews for my taste. The course was definitely centered around the Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. That is neither bad or good, I suppose, just something to be aware of.
Date published: 2022-10-25
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Incomplete!!! American music is more than just folk music. What about Jazz, popular music, Broadway, and many other genres. How about the growth of music from the 30s to the 60s. Beside that this entire course is a "commercial" pointing to how we can purchase music. Does Wonderium ever consult people like me who have taken many music courses over the years on potential course content. Sorry, a strikeout...
Date published: 2022-08-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent presentation of material I enjoyed the focus of the course- the diversity and variety of the American folk music. THis is an excellent introductory survey that would lead to a deeper study of each musical genre in greater details.
Date published: 2022-07-07
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Survey over 200 years of musical sounds and styles that are inextricably linked with the spirit and history of the United States of America.


Anthony Seeger

From hymns and spirituals, to songs of protest, and the national anthem; music has always played a powerful role in American life.


University of California, Los Angeles

Anthony Seeger is a Curator and Director Emeritus of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. Additionally, he is a Distinguished Professor of Ethnomusicology Emeritus at the University of California, Los Angeles. Born into a musical family, he is also an anthropologist, ethnomusicologist, audiovisual archivist, record producer, and amateur musician. Professor Seeger received his BA in Social Relations from Harvard University and his MA and PhD in Anthropology from the University of Chicago.

Professor Seeger lived in Brazil for nearly 10 years and spent much of that time as a member of the Graduate Program in Social Anthropology in the Department of Anthropology at the National Museum in Rio de Janeiro. His anthropological research focused on the music and culture of the Kĩsêdjê people (formerly known as the Suyá) of Mato Grosso, Brazil. He also helped establish the Musicology/Ethnomusicology/Music Education MA program at the Brazilian Conservatory of Music.

Professor Seeger later returned to the US to serve as director of the Archives of Traditional Music at Indiana University Bloomington, where he also taught. He then moved to the Smithsonian Institution to assume the direction of the recently acquired Folkways Records and to become the first curator of the Smithsonian’s Folkways archival collection. He established the Smithsonian Folkways Recordings record label, where he was the executive producer for more than 250 CDs as well as a collaborator on DVDs and radio series. He was also the faculty director of the UCLA Ethnomusicology Archive.

Professor Seeger has been active in several professional organizations. He served as president of the Society for Ethnomusicology, president and secretary general of the International Council for Traditional Music, chair of the Research Archives Section of the International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives, and vice president of the Brazilian Association for Ethnomusicology. Professor Seeger was elected as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and he received a Guggenheim research fellowship, among other grants. He was awarded the Tai Chi Traditional Music Prize for lifetime achievement from the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing and also received the Lifetime Contribution Award from the Brazilian Studies Association.

Professor Seeger has published three books, four coedited volumes, and more than 120 articles and book chapters on the music and culture of Indigenous Brazilians, Indigenous rights issues, ethnomusicology, audiovisual archiving, American music, intellectual property, and other subjects. Among Professor Seeger’s books are Nature and Society in Central Brazil: The Suya Indians of Mato Grosso and Why Suyá Sing: A Musical Anthropology of an Amazonian People. With Dr. Shubha Chaudhuri, he coedited Archives for the Future: Global Perspectives on Audiovisual Archives in the 21st Century. Additionally, he produced and presented a 1988 series of six 30-minute radio shows for the BBC on American traditional music. Professor Seeger now lectures in the US and abroad.

By This Professor

America's Musical Heritage
America's Musical Heritage


Inheriting America’s Musical Traditions

01: Inheriting America’s Musical Traditions

Use classic children’s music—everything from jump rope rhymes to lullabies—as a fascinating window into America’s musical traditions and how they open up a plethora of musical doors and memories. Also, get an introduction to some of the many incredible treasures contained in the Smithsonian Folkways Recordings series.

29 min
American Revolutionary and Wartime Music

02: American Revolutionary and Wartime Music

American music has shaped the meaning of war, making it a more shared experience. Take a closer listen to music from the Revolutionary War (“The President’s March”) and the Civil War (“I’m Going Home to Dixie”), as well as anti-war songs including “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier.”

25 min
European Empires and American Music

03: European Empires and American Music

The United States is built on a foundation of pre-existing musical heritages from people who were already in North America before the nation was born. Survey the musical traditions of the British, French, and Spanish empires, as well as influence from Indigenous groups—some of which still endure to this day.

33 min
Minstrel Shows and Variety Shows

04: Minstrel Shows and Variety Shows

In this lecture, Professor Seeger wrestles with the development of American minstrel shows in the 1830s, with their roots in slavery and racial stereotypes. Then, he reveals how these problematic shows laid the groundwork for other musical traditions, including circuses, medicine shows, and the popular entertainment known as vaudeville.

30 min
Music of American Movement and Dance

05: Music of American Movement and Dance

From square dances (the official state dance in over 20 states) to the waltz (one of America’s earliest dance crazes), investigate the relationship between movement and music in the United States. Discover how the human body can synchronize itself to an external rhythm—a response known as rhythmic entrainment.

29 min
Hymns, Spirituals, and Chants in America

06: Hymns, Spirituals, and Chants in America

Examine the main strands of religious music in the United States. Among the many you’ll look at are spirituals (both European and African variations); religious chants from Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim traditions; and ring shouts and shape-note singing. Also, spend time with popular compositions like “Northfield” and “Amazing Grace.”

32 min
Brass Bands, Powwows, and Folk Festivals

07: Brass Bands, Powwows, and Folk Festivals

How does music bring like-minded people together? In this lecture, turn to three traditions of voluntary, public music in America: brass bands, powwows, and folk music festivals. Learn how each tradition—despite their unique sounds and histories—offers fellowship, reinforces bonds, and helps foster a sense of communal history.

28 min
American Music of Politics and Protest

08: American Music of Politics and Protest

In the United States, the ties between music and political and protest movements are deep and long-standing. Here, explore political parodies known as “zipper songs” and iconic songs about disenfranchised women, workers, and African-Americans, including “Bread and Roses,” “Solidarity Forever,” and “We Shall Overcome.”

30 min
The Banjo: An African Gift to American Music

09: The Banjo: An African Gift to American Music

Follow the story of the banjo, a musical instrument whose development is intertwined with larger American themes of slavery, conflict, struggle, ingenuity, and musical inventiveness. Plus, learn how musical instruments change shape and sound, and deepen your understanding of the ways we interpret cultural and musical ownership today.

27 min
The Roots of Country Music in America

10: The Roots of Country Music in America

Visit the Appalachian region of the Southeast and unearth the roots of “country music” (a term that wasn’t used until the 1950s) in mountain “hillbilly” music. Along the way, consider some of the many tropes of this genre of music, exemplified by a song from 1947 called “Goodbye, Old Paint.”

28 min
American Piano, Ragtime, and Early Jazz

11: American Piano, Ragtime, and Early Jazz

From concert pianos to player pianos, explore the inner workings of one of music’s most iconic instruments and its many variations. Then, witness the power of the piano in ragtime music (including Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag”) and its role in the emergence of jazz, one of America’s most thrilling musical forms.

31 min
The Musical Gumbo of New Orleans

12: The Musical Gumbo of New Orleans

What makes the city of New Orleans more musically extraordinary than other American cities? The answer: a rare combination of distinct musical and cultural influences coming together in one place. Professor Seeger closes out this course with an appreciation of the importance of place in American music.

32 min