Date of Award

Spring 5-10-2014

Degree Type



School of Music

Director of Thesis

Jacob Will

First Reader

John Fitz Rogers


This thesis examines musical genres present in South Carolina from the time of the Native Americans through 20th century rhythm and blues. Each style of music has combined musical elements over time to create the state’s rich cultural heritage. For thousands of years before the arrival of European explorers, Native American music put a high emphasis on the voice, as the absence of a written language facilitated a strong oral tradition. Free- flowing vocals with rhythmic accompaniment were relied upon to pass down sacred legends of the tribe, stressing vocal musicality as the highest art form. With the arrival of European settlers came the arrival of Western harmonic traditions, and Native American expressionism became overtaken by chordal relationships and careful formal construction. Along with harmonic ideals came new instruments, and their introduction into Native American culture inspired a musical blend that would influence the most prolific styles of American folk music for years to come. As the British established firm control in the colony of Carolina, Charleston began to emerge as the cosmopolitan center of the South, with mixed wealthy elite that supported artistic patronage. One of such establishments was the St. Cecilia Society, a concert series that became a way for a newly formed nation to assert cultural sophistication in the years surrounding the Revolutionary War. While the upper echelon of South Carolina society was attempting to establish musical equality with Europe, the culture of those that they enslaved was blossoming into a combination of African rhythms and Western Christianity. From this mixture, the “negro spiritual” was born; a style which is often credited as being one of the first African American genres of music. Following emancipation, South Carolina slave culture continued to inspire American cultural phenomena, including the music of blues, gospel and jazz. As African American musical influence continued to grow into the rhythm and blues, it became increasingly taboo for whites to listen, and the youth of South Carolina flocked to the coast, becoming curators of a new, aptly named Beach Music genre. Each one of these unique styles has had a direct influence in developing of the rich musical tradition that South Carolina has enjoyed for generations.


© 2014, Elizabeth Oliphant