The Best Vocal Performances of All Time: A Musical Chronology/Timeline
Crucial Moments in Music History: A Musical Chronology (some of the
dates are estimates, or perhaps wild guesses)
42,000 BC Paleolithic bone flutes found in Germany are the oldest known musical instruments.
3000 BC Possible date for early
Sumerian hymns and laments.
daughter of King Saragon of Akkad, creates the first
songbook, a collection of temple hymns.
2000 BC The earth's oldest love song may be
The Love Song for Shu-Sin
was an ancient Sumerian king). Egyptians are playing percussion instruments.
630 BC The birth of Sappho of Lesbos, the
first major lyric poet we know by name; her poems were "lyrics" because they
were sung to the strummings of the lyre, a harp-like instrument.
Caedmon's Hymn is the first English lyric still extant today. (All dates
from this point forward are AD.)
Sumer is i-cumen in
the "Cuckoo Song" is one of the earliest surviving Middle English songs for which we have both the
lyrics and the music, along with How Long the Night.
1542 Andrea Amati of Cremona is credited with the invention of the violin.
1564 The birth of William Shakespeare, who included around 100 songs in his work.
1579 "Greensleeves" is perhaps the oldest
English language song that remains popular today. It was mentioned in
1597 Dafne, the first known opera, is performed in Florence,
1666 The first Stradivarius violins.
1685 The births of Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frederick Handel.
1709 The first piano is created in Padua, Italy.
1742 Handel's Messiah debuts.
1756 The birth of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
1770 The birth of Ludwig van Beethoven.
1775 British troops sing "Yankee Doodle" to mock American colonists; the
colonists defiantly adopt the song as their own.
1776 Despite the ringing words of the American Declaration of Independence,
the slave trade introduces African work songs, chants and
spirituals to America; they will influence blues and jazz.
1815 ― Francis Scott Key publishes "The Star-Spangled Banner."
1846 Adolphe Sax invents the saxophone.
1873 The birth of Uncle Dave Macon, the "grandfather of country music."
1873 The birth of Enrico Caruso, the first great
1877 Edison invents the phonograph.
1897 Ragtime becomes popular, paving the way for
the blues and jazz.
1913 ― The birth of Woody Guthrie, author of "This Land is Your Land." He would write angry songs about the racism of
the Trumps. Billboard publishes its first chart of
1922 ― The first US radio station begins
1923 ― The first recordings by Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith and other black
artists. Fiddlin' John Carson records two "hillbilly" songs and creates what we
now call "country music."
1925 ― The Grand Ole Opry airs on WSM in Nashville. Performers
include Bill Monroe and Uncle Dave Macon.
1926 Bing Crosby makes his first record. Blind Lemon Jefferson is the first bluesman to enter a major
1927 ― The musical Show Boat with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein debuts on Broadway. It includes
"Ol' Man River" and its themes include racial prejudice and tragic love.
1929 ― Rudy Vallee is the first teen idol to be mobbed by
1932 ― Jazz composer Duke Ellington writes It Don't Mean a Thing, If It Ain't
Got That Swing, a song that presaged the swing era.
1935 Frank Sinatra earns $12.50 for his first professional performance.
1937 Hank Williams earns $15.00 for his first professional performance. A two-year-old boy runs down the
aisle at his Tupelo church to sing with the choir; his name is Elvis
1938 ― Roy Acuff joins the Grand Ole Opry.
1941 ― Les Paul builds a solid-body electrical guitar. Peter Seeger and
Woody Guthrie perform together as members of the Almanac Singers.
1942 ― Frank Sinatra is mobbed by bobby-soxers.
Billboard describes Sister Rosetta Tharpe's vocals as "rock-and-roll spiritual singing."
1946 ― Sixth-graders make fun of a weird loner who is "trashy" and
plays hillbilly music on his lunch breaks. His oddbird name is Elvis Aaron
Presley and he's a fan of Sister Rosetta Tharpe.
1947 ― Sister Rosetta Tharpe
invites a 14-year-old Little Richard to perform on stage with her.
1948 ― Columbia Records introduces the LP.
Elvis's music teacher tells
him he has no aptitude for singing! Elvis recalls: "I failed musicthe only thing I ever failed."
1950 ― Sam Cooke records "Peace in the Valley" and other gospel songs. But young
girls were more interested in the handsome, charismatic singer than
1951 ― Little Richard records his first single for RCA. Cleveland disc jockey
Alan Freed coins the term "rock and roll." Ike Turner's "Rocket 88" has been
called the first rock'n'roll record.
1953 ― Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, both age 12, begin to sing harmonies like
those of their idols, the Everly Brothers. Elvis Presley wanders into the
Memphis studio of Sam Philips and records two tracks.
1954 ― Doo Wop climbs the pop charts. "I Got a Woman" by Ray Charles has
been called the first soul record. Sony introduces the transistor radio.
Elvis releases his first single, "That's Alright Mama," for Sun Records.
1955 ― Little Richard teaches the world how to
really rock'n'roll, with his suggestive, raunchy "Tutti Frutti."
and the Comets have the first number one rock hit with
"Rock Around the Clock."
1956 ― Little Richard's "Long Tall Sally" reaches number one on the R&B
charts; he's the first black artist to attract large numbers of white people to
his concerts. Elvis has his first number one hit with "Heartbreak Hotel."
1957 ― Elvis dyes his hair black, buys
Graceland, and has three more number one singles, to go with four consecutive
number one albums. His movie Jailhouse Rock includes
the first music video.
1958 ― Madonna, Prince and Michael Jackson are born. Jimi Hendrix buys his first
guitar for $5. Marvin Gaye and Phil Spector begin recording. Elvis joins the army. Billboard debuts its Hot 100
singles chart. The Country Music Association (CMA) is founded. RCA introduces
the first first stereo LPs. Iran, no doubt troubled by Elvis and his legions of
female fans, bans rock music due to the the "extreme dangers" of hip gyrations!
The Everly Brothers hit number one with "All I Have to Do Is Dream." (It is the
only song to hit #1 on the Pop, R&B and Country charts simultaneously. It also
goes to #1 in the UK.) Chuck Berry releases "Johnny B. Goode." Buddy Holly
releases "Rave On." The Beatles record their first songs. The top song of the
year is "Volare," meaning "to fly." The term aerospace is coined. NASA
is formally created and named. The strongest-ever solar maximum is
recorded. The first peace symbol is created. Bertrand Russell launches
the campaign for nuclear disarmament. The invention of the integrated circuit,
the precursor of the modern computer. The first video game is invented.
1959 ― Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper die in the plane
crash. The first Grammy winners include Frank Sinatra,
Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington and Nat King Cole. Elvis
was a nominee.
1960 ― The birth of the Twist and a dance craze. The Shirelles launch the "girl
group" era. Elvis retires from the army then quickly records one of his best
albums, Elvis Is Back!
1961 ― Sam Cooke hits with "Chain Gang" and "Cupid." Del Shannon's "Runaway"
introduces the synthesizer. County singer Patsy Cline crosses over to the pop charts with "Crazy" and
"I Fall to Pieces."
1962 ― Ray Charles records a country album, fusing country with soul.
Decca Records turns down the Beatles! The Beatles replace George Best with Ringo
Starr and release their first single, "Love Me Do."
1963 ― The Beach Boys dominate the charts with three Top 10 albums. The Beatles
have their first number one hit with "Please Please Me." Little Stevie Wonder,
age 13, has his first hit for the fledgling Motown Records label.
1964 ― Merseybeat and other British "beat" bands dominate the charts: the
Beatles, the Hollies, the Animals, the Kinks, et al. The Beatles
hold the top five slots in the Billboard singles charts and perform on the Ed Sullivan Show.
1965 ― Bob Dylan goes electric at the Newport Folk Festival. The Byrds' "Mr. Tambourine Man"
introduces psychedelic rock. The Rolling Stones score with "Satisfaction." Michael
Jackson, age 7, fronts the Jackson 5.
1966 ― Cream, the first hard rock supergroup, records the album
Fresh Cream. The Jimi Hendrix Experience forms. Psychedelic rock evolves with Pet Sounds by
the Beach Boys and Revolver by the Beatles.
1967 ― The Monkees are the first made-for-TV boy band.
Jimi Hendrix records "Hey Joe," "Purple Haze" and "The
Wind Cries Mary." Cream records "Sunshine of Your
1968 ― Things are heating up. Cream, Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles and Elvis
contend for the throne.
1969 ― Elvis has his 18th and last number one single with "Suspicious
Led Zeppelin release their first album. The Who
release the first rock opera and the first concept album, Tommy.
1970 ― Jimi Hendrix plays an electrified hard rock version of "The Star-Spangled
Banner" at Woodstock. The Beatles disband.
1971 ― Women dominate the Grammy Awards, taking all four top categories. Carole
King wins Record, Album and Song of the Year, while Carly Simon takes the Best
New Artist award.
1972 ― Michael Jackson has his first number one solo hit with "Ben," a love song
to a rat!
1973 ― Elvis's Aloha from Hawaii is the first global concert
satellite broadcast and the soundtrack is his last number one album.
1974 ― Patti Smith, the "godmother of punk," releases
the first punk rock single, Hey Joe. Elvis wins his third and final Grammy for
"How Great Thou Art."
1975 ― Bruce Springsteen releases Born to Run and makes the cover
of TIME. Queen releases A Night at the Opera with the
hit "Bohemian Rhapsody." The Sex Pistols create punk rock.
1977 ― The Bee-Gees rule disco with
Saturday Night Fever. Elvis dies. The King is dead, but his music lives
1980 ― The Sugarhill Gang cracks the Billboard Top 100 with "Rapper's Delight."
Hip-hop and rap go mainstream. U2 releases its
first album, Boy.
1981 ― MTV debuts prophetically with Video Killed the Radio Star.
1982 ― Michael Jackson, the "King of Pop," releases the best-selling album of
all time, Thriller.
1983 ― Michael Jackson moonwalks while performing "Billie Jean."
1984 ― Madonna performs "Like a Virgin" in white lingerie at the MTV Music Video
Awards. Prince releases Purple Rain.
1985 ― Whitney Houston releases her first album, then launches the Virgin Tour.
1986 ― Aerosmith re-releases "Walk the Way" with the rap group Run-DMC.
1987 ― The Beastie Boys have the first hip-hop/rap record to hit number one on
the Billboard charts.
1989 ― Nirvana performs unplugged on MTV. Grunge rock has arrived. Britney Spears,
age 8, debuts on Star Search.
2002 ― The debut of American Idol; Kelly Clarkson is the first winner.
2003 ― Apple's iTunes allows songs to be downloaded for 99 cents.
2004 ― Freddie Mercury and Queen steal the show at Live Aid. Green Day releases American Idiot.
Game Changers, the Most Influential English Language
Songs of All Time, a Chronology (all dates are AD):
"Caedmon's Hymn" (circa 658) may be the first popular song in Old English to which we have retained the lyrics.
"Sumer is i-cumen in" aka "The Cuckoo Song" (circa 1200) is one of the earliest
surviving Middle English songs for which we have both lyrics and music.
"Greensleeves" (circa 1580) may be the oldest English song that
remains popular today.
"Yankee Doodle" (1775) was sung by British troops to mock American colonists;
the colonists adopted the song as their own.
"The Star-Spangled Banner" (1815) by Francis Scott Key.
"Home Sweet Home" (1823) was one of the first songs to enjoy major success on
the gramophone, it was performed by the "Swedish Nightingale" Jenny Lind.
"O Susanna!" (1848) was the first big hit for Stephen Foster.
"Old Folks at Home" (1851) was a hit for Stephen Foster with legal
sales of 130,000 copies.
"The Battle Hymn of the Republic" (1861) with lyrics written by the poet Julia
Ward Howe became an anthem of abolitionists and Union soldiers.
"After the Ball" (1892) was the first million-seller and helped establish Tin
Pan Alley as the Mecca of American popular music.
"Happy Birthday (to You)" was written by two schoolteachers in 1893.
"My Gal is a High Born Lady" (1896) was the first ragtime smash hit, and a
precursor of jazz. It was the first mainstream hit
inspired by black music.
"We Shall Overcome" (1901) became an anthem of the American
Civil Rights Movement.
"Alexander's Ragtime Band" (1911) by Irving Berlin.
"Porgy and Bess," a folk opera written by George Gershwin, premieres in 1935.
"Strange Fruit" (1939) performed by Billie Holiday was a stark depiction of lynchings of African Americans.
"This Land is Your Land" (1940) was a call for equality by legendary folk
singer/songwriter Woody Guthrie.
"I'll Never Smile Again" (1940) was the first Billboard #1 chart-topper,
recorded by Frank Sinatra. Girls fainted
when he sang.
"Annie Get Your Gun" (1946) by Irving Berlin.
"Hound Dog" (1952) recorded by Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton would become
a hit for Elvis Presley.
"Tutti Frutti" (1955) by Little Richard.
"Maybellene" (1955) by Chuck Berry. Rolling Stone
said: "Rock & roll guitar starts here."
"West Side Story" (1957).
"Johnny B. Goode" (1958) by Chuck Berry.
"Blowin' in the Wind" (1962) by Bob Dylan was a call for peace and brotherhood.
"My Guy" (1964) was a hit for Mary Wells. Written by Smokey Robinson, it was the
first #1 hit for the Motown record label.
"I Wanna Hold Your Hand" (1963) by the Beatles heralded the "British Invasion."
"The Velvet Underground & Nico" (1967) was the forerunner
of art rock, alternative rock, new-wave and punk.
"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" (1967) was the Beatles' response to "Pet
"White Rabbit" (1967) by Jefferson Airplane introduced acid rock.
Ditto for "Purple Haze" by the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
"Imagine" (1971) by John Lennon became an anthem of the "make love not war" movement.
"Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars" (1972) by David Bowie
introduced glam rock.
"Stayin' Alive" (1977) by the Bee Gees ruled the disco
"Rapture" (1981) by Blondie and Debbie Harry was the first #1 song to
"Beat It" (1982) by Michael Jackson was the first major music video by a black artist
"Cats" (1982) began its 18-year-run on Broadway.
"Do They Know It's Christmas" (1984) by Band Aid was an international call for
brotherhood and charity.
"Enter Sandman" (1991) by Metallica impacted heavy metal.
"Lose Yourself" (2002) by Eminem was the first rap song to win an Accademy
Award for best original song.