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Accents in American popular music

Tunesmith 18 Oct 13 - 08:04 AM
mg 18 Oct 13 - 04:13 PM
Gibb Sahib 18 Oct 13 - 04:39 PM
meself 18 Oct 13 - 10:32 PM
GUEST,Tumesmith 19 Oct 13 - 03:33 PM
JohnInKansas 19 Oct 13 - 04:49 PM
GUEST,Tunesmith 20 Oct 13 - 10:27 AM
Janie 20 Oct 13 - 11:41 AM
GUEST,Tunesmith 20 Oct 13 - 03:47 PM
Jeri 20 Oct 13 - 05:45 PM
Suffet 20 Oct 13 - 07:16 PM
Gibb Sahib 20 Oct 13 - 08:32 PM
Suffet 20 Oct 13 - 09:32 PM
Gibb Sahib 20 Oct 13 - 09:56 PM
Janie 21 Oct 13 - 09:55 PM
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Subject: Accents in American popular music
From: Tunesmith
Date: 18 Oct 13 - 08:04 AM

This subject has been aired before but I've never had a satisfactory answer.
Now, American's clearly have American accents when they sing but do they sing in regional accents?
For example, can you place Bruce Springsteen in New Jersey ( or that general area) from hearing him sing?
Did Hank Williams sound like he came from Alabama ( or at least that general part of the South )?
Do any well known performers sing in a pronounced Brooklyn, or Bronx or whatever, accent?
And, how about folk music?
Are there distinct regional accents in American folk music?


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Subject: RE: Accents in American popular music
From: mg
Date: 18 Oct 13 - 04:13 PM

You can often recognize a southern or Appalachian accent. Probably a Spanish or Swedish accent. Don't know if you could distinguish west coast from midwest from southwest..a strong Boston or New York accent would probably come through.


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Subject: RE: Accents in American popular music
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 18 Oct 13 - 04:39 PM

Are there distinct regional accents in American folk music?

The short answer is: yes.

I'd feel more comfortable if the "folk" part was left out though, only because it is potentially confusing and somewhat arbitrary criterion to consider against the accent issue.

The long answer....?

Part of it: Accents (as often discussed...as often resisted by some posters here!) tend to be associated with musical style, rather than region.


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Subject: RE: Accents in American popular music
From: meself
Date: 18 Oct 13 - 10:32 PM

Short answer: they all sing like they're from the South.

Long answer: they almost all sing like they're from the South, but some don't.


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Subject: RE: Accents in American popular music
From: GUEST,Tumesmith
Date: 19 Oct 13 - 03:33 PM

Now lots of British pop/rock singers sing in - a sort of - American accent.
I say " a sort of" because I wonder if Americans consider that such British artists as have an American accents?
One problem with that is that once a listener knows where a singer comes from, I'm convinced that often the listener thinks they hear a local accent.
I bet the that first time Americans heard, for example, Adele and Amy Winehouse ( without knowing that they were English) they just assumed that they were American.


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Subject: RE: Accents in American popular music
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 19 Oct 13 - 04:49 PM

Vocal and acting coaches/schools put quite a bit of emphasis on "learning accents," and almost anyone even marginally skilled at this can affect a chosen dialectic to suit the part, or the musical style of the moment.

Some performers choose a particular accent, and/or other regional charactistics and make those a part of their "stage identity," but there's mostly little relationship between where they started/came from and how they sound. What you hear from performers is most often "learned affectation." Some do it well enough to sound "natural," and many do it less well and just come across as "cute."

While there are well identified "regional" accents in most parts of the US, in current practice local dialects are more "granular" than regional. A "Boston accent" is taken be most as the "Hahvahd accent" of (or affected by) John Kennedy, but "less literate" Bostonians are likely to speak something else that's nearly unintelligible to any one living 20 miles down the road.

Some decades ago, linguists studying regional language variations pronounced the "midwest accent," common from Kansas/Nebraska eastward to the "hills, as the most "neutral and intelligible," to be copied by actors and radio "heads" who wanted to appear to have "no accent." Mixing of populations in and out of the region has somewhat diluted that distinction. Much of the west coast area has relatively little accent identifiable by most people here.

In the southeast, nobody "from Florida" actually lives there, so accents are unidentifiable, even if some can be discerned as "different."

To some extent, it's easier to identify where someone comes from by their suntan than by their speech. Southwesterners turn brown, or on the west coast sort of a "yellow-brown," Floridians turn sort of a red-orange, and Washington staters turn red (but that's not tan, it's rust) or sort of a greenish-yellow-grey (that's really mildew).

Summing up, I'd agree that any accent in music performance is generally chosen and learned to suit some sort of tradition associated with the genre of the music; and it's useless to try to pin one to a US regionalism other than as a stereotyping of some traditional "subculture."

John


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Subject: RE: Accents in American popular music
From: GUEST,Tunesmith
Date: 20 Oct 13 - 10:27 AM

Well, I always thought - as a Brit - that accents in the States were quite varied.
For example, I would have thought that a "typical" Bronx accent is very different than a working-class Texas accent.
Is that true?


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Subject: RE: Accents in American popular music
From: Janie
Date: 20 Oct 13 - 11:41 AM

I agree that accents in the States are quite varied. However, the conversational accent of a singer can be very different from when they sing.


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Subject: RE: Accents in American popular music
From: GUEST,Tunesmith
Date: 20 Oct 13 - 03:47 PM

Janie, why would that be?
Is it like the UK, where singers adopt a different voice ( from their speaking voice) for singing?
If so - again - why?


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Subject: RE: Accents in American popular music
From: Jeri
Date: 20 Oct 13 - 05:45 PM

Singers may try to sound like they think they're expected to. I don't think most people do that, but I don't know most people.

Regional accents are incredibly varied. Texas accents vary from super-twang all the way to "I'm from the northeast, and I don't hear any accent". I'm from NY state, and I can think of 4 distinct accents, and I know there are more. Some try to lose it, and some try to intensify it, probably for the same reasons they do in the UK.


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Subject: RE: Accents in American popular music
From: Suffet
Date: 20 Oct 13 - 07:16 PM

Greetings from New York City!

Bev Grant is from Brooklyn, still lives there, and sounds like she does. For example, listen to her song We Were There and you will understand what I mean.

Anne Price is from the Bronx, and she still lives there. If you listen carefully you can detect more than a hint of a Bronx accent in her song My Time.

--- Steve


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Subject: RE: Accents in American popular music
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 20 Oct 13 - 08:32 PM

You sing in the accent appropriate to the musical style, or the accent of the singers who are your models for the style. "Country" has an accent most conform to, as does R&B, as does Folk, etc.

Beyond that, there will be differences in accent based in what you often don't consciously realize. And chances are, because you don't consciously realize them, they are not that significantly different than the "standard" and/or other people won't really notice them, either.

Beyond *that*, there are certain preferred pronunciations that broadly seem to work better with singing. The General American "r", after vowels, is widely considered to sound kind of funny, so people tend to treat 'r' in singing in a different way than they might in speech. The same goes for some diphthongs. To speak "I" in General American (as opposed to Southern, for instance) is to create a diphthong, "aah-ee". But in singing, that "ee" doesn't sound so nice, so it may be reduced to "aah". Likewise, some of the "fronting" of vowels, in the speech of the Northern Cities, doesn't sound "nice" when singing, so it is eliminated. They pronounce "ham" like "her-am", but would likely sing "ham"!

I don't consider myself to be singing in anything particularly different than my speaking accent in an example like this. However, certain conventions of singing do creep in. If anything, I'd consider *this* to be an example of regional accent (from Connecticut). By contrast, in the examples shared by Steve/Suffet, I personally don't hear "Brooklyn/Bronx," but rather just "Folk Music."

I remember noticing, about 8-10 years ago, that there was a style of music, this sort of neo-folk ukulele teenager music, where the singers would pronounce their liquid 'r' very strongly. Anyone who wanted to sing that style, naturally, would do that sort of 'r'. The extra r sounds to me like a "West Coast" (California, Oregon, Washington) speech thing to me, but of course you could be from anywhere and do it.


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Subject: RE: Accents in American popular music
From: Suffet
Date: 20 Oct 13 - 09:32 PM

Greetings again,

I still hear a very strong Brooklyn accent in Bev Grant's voice. Of course you have to make allowance for the fact that this is singing, not ordinary conversation, but the accent is clearly there. Also, it is a contemporary Brooklyn accent, one that you would expect to hear from real Brooklynites today. It is not, however, the caricature of a 1940s-1950s Brooklyn accent often found in film.

Anne's Bronx accent is much more subtle, and it sounds like she has consciously tried to overcome it in her singing voice. Furthermore, it is a middle class Bronx accent, so it tends to sound like a middle class accent from the other boroughs. Nevertheless, there is still a hint of it in her song, and it is more noticeable when she talks.

--- Steve


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Subject: RE: Accents in American popular music
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 20 Oct 13 - 09:56 PM

I certainly understand what you're saying, Steve, but unfortunately I personally can't hear it. Maybe I need some coaching on what to listen for. I don't deny that either has a "modern Brooklyn" or "middle-class Bronx" accent of some sort. Everyone has accent, and this is where they're from, so be it. But if it's not particularly distinguishable from other (however haphazardly) designated "standard" or "mainstream" accent(s), then the example seems too subtle to be meaningful.

Which brings me back to needing coaching on what to listen for. If there is a "hint" (earlier you said "more than a hint"), what exactly is that hint?

I ask, in part, because I am interested in accents. And because, if the OP can also hear it, then he's just received three "regional" singing accents to compare: Brooklyn, Bronx, and Central Connecticut.


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Subject: RE: Accents in American popular music
From: Janie
Date: 21 Oct 13 - 09:55 PM

Thoughtful posts GS.   

Tunesmith, I think it is multidetermined. Both by the singer and the listener. Emotions of the singer and the listener, what one desires to emulate, the song itself, and what one is drawn to, or attuned to hearing, etc. etc.

No simple explanations, and a very interesting topic to explore.


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