A Rainbow of Diversity Created California’s Legendary Music Scene – A Timeline

Carlos Santana - Photo by Xavier Badosa
Carlos Santana, whose birthday is July 20 has influenced California music - Photo by Xavier Badosa

Curated by JOHN DALY

California has a remarkably diverse music history that dates back from the ancient Indigenous times through today’s Alternative and Hip Hop sounds. History illustrates that The Golden State has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to inclusivity in its music scene.

From the influences of Indigenous, Latino, and African-American artists, California has built a musical legacy that has led to today’s sounds. Here is a curated timeline of the history of California’s music scene.

The Early Years

Many indigenous communities have lived in California and the sound has been incorporated into popular music over the centuries. The classical composers incorporated Native American music into their work. They formed what was called the Indianist movement. Apache leader Chief Geronimo composed the song “Own Medicine” and Carlos Troyer published it later.

California became a state on Sept. 9, 1850 and eventually got its own state song, “I Love You, California.” It was written in 1913 by F. B. Silverwood and Alfred F. Frankenstein put Silverwood’s words to music.

Music in California Over Time:

The 1920s music scene in California was marked by the influx of African-American influence in the Golden State. Los Angeles was the center of the movement powered by notables Paul Howard, Sonny Clay and Curtis Mosby. Read more here. One of Sonny Clay’s bands The California Poppies, reflected the new direction. During Prohibition, Culver City’s Plantation Club was the hub of great jazz in LA. Read more about the Plantation Club here.

1930-1950: Sidney Robertson Cowell collected several American folk songs and used them in the WPA Northern California Folk Music Project. Jazz was also influential and on the way up, particularly in Northern California as well, with musicians like Dave Brubeck, Jimmy Giuffre, Cal Tjader, Carla Bley and “Peanuts” composer Vince Guaraldi.

1950-1969: Nashville sound dominated country music in California. Merle Haggard and Buck Owens led a reaction against Nashville sound. The Robins, an R and B group started in San Francisco and established the doo-wop sound. The Kingston Trio promoted American folk music in the early 1960s.

While that is a favorite music genre for many pundits in California, “swingers,” had some fun with cool and stylish tracks. The popular “Rat Pack,” comprised of Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Peter Lawford, Joey Bishop and Frank Sinatra met at the Los Angeles home of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. But Sinatra hit a home run with “California,” recorded in 1963:

Poco and The Eagles 

1970-1989: Poco and the Eagles guided California’s music industry during this period, with a free flowing Americana-style sound. Santana continued on with tracks that blended Latin, jazz, funk and rock music.

1990-2000s: The 1990s era is known as “The Golden Age of Hip Hop.” Ice Cube, 2Pac, Eazy-E, Yo-Yo, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg started producing hip hop tracks in this period. Pavement, an indie rock band based in Stockton emerged in the early 1990s. Other music genres including metalcore, hardcore punk, pop-rock, pop-punk, alternative rock, Desert Rock, alternative metal, experimental, and Christian Rock gained popularity in California.

The 2010s: Kendrick Lamar made his major-label debut in 2012 when he produced M.A.A.D City and Good Kid.

Latin American and Mexican Music Today

California has strong cultural and historical connections with Hispanic influences and Mexico. It has many Spanish radio stations, Mexican and Mariachi music bands. Son, Norteno and Ranchero music is popular in the state. Radios stations from the Central Valley to the San Francisco Bay play the music frequently.

Chris Montez, Santana, Ritchie Valens, and Jenni Rivera are among the most popular Mexican-American singers in California. The La Pena Cultural Centre, Berkeley has promoted traditional Latin-American music and Salsa for many years. It has fostered peaceful relations between Latin Americans and Californians.

Daddy Yankee, Ruben Blades, and Pitbull have made reggaeton more popular in California. You can find several dance clubs in Chula Vista, Los Angeles, and Long Beach. Some musicians fuse hip-hop with reggaeton. It has made the music genre more popular among Latin music fans.

Nightclubs and Music Venues

California is the home of popular historic music venues like The Fillmore, the Great American Music Hall, Fox Theater, Trout’s Nightclub, The Troubadour, The Lighthouse CafĂ© and The Mint in Los Angeles. Each venue is a landmark in California’s music industry.