Music Through the Years…and Times


Did you ever think about a certain relationship, that is, with music? They say, art imitates life. We can’t forget that life imitates art too! In times of national crisis, certain songs reflect these emotions. Some musicians and singers create songs, genres, styles, language, values and appearances. Song lyrics also express judgment.  


This article is about three generations: The GI or Greatest Generation (my parents), which is 1901 to 1926; Baby Boomers (my siblings and me), 1946 to 1964; and the Millennials 1981-1996 (my children). Some smaller groups were born in between each generation.


Music is a compelling way to describe and bring back memories and validation of these times.


I chose to focus on the groups I know well, in the order of my parents, me, and my offspring. I know that music—in part—defined my generation, the Boomers. The Beatles and Motown come to mind. But I’ll start with my parents, the Greatest Generation.


Greatest Generation: 1901-1926


Nothing defines the music of my parents’ childhoods more than Swing and Big Band. This music was the backdrop for the years before and during WWII. It was loud, cool, jazzy with saxophones, trumpets, trombones and four-piece rhythm sections. Think how this sound mirrors the crashing, clashing war and the need to vent because of tension that came with war.


In 1935, for the first time, there were radios in most households. Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway had people doing the “swing” in their own homes. What an outlet considering these scary times.


Who doesn’t know “In the Mood,” which is still played at many parties now. We have no choice but to do the jitterbug! That was performed by the Glen Miller Band that traveled overseas to entertain and cheer on the troops. This 50-piece band traveled throughout Europe to boost the morale of the soldiers (Glen Miller subsequently died in a plane crash).


Artie Shaw is another name of a band leader who joined the Navy, forming a band that served the Pacific theater. Sailors were entertained four times a day all over the Pacific for 18 months.


The Greatest Generation is great for enduring and winning a world war. Their music was the greatest too. The defeat of the Nazis and the men returning home represented a victory. Here is a video of jubilant troops coming home.


My dad came home from the war, married my mother and they had their first boomer, my brother, in 1948. Life was very hopeful. The post-war economy ensured flourishing times in the United States. There was now a large middle class, large home ownership, high employment and a baby boom. In other words, the greatest generation created many of us!


Baby Boomers: 1946-1964


Boomers refer to the rise in population. After WWII ended, these post-war parents had a lot of babies.


Wow! That meant all these babies would inherit the wonderful post-war economy. Boomers had lofty expectations that defied many assumptions. Sexual roles were challenged, especially the role of women and reproductive choice. Sexuality, dress and religion were challenged and relaxed. Hair for both men and woman was very long. Remember the classic 1979 film, “Hair?”


Still, the Boomers had their war, Vietnam. Many young people protested this war, which made no sense to them. This was not like the enemy of their parents, the Nazis. The protests were pervasive and angry and divided Americans.


Music mirrored these times. Think: Bob Dylan who wrote “Blowin’ in the Wind” and other anti-war songs.


Woodstock was a huge concert at a farm in upstate New York in 1969. There were over 400 attendees and iconic performers, among so many, Joni Mitchell, Jimi Hendrix, Crosby Stills Nash and Young. The concert and music defined this counter cultured youthful generation whose mantra was peace and love.


Motown was another sound track. The Temptations, 4 Tops and the Supremes are a few groups. Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin (rest in peace) also graced the airways. The music, called “soul,” was another appropriate match for the times. Of course, there’s Ringo, John, Paul and George—the prolific Beatles. In the early 60s, they sang “She loves you yeah yeah yeah,” and “I want to hold your hand.” They became more psychedelic (having to do with drugs) with “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” Toward the end, John brings the main message of peace in the song “Imagine.”


The boomers grew up, went to work, calmed down (some even voted for Reagan) and gave birth to the next two generations: The X Generation and Millennials. The Millennials are my children, so I’ll stick with them.


Millennials: 1981 to 1996   


Of note, Millennials are the first people to have computers in their homes. They also have lived through the 9/11 attacks which stunned our country. Add to that the Iraq war. Add to that school shootings that continue, sadly.


There are some negative stereotypes of Millennials. They are called lazy, narcissistic, erratic job jumpers and somewhat delusional. Some wonderful strengths are open-mindedness, I call this “difference” blind. They are supportive of equal rights for minorities. They are competent, expressive, upbeat and receptive to new ideas and change.


Maybe all these characteristics are a product of the self-esteem focused baby boomers. Maybe it is the rate that technology grew, faster than they were growing.


Their sound track was delivered on CDs and later on computers and phones. Millennial teenagers seemed “plugged in” all the time. The internet allowed unprecedented access to music, both current and from the past. 


Music ranged from radio hits to rap and underground. Short shirts for women and low hanging pants for men were no doubt inspired by the music. Think: Britney Spears, Beyoncé, Eminem and Kanye West. My daughter’s music was girl bands like the Spice Girls and boy bands like NSYNC. The sheer range of music was exponential due to the technology that permeated Millennial years.


To sum it up, humans love music. Sometimes it’s just the melody, but more so the thoughts and feelings that validate how we think and feel. What music is out there now that describes and nurtures you through these politically divided and contentious times? How has your relationship to music changed and grown throughout the years?



Beth grew up in Camden, New Jersey and majored in Education and History at Rutgers University and later obtained a Masters in Family Therapy at Drexel University. She’s married to her husband of 41 years with two young adult children—a daughter and son—who both work in NYC. She loves movies, Netflix, books, history, linguistics and exploring the human condition. From her extensive background, she’s accumulated many stories and lessons and looks forward to shaping the conversation.