The history of American art song is as eclectic as the cultures that make up the country's population. From the earliest parlor songs of Stephen Foster in the mid-nineteenth century to the appealing melodies of Richard Hundley, American song has passed through a number of transformations. Above all, though, has been the style's unwavering sense of individualism - not dissimilar to the very qualities that make America, well, America.
The genre remained rooted in traditional European practices well into the twentieth century, as it was customary for American composers to study in Germany, and, beginning in the early twentieth century, with the great Nadia Boulanger in Paris. Slowly but surely, a uniquely American style began to develop; many credit Ned Rorem's impressive body of song repertoire as the catalyst for renewed interest in song composition by the mid-twentieth century. Among the other giants of the twentieth- and twenty-first centuries: Dominick Argento, Ernst Bacon, Samuel Barber, Amy Beach, Leonard Bernstein, Margaret Bonds, Marc Blitzstein, H. T. Burleigh, Aaron Copland, John Duke, Charles Griffes, Lee Hoiby, Charles Ives, Edward MacDowell, Stephen Paulus, André Previn, and Glen Roven.
Today's composers continue the tradition of eclectic song style, with voices such as William Bolcom, Benjamin C.S. Boyle, Tom Cipullo, Gabriela Lena Frank, Scott Gendel, Ricky Ian Gordan, Daron Hagen, Jocelyn Hagen, Juliana Hall, Jake Heggie, Lori Laitman, Libby Larsen, Philip Lasser, John Musto, and Scott Wheeler, to name a few. American poetry has also come of age, offering a colorful and varied array of texts that enable larger and richer song outputs. Not to mention - students and professionals alike have begun more and more to uncover the vast treasures in the American song repertoire, spurring the promotion and growth of the genre.
It is doubtful that a definite American art song style will surface, but that seems to be one of the most endearing qualities about the genre. There is something pleasantly parallel between the varied history of American art song and the diverse makeup of the country which we love so dearly.