In the 18th and early 19th centuries, the majority of American music could be predominantly divided into two categories: folk music and classical music.
The classical music was crafted for the elite of Philadelphia, New York, Savannah, New Orleans, and other metropolitan cities. Many of these wealthy were immigrants of upper class Europe; many more were American born privileged who sought to match the artistic elitism of their European friends. The sounds of European composers such as Mozart, Handel, and Beethoven were regularly heard in concert halls throughout the United States. Any American born composer who desired to be taken seriously would pattern their works after the European masters in crafting their own symphony, concerto, string quartet, or choral work. Serious music, then, was considered property of the select upper class.
In contrast, the vast majority of Americans considered the long, extended art music to be showy and pretentious. For them, music was utilitarian in purpose. Its value was gained when it was sung, hummed, played, or used for dance. Music was not performed by the select for the elite; it was performed by everyone for everyone.
Not only was its performance in the hands of every person, but its composition was a right of everyone as well. No extended classes of formal compositional training were required to craft a song. It originated from something down inside a person and came flowing out with the slightest emotional or visual trigger. The spark might be a beautiful sunset, the sight of a sleeping baby or the urge to dance around the kitchen with your loved one. Words followed uneven meters and possessed awkward rhymes. Music was gangly and roughly hewn, but the song was heart-felt and sincere. Pretentious it wasn’t; homemade it was.
It was called folk music. In contrast with classical music, which was music for the elite, folk music was music by the people.