Immigration of Millions “Yearning to Be Free”

A significant Irish migration started with the Great Potato Famine in 1848; other European natural and man-made calamities caused many people to abandon hope for a safe future in Europe and turn toward a life in America.  

Between 1870 and 1916, more than twenty-five million immigrants came to America, looking for a better life.  Most of these immigrants came from Italy, Greece, Hungary, Poland and other Slavic countries.

According to Wikipedia, between 1850 and 1930, five million Germans migrated to the United States; and between 1820 and 1930, three and a half million British and four and a half million Irish immigrants came to American shores.

Ellis Island Immigrant Processing

New Immigrants Arriving at Ellis Island in 1902

We have been called a melting pot of many cultures and civilizations; however, this does not mean that these cultures became absorbed into one, homogeneous American standard.  What it means is that the definition of “an American” grew and changed with each new wave of immigration.

Nowhere do we see this more markedly than in our music.  See our discussion of this in the Section, entitled “Cultural Influences.”