Last week I was on vacation. It was great to get away and relax. Believe me I definitely needed to rest my body and mind. I am not sure which part needed more rest. Vacations are good for one of my favorite sports of people watching. Young and old, single men and women, couples, people of various races, from all around the world enjoying their time away from usual life. As I watched everyone I thought to myself; this is what the entire world looks and sounds like all gathered in one place at one time. I started to think that if this is the identification of the world, what the mainstream is. I hear that term mainstream so much, especially when attached to America – the entire term rendered Mainstream America. I needed to know what that term mainstream really meant, and so I turned to my dictionary. Mainstream: main current of thought or behavior: the ideas, actions, and values that are most widely accepted by a group or society, e.g. in politics, fashion, or music.
When I saw music in the definition as an example, my interest was peaked even more. What made me weigh in on this discussion of mainstream America was a couple of weeks ago the announcement that Jimmy Fallon will be taking over for Jay Leno as host of the Tonight Show. Several years back when Jay Leno took over the hosting job from Johnny Carson, NBC network executives felt that mainstream America was ready for Leno, and his brand of comedy. As for the music, remember that Doc Severinsen and his star-studded big jazz orchestra took care of the music for the Tonight Show with Carson for years. However, when NBC made the change from Carson to Leno, Branford Marsalis took over as music director with a new band, and jazz guitarist Kevin Eubanks followed a little while after Marsalis.
Were Doc Severinsen and his band mainstream musicians? In their time, yes. Of course, when Marsalis and his band took over most also considered them mainstream musicians. While both groups were in the mainstream in their own times gives us more insight into mainstream American music. It would seem that the mainstream has a way of shifting. The key words within the definition of mainstream are “most widely accepted by a group or society”. Which group or society? I ask that question because most are now speculating how Fallon’s house band The Roots will fare after making the trip with Fallon to the Tonight Show. Is mainstream America ready for The Roots?
Well, The Roots are different because they are sort of a musical anomaly, an instrumental hip-hop band. Hip-hop music was widely accepted years ago and today it is normal to see and hear hip-hop artists everywhere you turn on television. The very popular band The Roots, have won four Grammy Awards to prove their acceptance by fellow musicians and the music buying public. However, are these awards and accolades emitting from mainstream America or their large and growing fan base?
Here is where the debate begins. In my opinion, Jay Leno was not acceptable to mainstream America until the older audience that faithfully watched Johnny Carson, as well as younger followers of Leno all viewed together. Why did NBC choose Branford Marsalis to replace Severinsen as musical director? Even though Marsalis was a younger musician, he was a jazz musician, thus tolerable to the older Carson audience as well as the younger Leno crowd. Kevin Eubanks presented a similar choice. Now here we are at the crossroad again. NBC executives are looking for Fallon to bring his younger viewers, but I am sure they do not want to lose that older audience right now. Not with David Letterman and music director Paul Shaffer, ready to move in and take the older audience away from the Tonight Show. The Roots will certainly entertain the younger, musically hip audience as they are doing with Fallon currently. Is that older audience ready to embrace them or will they tune off the Tonight Show? Personally, I am looking forward to The Roots performing on the larger stage along with Fallon and watching the revamped show. They are a part of what made Fallon’s current show very popular. I really believe mainstream America has shifted once again. Apparently, NBC executives believe it too!