The connections between Liverpool and America go back hundreds of years. Many local people followed the Pilgrim Fathers to the new world. These included Richard Mather, a disaffected preacher from the Dingle, Liverpool, who left home in 1635 and set up home in Boston, Massachusetts. His son Increase, and grandson Cotton, like many in their family, were both noted clerics.
Liverpool became one of the main ports of emigration to America, including over one million Irish migrants who left home following the disastrous Irish potato famine in the 1840s. From 1840, Canadian Samuel Cunard began the first transatlantic crossing between Liverpool, Halifax (Nova Scotia) and on to Boston. Cunard ships began the regular trips between Liverpool and the US, gaining a reputation for reliability and speed. In 1917, Cunard unveiled their new Headquarters at the Pier Head, Liverpool, situating it between the Royal Liver Building and the Port of Liverpool Building. Cunard employed many Liverpool seamen, who would become important in the music scene of Liverpool.
Liverpool and the Confederacy
In the 1860s, with the outbreak of the American Civil War, Liverpool became embroiled in the war. Its rich cotton merchants gave financial assistance to the Confederates, due to the Federal Government blockading the Southern ports. The confederacy dispatched agent James Dunwoody Bulloch to Liverpool, in order to construct a navy. Liverpool’s finest shipbuilders then built the ships that would go on to sink the Northern fleet. Liverpool’s shipbuilders built The Alabama, the most destructive ship of the American Civil War. At Lairds, they referred to it as the “290”. With reparations of $15,500,000 for Britain to pay back after the war, Great Britain was in debt to America. Liverpool’s connections with the American south were firmly established, which makes it no surprise that it was the music from the south that found its way back to Liverpool.
Liverpool and African-Americans
African-American performers frequently visited Liverpool in the early 19th century. Groups like the Virginia Minstrels – who pioneered the minstrel show as opposed to the minstrel act – opened their 1843 British tour in Liverpool on 21st May. Pell’s Ethiopian Serenaders, accompanied by William Henry lane (nicknamed Master Juba), who pioneered the ‘Tennessee Double-Shuffle’ performed in Liverpool in 1848. Hague’s Georgia Minstrels (1866), the Fisk Jubilee Singers were a group of predominantly ex-slaves, who visited Liverpool several times during the 1870s to perform negro spirituals (Fryer 1984). Legendary names such as singer Paul Robeson (1922 and later dates), the jazz musician Duke Ellington (1933), and Django Rheinhart also visited Liverpool.
Liverpool: The Gateway to Europe
When war broke out in 1914 across Europe, with millions dying, Britain looked across the Atlantic to the US to join us as allies. A German U-boat sunk the Liverpool-built Cunard ship, Lusitania, in 1915, which led to America joining the allies. Hundreds of thousands of American soldiers disembarked at Liverpool on their way to fight in Europe. Sadly, this would be repeated in the Second World War, when over one million American servicemen passed through Liverpool.
Liverpool and America: RAF Burtonwood
Many thousands of those American servicemen ended up on an acquired airbase just outside of Liverpool, called Burtonwood. Those thousands of servicemen would also become important to Liverpool’s music scene, as musicians and as fans.
These American influences undoubtedly molded the cultural landscape of Liverpool. It’s no wonder that music lovers of the time called it the “Nashville of the North”.