In a recent Slate piece, Robert Pinsky discusses the use of dialect in Edgar Guest’s poems, and he slips in a single paragraph about music:
What does it mean that, in a process accelerated long ago with the marriage of R & B with country, nearly all American popular music seems to be written in dialect? To my inexpert ear, some older stars, like Bruce Springsteen and Mos Def, still perform in language similar to how the performers actually speak. Springsteen’s working-class characters are moving partly because he does not exaggerate their speech. In contrast, many white British singers of the blues sound far more black and American than Junior Wells or Buddy Guy. Across a range of genres, in the arcane subdivisions and niche variations of “hip-hop nouveau” and “retro country,” dialect seems to rule. In great-grandpa’s day, Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra sang so much the way they spoke that you can hear New Jersey in his singing, and maybe a touch of Yonkers in hers.
The hypothesis that most contemporary popular musicians sing in an affected dialect seems to require some testing. I’m not sure that there are a great number of examples that are as exaggerated as Guest’s poems.