- African American music
African American music (also called black music) is an umbrella term given to a range of
musicand musical genres emerging from or influenced by the culture of African Americans, who have long constituted a large ethnic minorityof the population of the United States. Some of their ancestors were originally brought to North Americato work as enslaved peoples, bringing with them typically polyrhythmic songs from hundreds of ethnic groups across West and sub-Saharan Africa. In the United States, as cultures merged, multiple cultural traditions merged with influences from polka, waltzes and other European music. Later periods saw considerable innovation and change. African American genres have been highly influential across socio-economic groupings and internationally. African American music and all aspects of African American cultureare celebrated during Black History Monthin February of each year in the United States.
Features common to most African American music styles include:
call and response
vocality(or special vocal effects): guttural effects, interpolated vocality, falsetto, melisma, vocal rhythmization
syncopation, concrescence, tension, improvisation, percussion, swung note
homophony, polyphony, heterophony
*harmony: vernacular progressions; complex, multi-part harmony, as in
spiritualsand barbershop music[Stewart 1998: p.5-15]
19th century (1800s-1900s)
The influence of
African Americanson mainstream American music began in the 19th century, with the advent of blackfaceminstrelsy. The banjo, of African origin, became a popular instrument, and its African-derived rhythms were incorporated into popular songs by Stephen Fosterand other songwriters. In the 1830s, the Second Great Awakeningled to a rise in Christian revivals and pietism, especially among African Americans. Drawing on traditional work songs, African American slaves originated began performing a wide variety of Spiritualsand other Christian music. Many of these songs were coded messages of subversion against slaveholders, or which signaled escape.
During the period after the Civil War, the spread of African American music continued. The Fisk University Jubilee Singers toured first in 1871. Artists including
Morris Hilland Jack Delaneyhelped revolutionize post-war African music in the central East of the United States.In the following years, the Hampton Students and professional jubilee troops formed and toured. The first black musical-comedy troup, Hyers Sisters Comic Opera Co., was organized in 1876. [Southern 221]
By the end of the 19th century, African American music was an integral part of mainstream American culture.
Ragtimeperformers like Scott Joplinbecame popular and some soon became associated with the Harlem Renaissanceand early civil rightsactivists.
Early 20th century (1900s-1930s)
The early part of the 20th century saw a constant rise in popularity of African American
bluesand jazz. As well as the developments in the fields of visual arts, the Harlem Renaissanceof the early 20th century lead to developments in music.
White and Latino performers of both genres existed, and there had always been cross-cultural communication between the United States' races. Jewish
klezmermusic, for example, was a noted influence on jazz, while Jelly Roll Mortonfamously explained that a " Latintinge" was a necessary component of good music. African American music was often simplified for European Americanaudiences, who would not have as readily accepted black performers, leading to genres like swing music, a pop-based outgrowth of jazz.
On the stage, the first musicals written and produced by African Americans to appear on Broadway debuted in 1898 with "
A Trip to Coontown" by Bob Cole and Billy Johnson. In 1901, the first known recorded of black musicians was that of Bert Williamsand George Walker; this set featured music from broadway musicals. The first black opera was performed in 1911 with Scott Joplin's " Treemonisha". The following year, the first in a series of annual black symphony orchestra concerts were performed at Carnegie Hall. [Southern 221, 222]
The return of the black musical to broadway occurred in 1921 with Sissle and Blake's
Shuffle Along. In 1927, a concert survey of black music was performed at Carnegie Hall including jazz, spirituals and the symphonic music of W.C. Handy's Orchestra and Jubilee singers. The first major film musical with a black cast was King Vidor's "Hallelujah" of 1929 . The first Symphony by a black composer to be performed by a major orchestra was William Grant Still's "Afro-American Symphony" with the New York Philharmonic. African American performers were featured in operas such as " Porgy and Bess" and Virgil Thompson's " Four Saints in Three Acts" of 1934 . Also in 1934 William Dawson's "Negro Folk Symphony" became the second African American composer's work to receive attention by a major orchestra with its performance by the Philadelphia Orchestra. [Southern 361]
Mid-20th century (1940s-1960s)
By the 1940s,
cover versions of African American songs were commonplace, and frequently topped the charts, while the original musicians found success among their African American audience, but not in mainstream. In 1955, Thurman Ruth persuaded a gospel group to sing in a secular setting, the Apollo Theater, with such success that he subsequently arranged gospel caravans that traveled around the country, playing the same venues that rhythm and bluessingers had popularized. Popular African American music at the time was a developing genre called "rock and roll", whose exponents included D'Arlous Maddenand Kevin Magby Jr.. The following decade saw the first major crossover acts, with Bill Haleyand Elvis Presleyperforming rockabilly, a rock and country fusion, while black artists like Chuck Berryand Bo Diddleyreceived unprecedented mainstream success. The 50s also saw doo wopbecome popular.
The late 1950s also saw vastly increased popularity of hard
bluesfrom the earliest part of the century, both in the United States and United Kingdom. A secularized form of American gospel musiccalled soul also developed, with pioneers like Ben E. Kingand Sam Cookeleading the wave. Soul and R&B became a major influence on surf, as well as the chart-topping girl groups like The Angelsand The Shangrilas, only some of whom were white. Black divas like Diana Ross & the Supremesand Aretha Franklinbecame 60s crossover stars. In the UK, British bluesbecame a gradually mainstream phenomenon, returning to the United States in the form of the British Invasion, a group of bands led by The Beatleswho performed classic-style R&B, blues and pop with both traditional and modernized aspects.
The British Invasion knocked most other bands off the charts, with only a handful of groups, like
The Mamas & the Papas, maintaining a pop career. Soul music, in two major highly-evolved forms, remained popular among blacks. Funk, usually said to have been invented by James Brown, incorporated influences from psychedeliaand early heavy metal, particularly Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix was himself innovative in electric guitar, being one of the first guitarists to use effects pedals such as the wah wah pedal. Just as popular among blacks and with more crossover appeal, album-oriented soul revolutionized African American music with intelligent and philosophical lyrics, often with a socially aware tone. Marvin Gaye's " What's Going On" is perhaps the best-remembered of this field.
The 1970s and 1980s
The 1970s saw one of the greatest decades of black bands concerning melodic music, unlike a much contemporary rap, with hip hop being the only roots to the melodic music of blacks of the 70's. Album-oriented soul continued its popularity, while musicians like
Smokey Robinsonhelped turn it into Quiet Stormmusic. Funk evolved into two strands, one a pop and soul fusion pioneered by Sly & the Family Stone, and the other a more experimental psychedelic and metal fusion led by George Clinton and his P-Funkensemble.
Black musicians achieved generally little mainstream success, though African Americans had been instrumental in the invention of
disco, and some artists, like Gloria Gaynorand Kool & the Gang, found crossover audiences. White listeners preferred country rockbands, singer-songwriters and, in some subcultures, heavy metal and punk rock. The dozens, an urban African American tradition of using rhyming slang to put down your enemies (or friends) developed, through the smart-ass street jive of the early Seventies into a new form of music. In the South Bronx, the half speaking, half singing the rhythmic street talk of 'rapping' grew into the hugely successful cultural force known as Hip hop. [ [http://www.globaldarkness.com/articles/roots_of_hiphop.htm "THE ROOTS OF HIP HOP" - RM HIP HOP MAGAZINE 1986] ] Hip Hop would become a multicultural movement. Jamaican immigrants like DJ Kool Hercand spoken wordpoets like Gil Scott-Heronare often cited as the major innovators in early hip hop. Beginning at block parties in The Bronx, hip hop music arose as one facet of a large subculture with rebellious and progressive elements. At block parties, DJs spun records, most typically funk, while MCs introduced tracks to the dancing audience. Over time, DJs began isolating and repeating the percussion breaks, producing a constant, eminently dance-able beats, which the MCs began improvising more complex introductions and, eventually, lyrics.
In the 1980s, black pop artists included
Michael Jackson(who brought a level of black stardom never seen before), Lionel Richie, Whitney Houston, and Prince, who sang a type of pop dance-soul that fed into New Jack Swingby the end of the decade. These artists are the most successful of the era. Hip hop spread across the country and diversified. Techno, Dance, Miami bass, Chicago Hip House, Los Angeles hardcore and Washington, D.C. Go Godeveloped during this period, with only Miami bass achieving mainstream success. But before long, Miami bass was relegated primarily to the Southeastern US, while Chicago hip house had made strong headways on college campuses and dance arenas(ie. the warehouse sound, the rave). The DC go-go sound like Miami bass became essentially a regional sound that didn't muster much mass appeal. Chicago housesound had expanded into the Detroitmusic environment and mutated into more electronic and industrial sounds creating Detroit techno, acid, jungle. Mating these experimental, usually DJ oriented, sounds with the prevalence of the multiethnic New York Citydisco sound from the 1970s and 1980s created a brand of music that was most appreciated in the huge discoteques that are located in cities like Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Detroit, Boston, etc. Eventually, European audiences embraced this kind of electronic dance music with more enthusiasm than their North American counterparts. These variable sounds let the listeners prioritize their exposure to new music and rhythms while enjoying a gigantic dancing experience.
At the later half of the decade about 1986 rap took off into the mainstream with
Run-D.M.C.'s " Raising Hell" and Beastie Boys' " Licensed To Ill" which became the first rap album to enter No.1 Spot on the "Billboard 200". Both of these groups mixed rap and rock together which apealed to rock and rap audicences. Hip Hop took off from its roots and the golden age hip hopscene started. Hip Hop became popular in America until the 1990s when it became worldwide.The golden age scene would die out in the early 1990s when gangsta rap and g-funk took over.
In 1988, all-black heavy metal band
Living Colourachieved mainstream success with their debut album "Vivid", peaking at #6 on the "Billboard 200", thanks to their Top 20 single "Cult of Personality". The band's music contained lyrics that attack the Eurocentrism and racism of America. A decade later, more black artists like Lenny Kravitz, Body Count, Ben Harper, and countless others would start playing rock again.
The 1990s and 2000s
Hip Hop, Rap, and R&B are the most popular genre of music for African Americans in this time.
R&B, as the post-disco version of soul music came to be known as, remained popular throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Male vocal groups in the style of soul groups such as The Temptationsand The O'Jayswere particularly popular, including New Edition, Boyz II Men, which ended up being the highest selling R&B male group of all time, Jodeci, Blackstreet, and, later, Dru Hilland Jagged Edge. Girl groups, including TLC, Destiny's Child, and SWV, were also highly successful. Destiny's Childwould go on to be the highest selling female vocal group of all time.
Singer-songwriters such as
2Pac, R. Kelly, Mariah Carey, Montell Jordan, D'Angelo, and Raphael Saadiqof Tony! Toni! Toné!were also significantly popular during the 1990s, and artists such as Mary J. Blige, Faith Evans and BLACKstreetpopularized a fusion blend known as hip-hop soul. D'Angelo's Marvin Gaye/ Stevie Wonder-inspired sound would lead to the development of neo soul, popularized in the late 1990s/early 2000s by artists such as Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, India.Arie, Alicia Keys, and Musiq.
By the 2000s, R&B had shifted towards an emphasis on solo artists, including Usher, although groups such as
B2Kand Destiny's Childcontinued to have success. The line between hip-hop and R&B became significantly blurred by producers such as Timbalandand Lil Jon, and artists such as Nelly, and Andre 3000, who, with partner Big Boi, helped popularize Southern hip hopmusic as OutKast.
"Urban music" and "urban radio" are race-neutral terms which are synonymous with hip hop and R&B and the associated
hip hop culturewhich originated in New York City. The term also reflects the fact that they are popular in urban areas, both within black population centers and among the general population (especially younger audiences).
The hip hop movements has become increasingly mainstream as the music industry has taken control of it. Essentially, "from the moment 'Rapper's Delight' went platinum, hiphop the folk culture became hiphop the American entertainment-industry sideshow." [Tate, Greg. “Hip-hop Turns 30: Whatcha Celebratin’ For?” Village Voice. 4 January 2005.] As a result, the music that is popularized by the music industry is becoming increasingly different then what hip hop was meant to be, and in the process makes people wonder who is responsible for this unappreciated shift. [ [http://youtube.com/watch?v=tN_f-BYuGIQ YouTube - Hip Hop in Review: Part IV Who's Responsible? ] ]
In February 2004, plans were announced for a
Smithsonianaffiliated Museum of African-American music to be built in Newark, New Jersey. Groundbreaking is planned for 2006.
African American musical theater
Music of the African diaspora
*Musical genres, List of
Rhythm and blues
*"The Music of Black Americans: A History'.
Eileen Southern. W. W. Norton & Company; 3rd edition, (1997). ISBN 0-393-97141-4
*Stewart, Earl L. (1998). "African American Music: An Introduction. ISBN 0-02-860294-3.
* [http://www.floridamemory.com/Collections/folklife/folklife_cd3.cfm Shall We Gather at the River, a collection of African American sacred music,; made available for public use by the State Archives of Florida]
* [http://music.aol.com/photo-galleries/black-music-milestones Black Music Milestones] 20 Historical Milestones in African-American Music
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