Black Musicians Are The Catalyst For All Genres Today
With hundreds of genres in music today, it’s hard to keep up with a new sound or inspiration that is being discovered. But it’s important to know the key ingredients that built and influenced artists and sounds all across music history. Specifically, the sound of black artists who started a mass number of genres and tuned the sound and structure into what they are today
Throughout history, there have been both trials and tribulations for black people, beginning with many setbacks and adversities. Common ground was always found in the community and, most importantly, in music.
When enslaved Africans were brought to North America, a flux of new sounds began to develop. Folk music is often described as ‘music made by the people as a whole.’ The sound included songs and raw vocals that focused on memorization and joint sound. Something enslaved Africans developed while being in North America was singing spirituals and regular mantras that would develop into vocal storytelling and escape routes (1). Origin songs like “Sweet Chariot” and “Wade in the Water” are prime examples of early songs that were widespread among enslaved Africans. Folk has now spread into gospel music, blues, and country, highlighting the main ingredients of a voice that can tell a story without relying on writing.
Known for its use of a vast amount of instrumental assistance, the genre of jazz was said to have been birthed in Harlem. The city itself bloomed with talented black musicians who created a new sound of music. The genre also blossomed as a sign of change, becoming a voice for black artists who fought for civil rights and were at the forefront of America (2). Artist Billie Holiday specifically spoke about the unjust lynchings of black Americans in “Strange Fruit.” (3) Louis Armstong stands as the face of jazz with his powerful saxophone. The incorporation of voice and instrument blending makes a sound that would never separate. Jazz influences genes that encompass both elements, such as rock, pop, and rhythm and blues.
The “death of disco” opened up a totally new genre that was created by a sound in Chicago. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, houses began to rise. The black LGBTQ+ community started to have a significant impact on the development of “disco” music. This new genre had similarities to its roots, featuring upbeat rhythms and vibes that were perfect for dancing. What they found was that house music provided a new type of music that had similar effects to disco and started to gain popularity in clubs and hangouts. This genre was called house music, and it has since evolved, paving the way for other genres like EDM, pop, and hip-hop. (4)
In the birthplace of the Bronx, hip-hop began as a sound created by the blending of genres on turntables. Over time, hip-hop transcended boundaries and became a global phenomenon, exerting influence on diverse cultures and communities worldwide. It provided a platform for black artists to address social and political issues, celebrate their heritage, and challenge prevailing stereotypes(5). Furthermore, hip-hop’s impact extended beyond music, shaping areas such as fashion, dance, language, and the visual arts. Today, we see many influences on style and culture because of hip-hop and the black artists that fueled the genre.
There are so many cultural influences that surround our world today. These genres are just a few of the bunch that have evolved and amassed a new sound of music that has taken the world by storm. It is important to remember the history behind our favorite music in order to comprehend our present.
References: (1) An Exploration of African American Folk Music (2) African American Musicians reflect on what is this thing called jazz? (3) The story behind Billie Holiday’s ‘Strange Fruit’ (4) The Black History of House Music (5) A deep dive into the origins and future of hip-hop.
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