Music: Path to African American Success Stories

Music: Path to African American Success Stories

By Jessie Prysock

Defining the African American impact on American music is a near-impossible task. African American influences are so essential to American music that one could argue that there would be no American music without them. Historically, we can trace the evolution of African American music to the Transatlantic Slave Trade, when the forced migration of thousands of Africans ended in the American colonies, each man, woman, and child carrying the rich and melodious heritage of African song and dance. It was these sounds of Africa that echoed through the plantations of their new home, consoling and strengthening them in the face of their adversity, evolving as they passed from one to another for generations to come.

Many of the musical instruments that accompanied early African American music, like the banjo and the drums, have their predecessors in the traditional instruments of African music. During the Reconstruction and Jim Crow era, African American music truly began to evolve beyond its African origins, spurred by European influences and the broader Americas. African American musicians with the freedom to create and perform beyond the borders of their enslavement took to the stage. A musical heritage true to the journey and culture of African Americans began to take shape. The earliest rendition of musical genres attributed to African American culture is the blues.

Pioneered by the great Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith, the Blues are a musical genre that spawned countless variations for decades to come, from the Memphis Blues to the Mississippi Blues, country blues to electric blues. Following close on the heels of the blues was jazz, a sound that was big and bold as the blues were as personal and intimate. Characterized by big bands replete with a huge array of instruments, jazz was the African American answer to the European opera. And like the blues, jazz left room for a slew of variations that gave birth to the indisputable greats that crossed color lines and international borders cementing African American musical contributions as the gold standard in the industry; names like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Dizzie Gillespie, and Count Basie.

In modern times, African American music continues to dominate the global music industry. Rap and hip hop emerged almost simultaneously and immediately took the world by storm. Rap sprung from inner-city neighborhoods in a gritty and poetic verse that struck back at the systems of social and economic oppression bearing down on African American neighborhoods across the country, was quickly adopted around the world.

We’ll bring you the conclusion to this report next week (Saturday, December 19th.2020).

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