African-American Music Appreciation Month

June 7, 2018

Much of America’s music comes from the black community

Carl Carallas/Staff Illustration
Thomas Dorsey (left) and Whitney Houston were amazing examples of African-American music, in bringing life into their generations.

Originally deemed “Black Music Month” in 1979 by then-President Jimmy Carter, June was intended to celebrate appreciation for the influence that African Americans have had on music in the U.S. Janice Williams in Newsweek wrote in 2017, “Just about every genre of music has, in some way, been touched and influenced by African-Americans.”

Though Carter announced the monthlong celebration in 1979, an official presidential order wasn’t made until 2000 when the House of Representatives approved House Resolution 509. The resolution officially recognized the importance, study and celebration of African-American music. In 2009, it was renamed “African-American Music Appreciation Month” by then-President Barack Obama.

Many genres of American music have been touched by the African-American community. Blues, though its musical and lyrical elements can be traced back to West Africa, is a product of slavery, according to Encyclopedia.com “The History Of African-American Music.” When and where it came from is unknown. What is known is that the blues genre spread through regions as early bluesmen wandered around in the late 1800s.

As blues flowed into the 20th century, it evolved. It took on aspects from other genres like gospel and ragtime. Before the 1920s, black women popularized a style of blues considered “classic.” Women like Ma Rainey, who became known as the “Mother of the Blues,” according to Biography.com, used her singing to capture the genre’s theatrical side. Others, such as Bessie Smith, dubbed the “Empress of the Blues,” sang with raw emotion.

Once the 1920s rolled around, interest shifted to mostly men singing country blues. Sometimes, the songs were accompanied with banjo or string, but most often guitar, according to Encyclopedia.com.

A move to Chicago developed the genre of Chicago blues, which was native to the industrial city. It was built around electric instruments, like electric guitar, harmonica, bass, and more. Urban blues also turned into rock and roll.

Dubbed “America’s classical music,” according to Encyclopedia.com, jazz combines musical traditions of black New Orleans and the blues. A popular name in the jazz scene was Louis Armstrong, who received international recognition in the 20s. His talent guided the way for future jazz artists. Also check legendary musician Ray Charles, who also was called “Father of Soul.” He combined blues, gospel and jazz to create his hits during 1950s.

Gospel music grew from African-American spirituals combined with modern blues sound. Early gospel music was standardized with Thomas Dorsey’s “Precious Lord,” which was later popularized by Mahalia Jackson. Jackson is one of the best-known early gospel singers. She was recognized for her expressiveness and musical interpretation, according to Encyclopedia.com. Gospel had a greater influence on popular black music. Artists like Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin and Whitney Houston all started in black gospel choirs.

Rap is an influential form of hip-hop culture. It has elements of blue, jazz and soul with Caribbean calypso, dub and dance-hall reggae. One of the earliest innovators, DJ Kool Herc, was popular for using large speaker systems and multiple turntables for endless grooves of dance beats. Sometimes, he would talk over the music, and this was one of the earliest forms of rapping, according to Encyclopedia.com.

 

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