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Music News and Interviews

Black Contributions to Music: Blues

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In continuing my Black Contributions to Music series, which explores the many ways Black individuals globally have contributed to different genres of music, I wanted to cover one of the most iconic Black-created genres, blues music. 

Blues first originated in the American Deep South. The genre began with influence from African musical traditions, Black work songs, and spirituals. Blues uses a specific scale and chord progressions and is characterized by the call-and-response pattern. Call-and-response in music can be traced back to African music styles, and blues itself is closely related to spirituals, the religious music of Black Americans. Many early blues songs reflected a narrative on some topic and as blues singer Charlotte Forten is famously quoted, “can’t be sung without a full heart and a troubled spirit.” The genre is diverse and dynamic, able to be appreciated and played by all people of any socio-economic status. Blues is especially important within African-American history because it’s associated with the end of slavery in the United States, the genre is thus bred out of a “celebration of freedom.” The dynamic nature of the genre allowed former slaves to chisel out their own corner of American culture while celebrating their African ancestry. 

The blues genre has evolved to encompass more sound influence and has mixed with other genres to create new styles such as electric blues and blues rock. The genre has continued to influence modern music in America and throughout the world. Blues had a significant impact on early country music and country pop, whose genre’s artists often borrowed the blues scale and tones for their work. The format of most blues music including call-and-response and the blues scale is utilized by and influences jazz, rhythm and blues, and rock and roll genres. Many prominent modern musicians like Louis Armstrong and Bob Dylan  have performed in blues style. 

If you want to learn more about the contributions Black musicians have made to music, please check out the tags below for more posts in the series. 

– Miranda

Sources: I, II

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Music News and Interviews

Black Contributions to Music: Pop

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As a continuation of my series of Black Contributions to Music, this week I am discussing the influence of Black artists on the pop genre. It’s important to recognize musicians of color and their contributions to music, as they are often overlooked or ignored.  

Black artists began transforming the pop mainstream in America with great popularity by the 1950s and 1960s. Pop origination from rock and roll, folk, and other styles into a genre of its own. Artists like Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, and James Brown helped bring R&B, funk, and soul to the forefront of pop culture and mainstream music. Their contributions have continued to shape music today and helped give pop music a wider breadth of sound. 

Artists like the Jackson 5 continued to impact pop music in the 1970s with singles that become extremely popular like “I Want You Back” and “ABC.” Michael Jackson’s influence continued with his hits like “Thriller.” Whitney Houston was one of the greatest pop artists to ever live, her version of “I Will Always Love You” becoming iconic and recognizable throughout the country, and her album being a top bestseller of all time. Iconic artists like Jackson, Houston, and Prince helped define and influence the genre. 

The 2000s gave rise to hip-hop and R&B-influenced pop music, exemplified by the popularity of Rihanna’s unique sound. The Pulitzer prize in music was given to a pop artist, rather than the typical classical, for the first time in 2018 to Kendrick Lamar for his album DAMN. Black artists continuously make an impact to the pop genre and create boundary-breaking mainstream music. 

Check out these amazing Black artists: Ciara, Jill Scott, Santigold

Sources: I, II 

 – Miranda

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Music News and Interviews

Black Contributions to Music: Jazz

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We cannot continue to discuss the Black contributions to music without acknowledging jazz music. 

Jazz originated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was created within the Black communities of New Orleans, influenced by blues and ragtime. Like many modern genres, jazz has roots in West African musical tradition and slave folk songs, it also is influenced by European classical music. 

Jazz and its creators also influenced music in general; the drum set was created by jazz musicians and jazz has influenced genres like R&B, rap, and classical music. Jazz has also influenced and been adopted by other cultures, resulting in new musical genres like CuBop, a form of Latin jazz invented by Cuban musician Chano Pozo and Dizzy Gillepsie. It has been absorbed into many different genres, exemplified by singers like Beyoncé compiling elements of jazz within their pop style. 

The jazz genre is influential to our society not only for its contributions to other genres, but the incredible influence it has had on Americans. Jazz is instantly recognizable, but unique. The creativity of the genre and its nuanced features is known to help with focus, especially while studying. The genre also helped bring forward African-American influence to music, especially important in the polarized mid-1900s. Jazz music helped Americans across the board recognize Black history and culture as important and desirable, and furthered the position of female musicians as female jazz artists gained prominence in popular culture. 

Check out some of the best Black jazz musicians like Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Miles Davis. 

Hope you enjoyed! 

– Miranda

Sources: I, II

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Music News and Interviews

Black Contributions to Music: Bluegrass

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Continuing with my series about Black contributions to music, I am highlighting a genre especially important to those of us who are Southerners: bluegrass. This genre of music is another that is often dominated by White men, but it has been influenced by Black musicians who are typically not recognized for their achievements. 

Many features of Appalachian bluegrass were influenced by or originated from African musical traditions, brought to America by African slaves. A key feature of bluegrass music is its instrumentation, including the fiddle, banjo, guitar, and more. The four-stringed banjo actually originated in Africa, most likely West Africa. In the 18th century the banjo and music inspired with themes of freedom and religion contributed to the spread of African-American music like gospels and spirituals, which was especially influential to the sound of music in the South. Black people in America were the first to learn and perform with the banjo. Another facet of bluegrass, “thumbpicking” or “thumb style” of guitar, popular in the bluegrass genre, is credited to Black instrumentalist Arnold Schultz. Schultz influenced both the bluegrass genre and many white guitarists. Another influence to bluegrass is the vocal tradition and tunes. Much of the powerful, emotive lyricism and vocal traits originate from African musical influence, and the dance tunes famous in bluegrass are very similar to those of the African musical tradition. There are also many European contributions to the genre, but the African, particularly West African, influences on bluegrass are just as essential. 

Bluegrass is such a unique genre of music and is especially important for Southerners and the Appalachian region. It’s important to recognize its roots and the incredible influence of Black musicians and African musical traditions which have shaped the genre. 

To further your understanding, check out these quintessential Black bluegrass artists: Joe Thompson, Victor Wooten, Kaia Kater, and Rhiannon Giddens. 

Miranda

Sources: I, II

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Music News and Interviews

Black Contributions to Music: Classical

As music listeners and lovers, we may forgot the importance behind the history of music. In lieu of the Black Lives Matter movement, I want to highlight some of the incredible influences by black musicians to music in general through this series. We will start by looking at some influential black composers and influences to classical music by black artists. 

  1. Chevalier de Saint-Georges

Saint-Georges was the first classical composer of African origin. He was also a violinist and conductor of a leading symphony orchestra in Paris. He’s most remembered for composing many string quartets and musical compositions for multiple operas. 

  1. George Bridgetower

Bridgetower was an Afro-European virtuoso violinist. He began as an extremely successful young musician who traveled across Europe performing. He was a protégé of Beethoven, but is often forgotten in history despite his talent, most likely because of his racial identity. He also created his own compositions. 

  1. Florence Price

Florence Price was the first African-American woman to have her composition performed by a major symphony orchestra. Living in Arkansas with her husband, she faced much racial discrimination. The couple moved north after racial tension led to a lynching nearby, to Chicago, where Price completed her first compositions. Price’s music combines traditional European classical with melodies inspired by African-American folk music. Price and her work are often overlooked based on her race, so most of her music is not available online, though you can hear some of her compositions on YouTube. 

  1. Thomas Wiggins

Thomas Wiggins, known as “Blind Tom,” was one of the most well-known 19th century pianists and composers. He was a musical prodigy and was the highest paid pianist of the 19th century by the age of 10. He created over a hundred piano compositions. Despite his relevance during this time, he is relatively unknown today, especially compared to his white musical counterparts. 

  1. George Walker

Walker was an African-American musician who broke ground in the musical world, known for influencing the world of black classical music. He was the first African-American to win a Pulitzer Prize for music, first black graduate of his college, and first black musician to play New York’s Town Hall. He’s known for his beautiful and moving string compositions. 

Today, there is still obvious evidence of discrimination clouding the talent of black classical musicians. There’s still a blatant lack of representation within classical performances. Artists like Florence Price have reshaped the sound of American classical music despite the many obstacles; as listeners we must acknowledge their contributions and work against the institutional racial bias within music. Next time you are in the mood for classical music, remember the contributions of black musicians that shaped music today. 

– Miranda

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Music News and Interviews

Black Contributions to Music: EDM

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As a fan of EDM, I am constantly reminded of the under-representation of black EDM artists, despite the fact that EDM originated from gay black men. I wanted to write about the origins of EDM and recognize the influence of black artists, which constantly goes unrecognized based uninstitutional racial bias in the world of music. 

House music and dance music was first created in the gay club scenes of the 70’s and 80’s. This sound is credited to gay men, particularly gay men of color; the music was created for and by LGBTQ people of color. Frankie Knuckles, a gay black man from Chicago’s South Side, is known as the “Godfather of House Music.” EDM draws heavily upon these influences and the rise of the genre would not have been possible without the queer black musicians experimenting with dance music. EDM gained global recognition as a genre in the mid-2000s with the appearance of artists like Calvin Harris and Swedish House Mafia. The industry has only gained in popularity since then, but is still dominated by straight, white men. EDM still lacks LGBTQ and POC representation, despite its origins. On the topic, Adam Davenport, the first African-American EDM musician to chart on Billboard said this: “It’s interesting that EDM has been dominated by largely straight white DJs [and] producers from Europe, and yet the godfather of house music — to which electronic dance music is indebted — happens to be a gay Black man, also from Chicago, named Frankie Knuckles. Frankie passed away in 2014, but I’d like to think that his spirit is blessing my efforts.” Largely the history of EDM has been ignored by the artists who have risen to fame from the genre, like David Guetta, who was credited by an ABC special for bringing house music to America. 

Remember this the next time you hear a top-100 EDM song, likely produced by a straight, white artist. If you love the genre, remember its true history and consider it wouldn’t have been possible without the creativity of black individuals like Frankie Knuckles. Additionally, check out and celebrate black EDM artists like Green Velvet, Flying Lotus, and Black Coffee. 

– Miranda

Sources: I, II, III