African-American Music through the Centuries

black music 1940s African-American music has influenced modern artists and songs quite heavily, but the music itself has developed immensely over the years. Every century has seen innovative genres come to life, and you’ll see that African American musicians have contributed tremendously in this. With the prevalence of slavery and the Second Great Awakening, African Americans created spirituals and work songs to ease their pains and sufferings they felt working under the control of white masters.

sister rosetta tharpeThe music changed tremendously again after the Civil War with a lot of foreign and popular influence. Many genres and styles were developed from the lower-class occupations African-Americans were allowed to have at the time. Barbershop quartets were a popular genre that developed as African-American men worked tirelessly throughout the day in barbershops. White singers adopted this harmonious style and changed it for the public.

Jazz, ragtime, and blues become quite popular at the beginning of the 20th century. However, these genres were called “race music” by the white majority public, which led Billboard to create a separate African-American music list in 1942. Even when these songs were played for the white public, they were heavily adapted. This change to accommodate the white audiences led to swing and pop jazz.salt n pepa

Rock and roll was the product of rhythm and blues, but ended up getting popularized by white musicians who had commercial appeal. This genre was also adapted, which led to a country music and rock and roll mixture that people called rockabilly.

Doo Wop developed in the 1950s, which incorporated group harmonies, nonsensical syllables, simple lyrics, and barely any instruments. Unfortunately, British pop music gained so much popularity that most African-American artists were pushed off U.S. charts. There were, however, many Motown, soul, and funk artists that maintained their prosperity.

Cypress HillAs the 1960s sprouted psychedelic music, African-American musicians followed. A lot of psychedelic soul crossovers were developed during this time. Funk really took off in the 1970s, which then led to disco. These two genres were quite melodic in nature, which was an important criteria for mainstream music at the time. Still, as a whole, African-American artists failed to truly achieve success among white audiences. Near the end of the 1970s, hip-hop arose. This led to DJs and MCs who were quite popular among young African Americans.

The end of the 20th century created a lot of awareness of African-American artists. This time period was home to Michael Jackson, tupacLionel Richie, Prince, Whitney Houston, Tina Turner, etc. Rap and hip-hop artists also achieved quite some fame; including Cypress Hill, LL Cool J, Salt-N-Peppa, Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Wu-tang Clan, Tupac Shakur, Notorious B.I.G., etc. Many of these artists used music to bring about more social awareness among young African-Americans at the time. Other famous black musicians.

After long periods of soul, funk, hip-hop, and rap; African-American artists began reaching fame in the once white-dominated rock genre again near the end of the 1980s. These musicians included Lenny Kravitz, Ben Harper, etc.

As you can see, African-American music has always had an impact on the U.S. music industry. Much of this development has been affected by the social issues and situations of those times, but the influence the music had has always been quite impactful. Today, it’s obvious for people to see how all genres of music have been touched by African-American music. It will continue to do so, and music will keep changing and developing as a result.


The Development of African-American Music in the U.S

black music trumpetWhen speaking of African-American music, you must understand that it covers a wide variety of genres that have been influenced or developed by African Americans quite heavily. Today, we know these genres to be ragtime, blues, jazz, doo-wop, rock and roll, rhythm and blues, hip hop, funk, disco, house, and techno. While some may see one of these genres and not particularly attribute it to African Americans, you should know that African American musicians have contributed massively to the development of all these genres.

The beginning of what we know to be African-American music stems from the times of slavery, before the U.S. Civil War. From this era, the music developed through the centuries, and gathered many European influences in the process. Of course, genres like hip hop, techno, and house are exceptions of this adaptation. These are more contemporary styles that developed late into the 20th century. The influences for these were funk and soul genres.supremes

African Americans were often employed as musicians who played for the entertainment of the military following the U.S. Civil War. During their times in military bands, these musicians were subject to play a lot of European style music. From this, ragtime music was created, which was further developed into jazz later on. Jazz was a mixture of all these European styles coupled with the folk and dance styles of Saharan Africa.

Both ragtime and jazz made quite an impact on music as a whole in the U.S. during the 20th century. Songs played in these styles were recorded for the first time in the 1920s, which marked the impact of how popular ragtime and jazz were among the public. As you might already know, the influence of these genres still remain in contemporary songs today. You’ll see bit of these styles not only among African-American artists, but from songs of all different racial and socio-economic groups. The love of these genres is just outstanding.

The Historic Characteristics of Traditional African-American Music

african american music historyNot only did African American musicians incorporate European styles and the harmonic features of western and sub-Saharan cultures, the historical turmoil of slavery influenced their music quite a bit as well. This horrible time caused them to develop certain styles in their music, some of which remains the basis of contemporary genres. In fact, most African-American music today have adapted certain techniques from these times.

Some of the techniques that developed pre-Civil War were work songs, field hollers, and call and response. Following the war, musicians developed vocality, meaning specialized voice effects. These included falsetto, melisma, guttural effects, rhythmization, and interpolated vocality. Once ragtime and jazz developed, African American musicians began incorporating improvisation and blue notes; as well as polyrhythms like concrescence, tension, percussion, syncopation, swung notes, and improvisation.

New textures like antiphony, homophony, heterophony, and polyphony were also incorporated. As African-American music became a lot more mainstreamed, harmonious techniques that used vernacular progressions; such as spirituals, multi-part harmonies, and complex phrasing; were used in songs. Examples where you might find these styles are Doo Wop and barbershop genres.