African American music has a rich history rooted in the brutal treatment of slaves who were shipped from West Africa from the 1600s onwards. Early African American music encapsulates the enduring spirit of the people who were transported to the United States. In its basic form the music was a simple rhythm, beaten out on rudimentary drums and percussion instruments fashioned from materials ...
African American music has a rich history rooted in the brutal treatment of slaves who were shipped from West Africa from the 1600s onwards. Early African American music encapsulates the enduring spirit of the people who were transported to the United States. In its basic form the music was a simple rhythm, beaten out on rudimentary drums and percussion instruments fashioned from materials gathered by slaves. Back in Africa, rhythm was part of daily life and was incorporated into labor, rituals and celebrations within the community.
One of the most widespread early forms of music for African Americans living in the South was the spiritual, the predecessor to the gospel music. The spiritual (also called the Negro spiritual and folk spiritual) was a response to slave conditions that expressed the slaves' longing for spiritual and physical freedom. Many songs encapsulated the despair felt by the slaves; some, such as the well-known "Wade in the Water," were coded messages said to contain instructions for escaping to the North. The spirituals began in the 18th century among Southern slaves and enjoyed a revival during the 1960s civil rights movement.
In the 1870s a new type of music emerged from marches and social dances. It was called ragtime and was to capture the imagination of the nation. Scott Joplin's (1868-1917) "Maple Leaf Rag" was a phenomenal success, with more than one million sheet-music copies sold. Ragtime marked a departure from the sentimentality of the spirituals and other musical styles. It was at its height from approximately 1890 to 1920, by which time its popularity had waned. However it was to lead to another form of music: jazz.
Before jazz comes the blues, although it is difficult to pinpoint when this style was developed. It is closely linked with the spirituals and certain musical and lyrical elements can be traced back to West Africa. It began in the South during the slavery era and took hold of America, spreading by means of bluesmen who wandered the country. The blues is the most versatile yet basic of all the American musical forms. Over the years it has evolved; types include classical, country and Chicago blues. Robert Johnson (1911-1938) is widely regarded as the father of what we term "classical blues." Other notable blues singers are Huddie Ledbetter (nicknamed "Leadbelly"), Eddie Floyd and Ike Turner. In the 1960s, Chicago blues gave way to other musical forms such as Motown, rhythm and blues, soul and funk.
Jazz has been fondly called "America's classical music." It is unsure when exactly it emerged but the term "jazz" was widely in use by 1918. There are various forms of jazz, such as New Orleans-style, avant-garde, soul and fusion and new jazz swing. There is also bebop, a revolutionary style performed by a smaller ensemble than the classic "big band" setup. Trumpeter and singer Louis Armstrong (1900-1971) is arguably the most famous jazz musician and was the first to achieve international recognition with West End Blues in the 1920s. Another famous jazz artist was trumpeter Dizzie Gillespie (1917-1993,) a performer in the style of bebop.
In the 1930s came gospel music, a religious music. It is linked to the spirituals due to its lyrical qualities. Its emphasis is on vocal embellishment and dramatic power. Famous singers with a background in gospel include Sam Cooke (1935-1964), Aretha Franklin (1942-) and Whitney Houston (1963-).
In keeping with its predecessors, rap is a style of music named for the style in which it is delivered. Incorporating lyrical flair over samples and beats, it can be set to many different styles of music including blues, jazz, and soul with Caribbean calypso, dub, and dance-hall reggae. It exploded into the mainstream in the 1980s and developed into numerous styles. Often political, some of its biggest stars have come from street gangs. Its combination of gritty urban storytelling and beat-driven, technologically sophisticated music has gained popularity worldwide. Famous rappers include Run D.M.C, Snoop Dogg and Queen Latifah.
African American music has influenced many modern musical styles. For example Chuck Berry (1926-) and Little Richard (1932-) transformed urban blues into what we know as rock ‘n' roll; rock guitarist, singer and songwriter Jimi Hendrix (1942-1970) began his career in a rhythm and blues band; and Stevie Wonder (1951-) and Marvin Gaye (1940-1984), transformed the sound of Motown into soul music.