Race Music: Black Cultures from Bebop to Hip-Hop

Race Music: Black Cultures from Bebop to Hip-Hop

Race Music: Black Cultures from Bebop to Hip-Hop

Race Music: Black Cultures from Bebop to Hip-Hop

Excerpt

Following a recent meeting of the Jazz Study Group in New York City, Muhal Richard Abrams, the radical musician, gentle soul, and “godfather” of black music collectives, told me in a private, unforgettable conversation: “You can go anywhere, but don't never leave home. ”

In many ways this book is about that idea and the way Abrams chose to express it. This is not a comprehensive, strictly chronological study of African American popular music. Rather, it is a meditation on the interpretation and criticism of various aspects of its history. I attempt to forward a poetics of this music that explains some of the circumstances and consequences of its power and its relevance for specific historically situated listeners. My poetics of “race music, ” as I call it, speculates on how the interplay of the backgrounds of audiences, musicians, critics, and scholars might inform the creation and reception of the music.

Some of the ideas represented here took shape while I was writing a dissertation on 1940s jazz. Rather than continuing down that professional path exclusively, I have expanded my work to also include various strains of gospel, rhythm and blues, soul, and hip-hop. Throughout my life as a listener and musician I experienced these musics as closely linked to one another: in my home growing up; on jukeboxes in assorted and sundry establishments in Chicago, Detroit, and Philadelphia; and in the various musical organizations with which I have been associated. As an African American musician raised in a primarily segregated working-class environment, whenever I was listening to or performing one style of race music, it seemed that the others were never far away or totally out of earshot.

Chapter 1 takes Muhal's advice quite literally: I go home. Beginning with some of my earliest musical memories of the house party and church cultures of my youth, the chapter then winds through multiple cultural spaces . . .

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