Race and Religious Identity
Religious identity and spiritual discovery have been important themes in the jazz community for half a century. As early as the 1940s several prominent African-American musicians converted to Islam. In the 1950s religious fervor became a strong element in jazz through the music of Horace Silver, Bobby Timmons, Charles Mingus, and other composers. In the 1960s black jazz musicians were attracted to religions in which mystical experience plays a central role.
Race played a central role in forming the religious identities of black jazz musicians. They steered clear of the religious establishment because they believed it to be hopelessly enmeshed in social patterns that have helped to maintain racially oppressive roles and promote materialistic values. Their adoption of religions that were new to this country, like Buddhism, represented both a rejection of America's religious past and a withdrawal from its social norms.
Islam has probably existed in the United States since the early days of slavery. A small percentage of slaves were Muslims, and documents writ-