Posted by | Cyrena Rose

Every genre of American music (as well as music world-wide) is continually influenced by African-Americans!  Black Music Month (BMM) celebrates the history and contributions of music created by African-Americans throughout our country’s history.

Black Music Month takes place every year in June.  President Jimmy Carter, who on June 7, 1979, decreed that June would be the month of black music.  For the past 28 years, presidents have announced to Americans that we should celebrate Black Music Month. For each year of his term, President Barack Obama has announced the observance, under the new title, African-American Music Appreciation Month.  Too wordy for my taste, I choose to stick with the original name.

African-American music has many forms, starting with the origination of Call-and-Response descending down to today’s Hip-Hop, take a brief look at our rich history:

  • Call-and-Response, similar to verse-chorus form, it is a succession of two distinct phrases usually played by different musicians, where the second phrase is heard as a direct response to the first.  Church-going slaves of the 17th and 18th century would repeat, in call-and-response fashion, the hymns and songs sung by the service leader.
  • Negro Spirituals, often called a Jubilee, now called Gospel spun from the call-and-response fashion.  In 1871 the touring Fisk Jubilee Singers, (based at Fisk University, a historically black college founded in Nashville, Tennessee in 1866) brought the spiritual to much of the United States and Europe.  The exposure helped catalyze the fusion of African-American and other forms of popular music.
  • Ragtime, is a genre that later became Jazz at the beginning of the 20th century in black communities, mainly in the south.  Scott Joplin and Eubie Blake pioneered a piano style combining a regularly accented left (bass) hand beat with a highly syncopated right (treble) melody.  Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag (1899) transcended racial divisions and deepened the influence of black roots on American music.
  • Blues was birthed in the South from field workers singing their ‘work songs.’  It incorporates a call-and-response pattern in lyrics or between vocals and instrumentation and unique harmonic progressions.  Blues artist sang of sadness and melancholy in love.  W.C. Handy’s Memphis Blues is a perfect exampleBlues had an influence on the development of Jazz, Rock and other musical forms.
  • Gospel music originates from Blues and Negro SpiritualsThomas A. Dorsey, a music director at Pilgrim Baptist Church in Chicago, helped popularize this form of music.  Gospel features a full-throated vocalist accompanied by choir, piano or organ and by energetic audience participation, often vigorous rhythmic handclapping.
  • R&B and Soul (originating in the 1940’s) is a more secular form of Gospel.  Artists like Aretha Franklin (a preacher’s daughter), Sam Cooke (a preacher’s son) and the Reverend Al Green each incorporated gospel elements into their personal, form-transcending styles.
  • Rock and roll is a genre of popular music that originated and evolved in the United States during the late 1940s and early 1950s, primarily from a combination of African American blues, country, jazz, and gospel music.  Chuck Berry is credited with starting “the global psychic jailbreak that is rock’n’roll.”
  • Hip Hop and Rap is a musical genre consisting of a stylized rhythmic music that commonly accompanies rapping, a rhythmic and rhyming speech that is chanted.  Formed during the 1970’s by the African-American traditions of signifyin’, the dozens, and jazz poetry all influence hip hop music, as well as the call and response patterns of African and African-American religious ceremonies.

There are many other genres of Black music that also speak to us and enrich our culture all-while influencing our lives/world…let’s CELEBRATE BLACK MUSIC MONTH!