Arts & Life, Special Projects

Exploring Black influence in music

No matter what kind of music you listen to, there’s a high chance that its foundation is based on and influenced by Black culture.

From Elvis Presley to Bad Bunny, many of the most popular music artists of our time created, or in a few cases, covered music that was originated by Black people over the years.

Genres including rock and roll, blues, jazz, soul, funk, rap, gospel, reggae and spiritual are just some styles of music that originated and were cultivated by African Americans.

Black Americans’ impact on music runs deep when the history of slavery at its core is taken into account. Many sought out music as a way to step away from the shackles and burdens of the torture they faced during those times.

Forcibly coming to the United States from Africa, spoken word and singing spirituals served as a prayer to unite the African tribes. These were the type of religious folksongs that are most closely associated with the enslavement of African people in the American South.

According to the National Park Service, singing played an important role in the quest for freedom.

Music is deeper than a genre. It digs deep into pain, triumph and culture.

“Every tone was a testimony against slavery, and a prayer to God for deliverance from chains,” Frederick Douglass once said.

This influenced the birth of rhythm and blues along with jazz years later. Just like spirituals, blues included work songs, field hollers and chants and became known as folk during the 1860s. African Americans from the Deep South rhymed simple narrative ballads sharing the pain, torture, discrimination and other challenges they faced.

According to the Library of Congress, the first recording of jazz music was in 1917, “Livery Stable Blues” performed by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, and was a best-selling record. Being the “first” was problematic as it is a recording of a white band performing an African American genre.

Ultimately, blues transformed into a new musical element called rock and roll. Many refer to singer Elvis Presley as the King of Rock, but the first pioneer of rock and roll came from singer-songwriter Chuck Berry.

Originally from St. Louis, Missouri in the 1950s, the town he resided in was segregated. Berry joined a band with one of his friends and often played jazz and pop music in Black nightclubs around St. Louis.

Many believe his song “Maybelline,” released in 1955, is the first acclaimed rock and roll hit based on its technical rhythm and blues beat, hints of country guitar, Chicago blues flair and narrative storytelling.

Other genres including soul, R&B, hip-hop, reggae, reggaeton, funk, gospel, rap and more of the top-charting music today, go all the way back to Black culture.

The foundation set by Black Americans revolutionized music today and is expanding globally.

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