African-American music  

From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

(Redirected from African American singer)
Jump to: navigation, search

"The researches of Doctor George Pullen Jackson and Professor George Herzog show a considerable part of the melody in Afro-American music to be of Scotch-Irish-English origin. There is a traditional scientific point of view, exemplified by men like E. F. Frazier, E. B. Reuter, Charles S, Johnson, and others, which argues against the survival of Africanisms among Western hemisphere Negroes. The contrary view, with its rich and accumulating evidence, of a general survival of cultural Africanisms, finds its strongest champion in Professor M. J. Herskovits (who originally held the counterview) and has strong advocates in men like M. Kolinski and Richard A. Waterman."--Shining Trumpets, a History of Jazz (1946) by Rudi Blesh, p. 342

Josephine Baker dancing the charleston at the Folies Bergère in Paris for La Revue nègre in 1926. Notice the art deco background. (Photo by Walery)
Josephine Baker dancing the charleston at the Folies Bergère in Paris for La Revue nègre in 1926. Notice the art deco background.
(Photo by Walery)

Related e



African American music is an umbrella term given to a range of music and musical genres emerging from or influenced by the culture of African Americans, who have long constituted a large ethnic minority of the population of the United States. Some of their ancestors were originally brought to North America to work as enslaved peoples, bringing with them typically polyrhythmic songs from hundreds of ethnic groups across West and sub-Saharan Africa. In the United States, as cultures merged, multiple cultural traditions merged with influences from polka, waltzes and other European music. Later periods saw considerable innovation and change. African American genres have been highly influential across socio-economic groupings and internationally. African American music and all aspects of African American culture are celebrated during Black History Month in February of each year in the United States.


Historic traits

Features common to most African American music styles include:


19th century (1800s-1900s)

The influence of African Americans on mainstream American music began in the 19th century, with the advent of blackface minstrelsy. The banjo, of African origin, became a popular instrument, and its African-derived rhythms were incorporated into popular songs by Stephen Foster and other songwriters. In the 1830s, the Second Great Awakening led to a rise in Christian revivals and pietism, especially among African Americans. Drawing on traditional work songs, African American slaves originated began performing a wide variety of Spirituals and other Christian music. Many of these songs were coded messages of subversion against slaveholders, or which signaled escape.

During the period after the Civil War, the spread of African American music continued. The Fisk University Jubilee Singers toured first in 1871. Artists including Morris Hill and Jack Delaney helped revolutionize post-war African music in the central East of the United States.In the following years, the Hampton Students and professional jubilee troops formed and toured. The first black musical-comedy troup, Hyers Sisters Comic Opera Co., was organized in 1876.

By the end of the 19th century, African American music was an integral part of mainstream American culture. Ragtime performers like Scott Joplin became popular and some soon became associated with the Harlem Renaissance and early civil rights activists.

Early 20th century (1900s-1930s)

The early part of the 20th century saw a constant rise in popularity of African American blues and jazz. As well as the developments in the fields of visual arts, the Harlem Renaissance of the early 20th century lead to developments in music.

White and Latino performers of both genres existed, and there had always been cross-cultural communication between the United States' races. Jewish klezmer music, for example, was a noted influence on jazz, while Jelly Roll Morton famously explained that a "Latin tinge" was a necessary component of good music. African American music was often simplified for European American audiences, who would not have as readily accepted black performers, leading to genres like swing music, a pop-based outgrowth of jazz.

On the stage, the first musicals written and produced by African Americans to appear on Broadway debuted in 1898 with A Trip to Coontown by Bob Cole and Billy Johnson. In 1901, the first known recording of black musicians was that of Bert Williams and George Walker; this set featured music from broadway musicals. The first black opera was performed in 1911 with Scott Joplin's Treemonisha. The following year, the first in a series of annual black symphony orchestra concerts were performed at Carnegie Hall.

The return of the black musical to broadway occurred in 1921 with Sissle and Blake's Shuffle Along. In 1927, a concert survey of black music was performed at Carnegie Hall including jazz, spirituals and the symphonic music of W.C. Handy's Orchestra and Jubilee singers. The first major film musical with a black cast was King Vidor's Hallelujah of 1929 . The first Symphony by a black composer to be performed by a major orchestra was William Grant Still's Afro-American Symphony with the New York Philharmonic. African American performers were featured in operas such as Porgy and Bess and Virgil Thompson's Four Saints in Three Acts of 1934 . Also in 1934 William Dawson's Negro Folk Symphony became the second African American composer's work to receive attention by a major orchestra with its performance by the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Mid-20th century (1940s-1960s)

1940s and 50s

By the 1940s, cover versions of African American songs were commonplace, and frequently topped the charts, while the original musicians found success among their African American audience, but not in mainstream. In 1955, Thurman Ruth persuaded a gospel group to sing in a secular setting, the Apollo Theater, with such success that he subsequently arranged gospel caravans that traveled around the country, playing the same venues that rhythm and blues singers had popularized.

African Americans in the 1940s and 1950s were developing a genre called rock and roll, which featured a very strong backbeat and whose exponents included Wynonie Harris. However, it was with white musicians such as Bill Haley and Elvis Presley, playing a guitar-based fusion of black rock and roll with country music called rockabilly, that rock music became commercially successful. Rock music thereafter became more associated with white people, though it did give some black people, such as Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, a high level of commercial success.


1960s music

The late 1950s also saw vastly increased popularity of hard blues from the earliest part of the century, both in the United States and United Kingdom. The 50s also saw doo-wop become popular. A secularized form of American gospel music called soul also developed, with pioneers like Ben E. King and Sam Cooke leading the wave. Soul and R&B became a major influence on surf, as well as the chart-topping girl groups like The Angels and The Shangri-Las, only some of whom were white. Black divas like Diana Ross & the Supremes and Aretha Franklin became 60s crossover stars. In the UK, British blues became a gradually mainstream phenomenon, returning to the United States in the form of the British Invasion, a group of bands led by The Beatles who performed classic-style R&B, blues and pop with both traditional and modernized aspects.

The British Invasion knocked most other bands off the charts, with only a handful of groups, like The Mamas & the Papas, maintaining a pop career. Soul music, in two major highly-evolved forms, remained popular among blacks. Funk, usually said to have been invented by James Brown, incorporated influences from psychedelia and early heavy metal, particularly Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix was himself innovative in electric guitar, being one of the first guitarists to use effects pedals such as the wah wah pedal. Just as popular among blacks and with more crossover appeal, album-oriented soul revolutionized African American music with intelligent and philosophical lyrics, often with a socially aware tone. Marvin Gaye's What's Going On is perhaps the best-remembered of this field.

The 1970s and 1980s

The 1970s saw one of the greatest decades of black bands concerning melodic music, unlike a much contemporary rap, with hip hop being the only roots to the melodic music of blacks of the 70's. Album-oriented soul continued its popularity, while musicians like Smokey Robinson helped turn it into Quiet Storm music. Funk evolved into two strands, one a pop and soul fusion pioneered by Sly & the Family Stone, and the other a more experimental psychedelic and metal fusion led by George Clinton and his P-Funk ensemble.

Black musicians achieved generally little mainstream success, though African Americans had been instrumental in the invention of disco, and some artists, like Gloria Gaynor and Kool & the Gang, found crossover audiences. White listeners preferred country rock, singer-songwriters, stadium rock and, in some subcultures, heavy metal and punk rock.

The dozens, an urban African American tradition of using rhyming slang to put down your enemies (or friends) developed, through the smart-ass street jive of the early Seventies into a new form of music. In the South Bronx, the half speaking, half singing the rhythmic street talk of 'rapping' grew into the hugely successful cultural force known as Hip hop. Hip Hop would become a multicultural movement. Jamaican immigrants like DJ Kool Herc and spoken word poets like Gil Scott-Heron are often cited as the major innovators in early hip hop. Beginning at block parties in The Bronx, hip hop music arose as one facet of a large subculture with rebellious and progressive elements. At block parties, DJs spun records, most typically funk, while MCs introduced tracks to the dancing audience. Over time, DJs began isolating and repeating the percussion breaks, producing a constant, eminently dance-able beats, which the MCs began improvising more complex introductions and, eventually, lyrics.

In the 1980s, black pop artists included Michael Jackson (who brought a level of black stardom never seen before), Lionel Richie, Whitney Houston, and Prince, who sang a type of pop dance-soul that fed into New Jack Swing by the end of the decade. These artists are the most successful of the era. Hip hop spread across the country and diversified. Techno, Dance, Miami bass, Chicago Hip House, Los Angeles hardcore and Washington, D.C. Go Go developed during this period, with only Miami bass achieving mainstream success. But before long, Miami bass was relegated primarily to the Southeastern US, while Chicago hip house had made strong headways on college campuses and dance arenas(ie. the warehouse sound, the rave). The DC go-go sound like Miami bass became essentially a regional sound that didn't muster much mass appeal. Chicago house sound had expanded into the Detroit music environment and mutated into more electronic and industrial sounds creating Detroit techno, acid, jungle. Mating these experimental, usually DJ oriented, sounds with the prevalence of the multiethnic New York City disco sound from the 1970s and 1980s created a brand of music that was most appreciated in the huge discothèques that are located in cities like Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Detroit, Boston, etc. Eventually, European audiences embraced this kind of electronic dance music with more enthusiasm than their North American counterparts. These variable sounds let the listeners prioritize their exposure to new music and rhythms while enjoying a gigantic dancing experience.

At the later half of the decade about 1986 rap took off into the mainstream with Run-D.M.C.'s Raising Hell and Beastie Boys' Licensed To Ill which became the first rap album to enter No.1 Spot on the Billboard 200. Both of these groups mixed rap and rock together which appealed to rock and rap audicences. Hip Hop took off from its roots and the golden age hip hop scene started. Hip Hop became popular in America until the 1990s when it became worldwide.The golden age scene would die out in the early 1990s when gangsta rap and g-funk took over.

In 1988, all-black heavy metal band Living Colour achieved mainstream success with their debut album Vivid, peaking at #6 on the Billboard 200, thanks to their Top 20 single "Cult of Personality". The band's music contained lyrics that attack the Eurocentrism and racism of America. A decade later, more black artists like Lenny Kravitz, Body Count, Ben Harper, and countless others would start playing rock again.

The 1990s and 2000s

Hip Hop, Rap, and R&B are the most popular genre of music for African Americans in this time.

Contemporary R&B, as the post-disco version of soul music came to be known as, remained popular throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Male vocal groups in the style of soul groups such as The Temptations and The O'Jays were particularly popular, including New Edition, Boyz II Men, which ended up being the highest selling R&B male group of all time, Jodeci, Blackstreet, and, later, Dru Hill and Jagged Edge. Girl groups, including TLC, Destiny's Child, and SWV, were also highly successful. TLC would go on to hold the title of the highest girl group with the highest selling female group album ever with their 1995 album CrazySexyCool influencing creativity in many young women around the world.

Singer-songwriters such as 2Pac, R. Kelly, Mariah Carey, Montell Jordan, D'Angelo, and Raphael Saadiq of Tony! Toni! Toné! were also significantly popular during the 1990s, and artists such as Mary J. Blige, Faith Evans and BLACKstreet popularized a fusion blend known as hip-hop soul. D'Angelo's Marvin Gaye/Stevie Wonder-inspired sound would lead to the development of neo soul, popularized in the late 1990s/early 2000s by artists such as Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, India.Arie, Alicia Keys, and Musiq. According to one music writer, D'Angelo's critically acclaimed album Voodoo (2000) "represents African American music at a crossroads ... To simply call [it] neo-classical soul...would be [to] ignore the elements of vaudeville jazz, Memphis horns, ragtime blues, funk and bass grooves, not to mention hip-hop, that slip out of every pore of these haunted songs."

By the 2000s, R&B had shifted towards an emphasis on solo artists, including Usher, although groups such as B2K and Destiny's Child continued to have success. The line between hip-hop and R&B became significantly blurred by producers such as Timbaland and Lil Jon, and artists such as Nelly, and Andre 3000, who, with partner Big Boi, helped popularize Southern hip hop music as OutKast.In 2002, the rise of Beyoncé Knowles as the new queen had begun.

"Urban music" and "urban radio" are race-neutral terms which are synonymous with hip hop and R&B and the associated hip hop culture which originated in New York City. The term also reflects the fact that they are popular in urban areas, both within black population centers and among the general population (especially younger audiences).

The hip hop movements has become increasingly mainstream as the music industry has taken control of it. Essentially, "from the moment 'Rapper's Delight' went platinum, hiphop the folk culture became hiphop the American entertainment-industry sideshow." As a result, the music that is popularized by the music industry is becoming increasingly different than what hip hop was meant to be, and in the process makes people wonder who is responsible for this unappreciated shift.

In February 2004, plans were announced for a Smithsonian affiliated Museum of African-American music to be built in Newark, New Jersey. Groundbreaking is planned for 2006.

See also


Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "African-American music" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools