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African American Music Culture Essay Sample

African American Music Culture Pages
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“African-American gospel music is a major influence in nearly all genres of modern popular music, from rhythm ‘n blues to jazz, from soul to rock ‘n roll. The musical genre is a unique expression of the black experience in America? The emotionally-charged, wailing vocals and syncopated rhythms give the music a distinctive style. The singing is accompanied not only by instrumentals, but often also by hand-clapping, foot-stomping and shouting. Gospel music is rooted in slave spirituals and protestant hymns. During the late 1800s, the music spread in popularity among white Christians through the traveling revivals led by Evangelist Dwight Moody. The music took root in the black church after it’s embraced by the gospel music to prominence.

Gospel also played a crucial role in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. African-American gospel lyrics are simple, repetitive and built on the call-and-response tradition of the plantation spirituals. Singing is spontaneous and songs are jubilant and uplifting in keeping with a mood of praise and worship. Contemporary instrumentals, accompaniments include keyboards backed by guitar, drums and wind instruments, sometimes punctuated by bells, cymbals and tambourines. The music is built on syncopated rhythm, a swing beat and a chorus of simple harmonies” (Ferguson, G.).

One very consistent and obvious element in the African American culture is their music. Music was as much a part of the daily language as talking. In some traditional African cultures, the Language was very tonal and the meaning of a word or phrase could change with the tonal inflections. Some drums were designed to produce a range of pitches to accommodate the pitches of the tonal language. Songs were used to tell of the culture’s history or announce a notable deed or event. Songs were used to synchronize a group effort or task or tell of some emotional crest or valley. Music was also important in comforting and healing. It has been well noted that Africans in America used music in their labor, sorrow, joy, communication and resistance against slavery. Even though African American music has evolved through various eras and styles, the powerful melodic lines and the rhythm (the all important rhythm) remained prominent and influential The African American music of the 1960’and 1970’s was rich, powerful and diverse. There were, of course, the sounds of gospels and a resurgence of spirituals that accompanied the civil rights movement. There was the pulsating sound of rhythm and blues and the beautiful harmonic? modulations and melodies of such groups as The Stylistics, The Chi Lights and The Delphonics.

Jazz was the beacon of the height of the evolution of African American music and later was dubbed “America’s Classical Music”. More than just the music of a generation, it was the music that motivated a generation. This music supported them in struggle. This music helped soothe their pain. This music challenged the status quo. This music set new styles and standards that became the source of succeeding music styles. This music also became an avenue through which African Americans could express opinions, display critiques and contentions and share philosophy. Through an investigation of the music of this era, I will present a background that features songs and artists that held a nation’s attention through outlets such as Motown, Mercury records, Polydor records along with many other labels that produced artists from James Brown and Ray Charles to George Clinton and Sly Stone. The civil rights movement brought traditional spirituals and gospels to the public’s attention as a part of the language of the movement.

As in traditional African cultures and as the ancestors that endured slavery had done, African Americans used music to communicate, synchronize, summon courage and assuage pain and adversity. That uniquely African style of singing with emotion, power and rhythm was evident through the field hollerers, work songs, spirituals, gospels and blues. Then the rhythm and blues artists and the soul artists provided a rich resource for the succeeding style of music called “funk”. And these artists drove it home to an ever widening audience. This was also the time when other artists were delivering songs with philosophical and social messages. The emphasis of this paper will be on the music called funk and its impact on the American culture. Students will be engaged in actively listening to and discussing a variety of artists to evaluate their effect on the music’s direction, impact and audience. At the turn of the nineteenth century, jazz was making its entrance and establishing itself as the music of the future with icons such as Buck Clayton, Sidney Bichet, Louis Armstrong, Lil Hardin, King Joe Oliver and Jelly Roll Morton.

They were followed by Scott Joplin, Fletcher Henderson, Noble Sissle, Louis Jordan, Duke Ellington, Count Basie and others. While jazz was riding a crest, there was another style of African American music with a market of its own. This was the style that was eventually referred to as rhythm and blues. Under this banner artists including Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Big Joe Turner and Hudie Ledbetter led the way for artists including Chuck Berry, Jimmy Reed, Ruth Brown, Little Willie John and many more who captivated audiences across the country? These artists laid the foundation for what was later to be known as “rock and roll”. Some of the artists that performed under the rock and roll title also performed as soul and/or R&B. For example, James Brown, Otis Redding, Ray Charles, Chuck Berry, Betty Everett, Tammy Terrell and Marvin Gaye. Some of these artists became icons in the “music of the movement”. When the civil rights movement exploded across the country in the 1960’s, the primary meeting place was the Black church. Naturally, the primary music source came from the church. Spirituals, hymns and gospels emerged with new vigor, fervor, commitment and importance.

For Example, the song “Woke up This Morning with Mind Stayed on Jesus” became “Woke up This Morning with My Mind Stayed on Freedom”. Another song from the church “Keep your Hands ON The Plow” became “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize”. The energy and power of the movement from the church translated directly through the music of the church and through secular music as well. When radio stations in the African American community would play their line-up, they would within the hour plays a gospel or spiritual. Artists such as Aretha Franklin brought the “church” or gospel style directly to the public with her fiery delivery of songs. Marvin Gaye speaking out against the Vietnam War and racial injustice in America through song, stunned the American and world audience with a single question, a single song “What’s Going On?” Edwin Starr, former lead singer for the Temptations, asked the follow-up question “War! What Is It Good For? Absolutely nothing.

”Then the company founded by Berry Gordy, Motown, became the company that produced the music of young America. The driving back-up of the Motown studio arrangers and musicians, including George Clinton the funk mogul, became the dominant sound on the American popular music scene. A brief list of artists include the Temptations, the Supremes, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Martha and the Vandellas and The Jackson Five. The duo that personified the soul sound was Sam and Dave. Again, that gospel style was evident in their performances. The one group that not only captured the hearts of young America, but awakened an energetic and loyal pre-teen audience was The Jackson Five. Not since Frankie Lymon and the Teen-Agers of the 1950’s had a young vocal group been such an overwhelming success.

The Jackson Five had a much admired quality in the music industry. This was called cross-over appeal. That meant they could appeal to white audiences, as well as African American audiences. Now there are four hugely popular and highly influential styles of music coming from the African? American community, the gospel sound, the soul sound and the fresh rock and roll of Chuck Berry and Little Richard. The era of the 1970’s was the decade of “funk”. James Brown, Ray Charles and others began in the 1960’s laying down the standard for what was to become funk. (many people attribute the popular use of this word to the jazz musician, Julian “Cannonball” Adderly). Again, rhythm is the main ingredient. In contrast to the measured thumping of disco, the downbeat provides a spatial anchor for strong syncopated patterns occurring the upbeats. The resulting rhythms defied anyone to remain still while listening. Just as the above mentioned music styles influenced generations of people and artists in America and around the world, funk came strongly onto the scene and continued in that tradition (Powell, A).

Reference:

Ferguson, G. History of African American Gospel Music www.ehow.com Powell, A. The Music of African American and its Impact www.chatnam.edu

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