American Music Owes Everything to Musicians of Color

BY ALLISON RIGLER

  When you think of American music what do you think of? Pop, Rock and Roll, R&B, Blues, Jazz, Country, Hip Hop and Rap, right? Many artists from different backgrounds create and sing in these genres, but many of these genres were born thanks to the innovation of black musicians and musicians of color.

Starting with the most predominant genres that influenced many different styles of music is Jazz and Blues. These genres both grew up in the Mississippi Delta Area of Louisiana and came from the minds and talents of black musicians. Jazz uses the Blues notes and feels, put together with poly rhythms of traditional African music brought over by slaves; it was then influenced by cultures of white Europeans and French speaking Creoles that coexisted in New Orleans. Blues is characterized as an expose of the soul to escape hard times; this is typically demonstrated by an individual with haunting vocals derived from call and response field hollers and work songs.

 In the early 20th century, the Great Migration and the Harlem Renaissance brought Jazz and Blues to other parts of the country creating sub genres due to the influence in different parts of the country. Delta Blues turned into Chicago Blues, Texas Blues, and farther down the line, early rock and roll, and of course, R&B. Jazz would develop into different styles of latin, bebop, swing, dixieland and big band; Jazz would also go on to inadvertently influence the popularization of country music and the beginnings of pop and disco.

Dizzy Gillespie, who rose to fame in the jazz world and wrote in bebop, jazz, and afro cuban jazz. He is known for his iconic puffed out cheeks when he plays his trademark “bent trumpet” which was bent at a 45 degree angle.

  Blues and its common chord structure would go on to be used in early rock and roll. Musicians like Elvis Presley were scouted as a way to promote black music, but with a white face. Elvis’ famous songs Hound Dog and Tutti Frutti were first performed by Big Momma Thornton and Little Richard.This blatant racism and scamming of musicians of color would work to erase black culture from rock and roll and make America completely forget the genre’s early creators. Rock and roll is the perfect symbol of what America is supposed to be because of the influence from immigrants and people of color, and yet it is labeled as a predominantly white genre. Soon R&B and Rock and Roll, which had started as brothers from Blues, became identified with different audiences; R&B was called “race music” and labeled for only black audiences, while Rock and Roll became white washed as white musicians took and covered black musician’s songs, with record companies not giving credit where it’s due.

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