Tuesday, May 24, 2022



How Black People Influenced Popular Music Genres 

For a very long time, Black culture and music have been a vital music inspiration for all genres of music from Country to Blues and Rock & Roll to house music.  Many modern popular music artists achieved great fame in their careers with inspiration from black culture and music. Despite this, Black peoples’ contributions to music have continued to be downplayed throughout the decades. Here are a few well-known music genres that have been influenced by black culture and music.


When most folks think of rock ‘n’ roll,  Elvis Presley, the “King of Rock and Roll”, probably pops into their mind. However, the beginning of rock ‘n’ roll must be credited to the influence of a black woman. The actual “ King” or “Godmother” of rock ‘n’ roll is Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a self-taught guitarist who famously moved from gospel music to rock ‘n’ roll. Rosetta was a prodigy at a young age who performed with her mother in a traveling evangelical troupe where she was advertised as a “singing and guitar-playing miracle.” Rosetta began her recording career in 1938 when she entered a studio with Lucky Millinder’s orchestra to record her first four songs. The “Godmother of Rock ’n’ Roll” went on to inspire Elvis Presley, Little Richard, and many others. She was placed in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018 as an early influencer of the genre. Early black rock ‘n’ roll artists were influenced by other forms of music, such as country music, which led to many different subsets of the genre. While there is no exact date for the creation of rock ‘n’ roll, it’s absurd to ignore the influence of black Americans during the genre’s beginnings. 


 February 26, 1917 is commonly acknowledged as the day the first recording of jazz was distributed. The Original Dixieland Jazz Band performed “Livery Stable Blues,” was a best-selling record, but due to the fact that the jazz band was an all-white band performing an African American genre, they were considered problematic. On top of there being a copyright lawsuit regarding the authorship of the song, the band also claimed to have “invented” jazz instead of crediting the African American musicians in New Orleans they learned from. Charles Joseph “Buddy” Bolden was an American musician who was regarded by his peers as a key figure in the evolution of a New Orleans style of ragtime music, or “jazz”. He is attributed with producing a freer, more improvised version of ragtime and adding blues. Bolden’s band was said to be the first to have brass instruments play the blues. Many early jazz musicians credited Bolden and his bandmates with starting what came to be known as jazz, though the word “jazz” was not used until after the era of Bolden’s influence. By the 1920s, jazz was being played around the country and ultimately became the sound associated with the roaring twenties. Even before the 20th century, blues music was growing out of traditional African slave spirituals, work calls, and hymns. Of all the developing genres, the blues would be the one that influence was felt in everything from jazz to rock and country music to blues. 


Country music has roots in African-American jazz and blues of the south. Blues styles have been used and adapted extensively throughout country music’s history. In the antebellum South, banjos, and harmonicas were the dominant instruments played in black culture. History has distorted these facts to make people believe jazz, and spirituals were the staples of black culture at that time when, in fact, it was country music. “Hillbilly music” combines the ballads and folksongs brought to the South by immigrants from the British Isles in the 18th and 19th Centuries and the rhythmic influences of African immigrants. The banjo mimics the Banjar which is an instrument played in Africa. The banjo was invented by southern African-Americans in the late 1690s. The fiddle, which is typically associated with country music, was the primary instrument for dance music in the 18th and 19th Centuries. On the plantations, if there were dances, the musicians likely were slaves. For years, country stars have made No. 1 hits from songs created or first performed by African-Americans while most African-American contributors have been ignored.Today many black musicians have incorporated country music and its roots into their songs, From Lil Nas X creating his hit song “ Old Town road” and having a country artist like Billy Ray Cyrus hop on the remix to Beyonce who performed her song “ Daddy Lessons” with The Dixie Chicks who are known for being associated with country-pop. 


Disco music was a powerful form of music that came from underground dance settings in New York City during the ‘70s. Originally ignored by radio, disco gained notable exposure in underground clubs where DJs paved the way for the genre by entertaining Black, LGBTQ, and Latino clubbers who were free to dance underneath the disco ball without the fear of being scrutinized. The Disco Sucks! campaign in ‘79 had racist and homophobic undertones. Back in the summer of ‘79 the Detroit rock radio DJ Steve Dahl was angry that bands such as The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin were being dropped from playlists in favor of artists such as Village People and Donna Summer, so he launched the “Disco sucks!” campaign. According to Dahl, “Midwesterners didn’t want that intimidating style shoved down their throats.” The disco music scene was established by Black artists associated with a small group of record labels, led by Motown and Philadelphia International Records. By the mid-’80s, disco music was going back and forth from being ignored to being recognized by the mainstream, then being overlooked again in favor of other music genres. In the ‘80s, disco returned to its club roots and turned into house and techno music. Disco helped to advance sound system technology, mixers, loudspeakers: and lighting which are all commonly found in clubs nowadays.


Stemming from disco, house music evolved into many genres and subgenres of electronic music. It’s even shaped pop music, hip hop, and other modern music forms.  House music became the first direct descendant of disco. It’s said “house was born from the ashes of Disco” after the launch of an anti-disco movement. House music started in a Chicago club called the Warehouse, which existed from 1977- 1983. Clubbers who went to the Warehouse were primarily black and came to dance to music played by Frankie Knuckles who was the club resident DJ. Frankie, who passed away in 2014, gained the title “Godfather of House Music”. He began the trend of joining together different records when he saw that the records he had weren’t long enough to please his audience of dancers. Frankie was a Black gay man, and the people who he originally played music for were also predominantly gay people of color. He was a pioneer in how DJs communicated with the energy of the dance floor. At the center of his music was the union of synthetic production with catchy live, pop vocals – basically the foundation of today’s pop. 

Though Black musical styles and the influence of black artists have long been looked down upon or just overlooked, they have had a lasting effect on the musical culture of the United States. Almost every current popular musical genre has roots in earlier musical styles created by Black musicians.