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A history of black music

Related African Americans - African music - beat - black - breaks - groove - Jamaican music - music - race music - rhythm - riddim - syncopation - UK music

Larry Levan, photo credit unidentified

'Black music' is much more common than 'white music', probably for the same sort of reasons that expressions like 'women's history' or 'women's music' would cause far fewer eyebrows to be raised than 'men's history' or 'men's music' (if ever the latter were ever to be used at all in our part of the world). Such terms are relative to the hegemony of the culture of their user, so 'men's music' and 'white music' will sound stranger in a culture dominated by white males than 'women's music' or 'black music': they are the exception and we are the rule. They need identification cards, we don't.-- Philip Tagg, 1989
Styles: afrobeat - caribbean music - disco - dub - electro - hip hop - house - jazz - funk - garage - gospel - jazz funk - minstrel songs - R&B - ragtime - rare groove - reggae - rock - ska - soul - techno

Poster by Paul Colin for the Révue Nègre, 1925

Key texts: David Toop (his work on electro, dub and hip hop) - Dick Hebdige (Cut 'N' Mix: Culture, Identity, and Caribbean Music (1987)) - Philip Tagg (Open Letter about 'Black Music', 'Afro-American Music' and 'European Music')

People Patrick Adams - Tony Allen - Juan Atkins - Roy Ayers - Ron Baker - Afrika Bambaataa - LLoyd Barnes - Josephine Baker - Joe Bataan - Jorge Ben - Dennis Bovell - James Brown - Jocelyn Brown - Peter Brown - Leroy Burgess - Donald Byrd - Terry Callier - Candido - Gregory Carmichael - Chic - Joe Claussell - Ornette Coleman - Bootsy Collins - Stanley Cowell - George Clinton - Carl Craig Miles Davis - Manu Dibango - Sir Coxsone Dodd - Sly Dunbar - Electrifying Mojo - ESG - First Choice - Rochelle Fleming - Bernard Fowler - Grandmaster Flash - Gwen Guthrie - Herbie Hancock - Norman Harris - Larry Heard - Jimi Hendrix - Kool Herc - Loleatta Holloway - Michael Jackson - Grace Jones - Frankie Knuckles - Fela Kuti - Patti Labelle - Larry Levan - Bob Marley - Derrick May - Jeff Mills - Jackie Mittoo - Moodymann - Milton Nascimiento - Moondog - Musique - Olatunji - Augustus Pablo - Theo Parrish - Lee Perry - Duke Reid - Minnie Ripperton - Sylvia Robinson - Pharoah Sanders - Kevin Saunderson - Scientist - Tee Scott - DJ Spooky - Donna Summer - Sun Ra - Sylvester - Leon Thomas - Linval Thompson - Pam Todd - King Tubby - Christine Wiltshire - Doug Wimbish - Paul Winley - Stevie Wonder - Earl Young

"Versioning", is at the heart not only of reggae but of all Afro-American and Caribbean musics: jazz, blues, rap, r&b, reggae, calypso, soca, salsa, Afro-Cuban and so on. With the advent of twelve inch discs, the same principle has been extended to black American soul. --Dick Hebdige, Cut 'N' Mix: Culture, Identity, and Caribbean Music (1987) - Dick Hebdige [Amazon US]

Cloud Nine (1969) - The Temptations [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

My love for black music started with the Temptations. A little later I discovered dub, Lee Perry, George Clinton with Funkadelic and Parliament, and in the late eighties: techno and house music. In the mid nineties I started to seek out the origins of house and techno music and (re)-discovered disco.

It must be noted that this page is not strictly about black music, indeed, it can even be argued that black music does not exist. This page is about the cross-fertilization between black and white music.


African American music (black music, formerly known as race music) is the music of African Americans, who have long constituted a large minority of the population of the United States. They were originally brought to North America to work as slaves in cotton plantations, bringing with them typically polyphonic songs from literally hundreds of ethnic groups across West Africa. In the United States, multiple cultural traditions merged with influences from polka, waltzes and other European music.

The influence of African Americans on mainstream American began in the 19th century, when the banjo became a popular instrument, and African-derived rhythms were incorporated into popular songs by Stephen Foster and other songwriters. In the 1830s, the Great Awakening led to a rise in Christian fundamentalism, especially among African Americans. Drawing on traditional work songs, African American slaves began performing a wide variety of Negro spirituals and other Christian music. Many of these songs were coded messages of subversion against slaveholders or escape. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/African_American_music [Jul 2004]

Caribbean music

The music of the Caribbean is a diverse grouping of musical genres. They are each syntheses of African, European, Indian and native influences. Some of the styles to gain wide popularity outside of the Caribbean include reggae, zouk, salsa and calypso. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caribbean_music [Jan 2006]

Does black music exist? [...]

Over the last few years I have found myself reacting with increasing irritation every time I stumble across terms like 'black music', 'white music', 'Afro-American music' and 'European music' in writings and discussions about popular music. -- Philip Tagg via http://www.tagg.org/articles/opelet.html [Aug 2005]

[Note: of course the solution to this is quite simple, one could refer to 'black music' and 'white music' as either 'music of the African diaspora and 'music of the European diaspora']

Urban music

In terms of music, urban music and urban radio are synonymous with the terms rap or hip hop, because that type of music typically originates in urban areas. (In these contexts the term "black music" has sometimes been used, and urban serves as a race-neutral replacement.) Current examples of popular urban musicians are Missy Elliott, Ja Rule, 50 Cent, Nelly, and Ludacris. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urban [Jul 2004]

1950s and 1960s

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. 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 Shangrilas, 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. 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. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/African_American_music#Mid_20th_century [Apr 2005]

Black music in the 1970s and 1980s

Pieces of a Man (1971) - Gil Scott-Heron [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

The 1970s saw a general decline in the popularity of black bands. 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 bands, singer-songwriters and, in some subcultures, heavy metal and punk rock.

The 1970s also saw, however, the invention of hip hop. 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 Harlem, 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, Lionel Richie,Whitney Houston, and Prince Rogers Nelson, 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. Miami bass, Chicago hip house, Los Angeles hardcore and DC go go developed during this period, with only Miami bass achieving mainstream success. [UK: electro funk]

It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1988) - Public Enemy [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

At the very end of the decade, however, two groups crossed over to white audiences. Public Enemy's politically revolutionary lyrics found more controversy than hip hop had previously seen, while N.W.A. simultaneously placed West Coast hip hop at the top of the genre's charts and popularized gangsta rap. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/African_American_music#The_1970s_and_1980s [Aug 2005]

See also: black music - 1970s music - 1980s music

Bluffers guide to disco and house [...]

Disco Gold [...] (re)searching the life and times of first club DJ star Larry Levan, who stands at the crossroads of disco music and house music. [...]

Homophobia [...]

[...] What hasn't changed is the gap between rap and house, an antipathy which exists between these two forms of soul music. [...] According to Frankie Knuckles, this goes to the core of attitudes towards gays, especially amongst the black community. "The fact that house got started in the gay clubs makes it tough for some of them to deal with it." This is about more than musical taste; for Frankie, it goes to the core of the future of minority groups in the US. And, ironically, it's rap, with all of its violence and too-frequent lapses into intolerance and homophobia, that has pushed things along. -- Frankie Knuckles

Early 20th century

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 Louis Armstrong famously explained that a "Latin beat" was a necessary component of good music. African American music was often sanitized for white audiences, who would not have as readily accepted black performers, leading to genres like swing music, a pop-based outgrowth of jazz. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/African_American_music#Early_20th_century [Aug 2005]

Early rock and roll

In the early days of rock and roll, many songs originally recorded by African American musicianswere rerecorded by white artists, such as Pat Boone, in a more toned down style that lacked the hard edge of rock and roll, and vice versa. These cover versions were considered by some to be more palatable to parents, and white artists were more palatable to programmers at white radio stations. Also, many songs originally recorded by male artists were rerecorded by female artists, and vice versa. Such cover version is sometimes called a cross cover version. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cover_version#Early_cover_versions [Dec 2004]

Race records

1947: The term "Rhythm and Blues" was coined in 1947 by Jerry Wexler as a replacement for the terms "race music" "sepia music" and "Harlem Hits Parade" during a reorganization of the Billboard charts

A mix of black and white music

  • INCredible Sound of Gilles Peterson [Amazon US]
    Gilles' excursions in jazz, hip hop, house, broken beats.
    1. Free Your Mind And Your Ass Will Follow - Funkadelic 9. Upa Neguninho - Luiz Arruda Paez 2. Baila Piena (Off World Remix) - Papo Vasquez 10Mas Que Nada - Elza Soares 3. The Salon Section - Buscemi 11. Picadillo (Carl Craig's Breakdown Mix) - Johnny Bias 4. I Can See The Future (Ski'sa Main Mix) - Incognito 12. Coro Miyare - Fania All-Stars 5. I Am The Black Gold Of The Sun (4 Hero Mix) - Nu Yorican Soul 13. Skindo Le Le - Alive! 6. Nuther'n Like Thuther'n - Willis Jackson 14. See The Light - Eddie Russ 7. Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf (Part 2) - Jimmy Smith 15. Let The Sun Shine In - Sons And Daughters Of Life 8. If The Papes Come - A Tribe Called Quest 16. Spread Love - Lenny Fontana Presents Black Sun

  • Francois Kevorkian's Essential Mix [Amazon US]
    Track Listings: - 1. M 4.5 Basic-Maurizio 2. Love Money-Funkmasters - - 3. La-Kou-A-Jephte Guillaume 4. Just Pillau-Akwaaba - 5. Starchild-Level 42 - 6. Squib Cakes-Tower Of Power - 7. There Was A Time-James Brown - 8. Song For My Brother-George Benson - 9. In The Stone-Earth Wind And Fire - 10. I Know You I Live You-Chaka Khan - 11. Nacer Do Sol-Kyoto Jazz Massive - 12. Free Yourself-Virgo - 13. Learn 2 Luv-King English - 14. Law & Order-Love Committee - 15. African Drug-Bob Holroyd - 16. Mambo-Wally Badarou - 17. Dark-Renegade - 18. Storm-Billy Cobham - 19. Atmospheric Beats-Kerri Chandler - 20. No Way Back-Adonis - 21. Sure Know How To Love Your Man-Willie Hutch - 22. Throw-Paperclip People - 23. Home Computer-Kraftwerk - 24. Award Tour-Tribe Called Quest - 25. Say No Go-De La Soul - 26. Keep On-D Train - 27. Did You Pray Today-Lisa Taylor - 28. Caravelle-Jazzanova - 29. Groovin'-Francois K - 30. Jazzmen-Lil Louis - 31. Percussion-St Germain - 32. Together Forever-Exodus - 33. Dreams Of Dub-King Tubby -
    This two CD set, fantastic comp, from Maurizio to EWF from King Tubby to Kraftwerk in a superbly crafted mix. Homepage material!

    Black Chord - David Corio, Vivien Goldman

  • Black Chord - David Corio, Vivien Goldman [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]
    From jazz, blues, hip hop, and reggae to African rhythms, gospel, and contemporary R&B, "The Black Chord" pays homage to the legendary and current superstars of Black music. Stunning photographs and a provocative consideration of musical theory combine, and the result is an unprecedented view of popular culture and its antecedents.
    David Corio's photos capture the major talents of black music: Aretha Franklin, Bob Marley, Barry White, Missy Elliot, Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs, Al Jarreau, Salif Keita, Courtney Pine, Chaka Khan, Isaac Hayes, B.B. King, Miles Davis, Fats Domino, Patti Labelle, and many others from a diversity of musical styles. Goldman traces the musical thread or "black chord" that connects these artists and the influences that music and Black performers from different countries, cultures, and periods have had on the evolution of musical expression worldwide.
    Chapters include an exploration of the different genres of music-from blues to rap and beyond-and their history, a look at sexy soul music and its appeal, and an interpretation of the impact that newcomers like Puff Daddy and Brandy have had on the contemporary music scene.

    Cut 'N' Mix: Culture, Identity, and Caribbean Music (1987) - Dick Hebdige

  • Cut 'N' Mix: Culture, Identity, and Caribbean Music (1987) - Dick Hebdige [Amazon US] [FR] [DE] [UK]
    "Versioning", is at the heart not only of reggae but of all Afro-American and Carribean musics: jazz, blues, rap, r&b, reggae, calypso, soca, salsa, Afro-Cuban and so on. With the advent of twelve inch discs, the same principle has been extended to black American soul. --Dick Hebdige, Cut 'N' Mix: Culture, Identity, and Caribbean Music (1987) - Dick Hebdige [Amazon US]

    Consider the rapid growth of both recorded and performed music based on digital sampling, cutting and mixing. Many hip-hop musicians have dissected existing recorded music, sampling it, quoting it, and transforming it into their own recordings - recordings that are in turn the basis for other participants to subsequently sample, dissect, and construct new meanings. In turn, the “performance” of recorded music that is the domain of “DJ culture” is predicated upon the “live” dissection, manipulation and re-assembly of previously (and usually commercially) recorded music, weaving it into new creative texts. --William Uricchio

    DJ Pogo presents: Best of Pulp Fusion (2003) - Various Artists

    Harmless presents: Best of Pulp Fusion (2003) - Various Artists [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

    Full Title - DJ Pogo Presents - The Best Of Pulp Fusion. 2003 compilation featuring two discs, one features 14 tracks remixed by DJ Pogo, the second features 12 tracks, including 4 bonus tracks exclusive to disc 2 , ('Fat City Strut' Mandrill, 'Chitterlings Con Carne' Pucho & His Latin Soul Brothers, 'A Joyful Process' Funkadelic, & 'Dear Limmertz' Azymuth), in all their unmixed glory from Gary Bartz NTU Troop, Dizzy Gillespie, Harlem Underground Band, Minnie Ripperton & more. 26 tracks in all. Harmless.

    1. Lets Dance - Pleasure 2. Melting Pot - Boris Gardiner 3. The Watts Breakaway - The Johnny Otis Show 4. Crossword Puzzle - Sly Stone 5. The Jam - Graham Central Station 6. Matrix - Dizzy Gillespie 7. Fire Eater - Rusty Bryant 8. Turn Out The Lights - Larry Youngs Fuel 9. Boogie Woogie - Sound Experience 10. Smokin Cheeba Cheeba - Harlem Underground Band 11. Misdemeanor - Ahmad Jamal 12. Your Mama Wants Ya Back - Betty Davis 13. Celestial Blues - Gary Bartz NTU Troop 14. Every Time He Comes Around - Minnie Riperton 15. Fat City Strut - Mandrill (Bonus Track) 16. Chitterlings Con Carne-Pucho And His Latin Soul Brothers(Bon 17. Lets Dance - Pleasure 18. Celestial Blues - Gary Bartz NTU Troop 19. A Joyful Process - Funkadelic (Bonus Track) 20. Matrix - Dizzy Gillespie

    see also: pulp - fusion - Harmless records

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