Often the narrative of music is a reflection of history and the times. Music has always been at the forefront as the evolution of black culture constantly progresses. African American music serves as a huge parasol, covering a vast array of musical genres such as jazz, soul, funk, and rap. However, as we travel the musical timeline of Black History, we can’t exclude the roots of African American music. Prior to these genres, during the 18 and early 1900s, Black music consisted of work and field chants, spirituals, and ragtime. These were songs created during times of slavery, distress and oppression in the US, with sentiments of suffering, faith and hope for a better future. What originally started off as an outlet of expression became the catalyst to the soundtrack of today’s Black history and pride.
1960s –The Civil Rights Movement
We’re going to jump to a pivotal point in Black history. Many genres of music, rhythm and blues, southern soul and gospel, were fused to translate into universal songs of aspirations, rights and Black achievement. Although granted by law African Americans were emancipated, the reality was they were still battling the evils of segregation and racial discrimination. Civil Rights leaders gathered with the community during church and marches to sing in unison, sustaining the people with strength and courage to prevail, despite the countless obstacles against their fight for freedom.
“Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around”
James Brown – “Say It Loud – I’m Black & I’m Proud” (1968)
1970s- Peace, Love & Black Beauty
With an explosion of raw talent, the music composed in this era was during a major revolution in black beauty and black pride. If the 50s and 60s were a demand to be free, the 70s were a musical statement of freedom. Artists were set free through truth told by the originality and creativity of their music. It was psychedelic soul, disco, and funky goodness! The music embodied love and acceptance. There was dancing, laughter and happiness! Blacks personified kings and queens wearing afros as a crown and, at the same time, questioned the order of things in America. They truly wanted to know what was going on in their neighborhoods as well as across the world. They contributed to the struggle through their music, expecting changes for the better and spreading peace and love through their songs.
Marvin Gaye – “ What’s Going on” (1971)
Earth Wind and Fire – “September” (1971)
The O’Jays – “Love Train” (1972)
1980s – Pop Stars & Gangsta Rap
The 80s was a decade of two specifically different styles of music. Rap artists were departing from the coded apolitical protest, to a straight forward message and call to action in their music. The groundwork had been laid in the 70’s for brilliant commentary on the social issues of America delivered in the 80’s in an unapologetic sometimes thinly veiled revolutionary manner. If you’ve recently seen the biographical movie Straight Outta Compton, featuring Rap group N.W.A., then you can further fathom how blunt the message in the music was. At the same time, this was the decade of the multifaceted pop superstars. Whitney Houston, Prince, and Tina Turner, to name a few, were at their peak and genius phenomenons at this point in time.
Michael Jackson – “Bad” (1987)
NWA – “Express Yourself” (1988)
1990s- Black Consciousness & Neo Soul
Black artists were continually reinventing themselves and genres to reflect their social consciousness in the 90s. Concerned with the evolving culture and continuing injustices, they repeatedly found new tools for expression. The spread of history and knowledge allowed artists to look back at the origin of their culture as a source of celebration. Neo Soul showcases influences from RnB, jazz, funk, electra and hip hop. These were songs that spoke to music’s ability to advocate ideologies of unity, thought and dialogue. The message was straight forward yet profound. There was nothing trivial about the lyrics.
Queen Latifah – “UNITY” (1993)
Lauryn Hill – “Everything Is Everything” (1998)
2000s – Black Lives Matter Movement
So is Black music still using music as an instrument to implement our pride and culture in the 21st century? Verdict says, yes! We are in the midst of a technology revolution where the Internet and social media is rapidly exploiting some of what used to be covert forms of racial injustice and concealed knowledge. Not only does the music continue to be used as an instrument to express this message, but it’s being performed loud and proud on TV and at grand scale national events. Black artists art not only advocating that Black culture matters, but that the lives matter as well.
Beyonce – “Formation” (2016)
How timely of my fellow Virgo and Diva. Beyonce slayed the Superbowl with her Formation performance. Rocking all black everything, afros, berets and leather jackets, she led her squad of ladies with their fists in the air, into an X formation. Conceivably honoring Malcolm X and the Civil Rights movement, she conveyed strength, support and solidarity.
There is no better way to cap off Black History Month than winning five Grammy awards out of 11 nominations and having an outstanding yet thought provoking performance. Kendrick appeared on stage in slave chains along with musicians standing inside jail cells to depict the parallels of the past and present. Performing songs off his Grammy winning, Rap Album of the Year To Pimp A Butterfly, he paid homage to where black music and culture all began. Using African drums, tribal dancing and his hometown, Compton, written inside a silhouette of Africa, he ended his performance on a powerful note. A prime example of how Black artists evolve and continue to use music, audio and visuals to celebrate Black pride and humanity.
– Submitted by Civonne Ray, Music Design