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The Shoulders We Walk On

The history of African-American music is rich in lore. Born of the slave shouts, it has evolved as an expression of the African’s experience in America. It embodies the souls of Black folks from the cotton fields to the church and from the rural south to the urban centers of this country. It is the music that has evolved over 3 centuries and whose indomitable spirit has propelled it to an American art form now loved by millions around the world.

From the souls of Black folk came a uniquely American and distinctly non-European art form. Amiri Baraka, as Leroi Jones, (who transitioned on January 9, 2014) wrote about this music most eloquently in his seminal Blues People: Negro Music in White America. Another more academic work, The History of African American Music by Professor Eileen Southern details the evolution of this American art form the field hollers, to the Negro Spiritual, to Gospel, Ragtime, Blues, Jazz, Rhythm and Blues, Soul and so on.

Whatever name we choose to call it, the Mother of Creation is the Blues. It is the collective voice of a peoples enslaved and brutalized because of the color of their skin. It is the creation of a people brought to this country in chains torn from their loved ones and stripped, for the most part, of their culture. It is a music born in the degradation and hopelessness that most of us recently revisited in the movie, 12 Years A Slave.

Ironically, the most beautiful aspect of this Blues music and its variations is its inclusivity. Because of its inclusivity it is enjoyed world-wide and has impacted millions irregardless of color, race or culture. It spawned dance and visual art and literature. Here in America, Black music and the performance of Blues music by black and white musicians set the table for the desegregation of American society long before there was a movement. Centuries after its birth, the Negro Spiritual and Gospel music became the driving force behind Dr. Martin Luther King’s Civil Rights Movement. In fact, it was Mahalia Jackson, one of the greatest Gospel singers of all time and Dr. King's favorite, who encouraged him to “tell them about the dream”.

In today’s commercial environment, it is more important than ever to acknowledge those who came before us. As an independent artist with my own label, I am well aware of and was inspired by Sam Cooke’s SARS label and the contributions of Black-owned record labels throughout history. For instance, did you know that the Beatles’ first record deal in America was with Black-owned Vee Jay Records?

Knowing the stories of exploitation of the Black artist by the music industry made me aware of how essential it is to have creative control of my music, to own my Master Recordings and enjoy the fruits of my publishing. Being a student of the history of African American music I rejoice in its vibrancy and I am ever so proud of its contributions to world culture. I am also painfully aware of the many pioneers whose names are seldom mentioned and whose contributions are mostly forgotten. Yet we walk on their shoulders.

 

Comments Section

Victor, Let me start off by saying I am thoroughly enjoying your blogs. Secondly, it so very important that the historical side of African-American Music not only be taught to the masses, but also passed down from generation to generation in OUR own culture. Many times I have spoken to both our young people and our more established citizens about the history of the African American experience in music. You would be surprised how many of the young folks who enjoy rap music never heard of Too Short or Cool Hurc. Or, how many of our older generation never heard of Thomas Dorsey or how many of todays jazz lover's never heard of Charlie Christian. Get my point? Those of US that have a passion for this music definitely need to stress the importance of the historical side as well as it's importance to our culture in particular and our society in general! Your post here and your overall dedication to your art is the reason that I will be a fan of yours for life!!!
This is such a dynamic tribute to the pains and pleasures that have been birthed out of black music developed from the black experience. Particularly, in the U.S. Black music has created a growing global social and monetary influence while the industry capitalizes off of multi-faceted contributions from blacks there remains a neglectful attribution towards rightful recognition. The author dutifully defines a public honor deserving of those forgotten black artists within the context of this blog.
 

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