Written by: Lataya Rothmiller
As of May 31st, Barack Obama has officially signed a proclamation that declares June 2016 as African-American Music appreciation month. In the proclamation, Obama calls upon officials, educators, and U.S citizens alike to acknowledge “the music that reminds us that our growth as a Nation and as people is reflected in our capacity to create great works of art.”
The president went on to emphasize the importance of African-American music in America. Read the full proclamation here.
Is it necessary? Of course! African American music goes far beyond the popular hip-hop genre. In fact, some of the popular genres go back as far as the 19th century.
The blues began its growth in the roots of slavery in the south. During those times, it began as a simple “call and shout” style in the fields, without any musical structure. After the abolishment of slavery, the style of the Blues expanded into simple solo songs with emotional harmony. Artists like the late Ray Charles, Nina Simone and B.B King were influential in this sound. The blues structure also gave rise to artists like Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins.
Although it isn’t blasting through our airwaves modern day, it is still a stepping stone for African American music. Ragtime is primarily based on the piano, and was popularized in 1895 by Ernest Hogan; “Father of Ragtime.” Personally, the sound is similar to the tunes of an ice cream truck. This piano driven-sound eventually became an inspiration for jazz music.
Louis Armstrong is often credited to the popularity of Jazz music. The genre relied on the sound of the saxophone, trumpet, and drums. Other artists such as Duke Ellington, and Billie holiday (to be concise) have been influential in this genre as well. In Kanye West’s 2013 album: “Yeezus,” he sampled Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit.”
R&B or Soul:
“Rhythm and Blues,” a personal favorite of mine, originated in the 1940’s. The sound usually consists of the piano, guitar, bass, drums, the saxophone, and background vocalists. Contemporary R&B artists like Whitney Houston, R.Kelly, Mariah Carey and an infinitive list of others can be recognized in this genre. The common theme of this music was used to sound out the African American experience of pain. The usually lyrics tell stories of relationship peaks and downfalls, passion, sex and so forth. British Acts like “The Rolling Stones” and “The Who” have been called “R&B bands”
If you haven’t before, use this month (and even beyond) to familiarize yourself with different artists and genres of African-American music! Now that you have a little background, you’ll be excited when you understand the history of the popular songs we listen to everyday.
Photo Credit: The White House