USA Slave Music and the World

The USA is the iconic home of slave’s music, it is this conquered lands only original immigrants music. The ruling elites treatment of the Black enslaved people, the genocide of its native population and its pollution of history pervades every aspect of life here and in world politics – as though this place only existed when Columbus set sail, and it is still the mindset of many American White people today. Black music is the magic soul that came from the oppressed slaves and in more recent times the ongoing belief that Black people are less than human.

Yet this nation of immigrants musical DNA is Black and possibly the only decent thing they have given the rest of the world: from Gospel to Jazz and Blues, Old Timey to Bluegrass, Rythym ‘n’ Blues to Rock ‘n’ Roll and let’s not forget Creole, Soul, Funk, Hip-hop, Rap, Ragtime, House, Skiffle, Swing, Spirituals, Groove, Disco, Barbershop Music, Bebop, Zydeco, Boogie Woogie etc. etc.

These influences on the world stage are endless as are the countless numbers of the many non Black performers from Elvis Presley and Pat Boone who stole their music, to Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones, The Animals (more on the British Invasion below), Frank Zappa, Canned Heat, Johnny Winter etc; who appreciated the music always gave credit and were blind to their colour.

Gospel – Spirituals – Hollers & Shouts and Sea Shanties

The Ring Shout, rooted in the ritual dances of West Africa and forged by the Atlantic slave trade, is believed to be the oldest surviving African-American performance tradition of any kind. Centered in the Gullah-Geechee region of the coastal South, it differs from traditional Black religious music in repertory, style and execution.

The shouters, historically, had a separate body of songs that were used expressly and exclusively for the Ring Shout. They are not the Spirituals or Gospel songs or hymns or jubilees that you’d hear in the church but there influence on those music styles is clear to see.

However Hollers & Shouts are of the cotton fields, slaves were not allowed to gather in groups so they shouted songs (with a leader), they were developed as work songs to help them through the repetitive tasks of the day, these also became Chain-Gang work songs.

One significant impact was on the sea, enterprising ship owners saw how efficient these songs worked for the slaves when loading cotton as part of the Triangle and the ‘Sea Shanty’ gained its first foothold, they became part of the modernisation of new faster ships, the advent of steam stopped the Sea Shanty for many years until it was revived in the 1920’s as a leisure (drinking) culture.

Tradition Gospel and Spirituals also survive to this day, there influence on world music is profound.  

Gospel music has roots in the black oral tradition, and typically utilises a great deal of repetition, which allows those who could not read the opportunity to participate in worship.

During this time, hymns and sacred songs were lined and repeated in a call-and-response fashion, and Negro spirituals and work songs emerged.

Repetition and “call and response” are accepted elements in African music, designed to achieve an altered state of consciousness sometimes referred to as “trance”, and to strengthen communal bonds. Its bond with Spirituals (sometimes called Negro Spirituals) is clear, it is an oral tradition that promoted Christian values.

Their contribution to this day can be seen through it’s influence on Soul music, Funk and Rap and many other areas of pop music where the singer has been influenced by the Gospel/Spiritual style.

The Blues

The term Blues may have come from “blue devils”, meaning melancholy and sadness; an early use of the term in this sense is in George Colman’s one-act farce Blue Devils (1798).

The phrase blue devils may also have been derived from Britain in the 1600s, when the term referred to the “intense visual hallucinations that can accompany severe alcohol withdrawal”.

As time went on, the phrase lost the reference to devils, and “it came to mean a state of agitation or depression.” By the 1800s in the United States, the term blues was associated with drinking alcohol, a meaning which survives in the phrase blue law.

The Blues historically has had the greatest impact on popular worldwide music, this encompasses Old Timey, Country, Bluegrass, Rhythm ‘n’ Blues, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Soul and Funk.

The genre has deep roots in American history, particularly African-American history. The blues originated on Southern plantations in the 19th Century. Its inventors were slaves, ex-slaves and the descendants of slaves.  African-American sharecroppers who sang as they toiled in the cotton and vegetable fields. It’s generally accepted that the music evolved from African ring music, African spirituals, African chants, work songs, field hollers and shouts, rural fife and drum music, revivalist hymns, and country dance music.

The first publication of blues sheet music may have been “I Got the Blues”, published by New Orleans musician Antonio Maggio in 1908 and described as “the earliest published composition known to link the condition of having the blues to the musical form that would become popularly known as ‘the blues.’

Hart Wand’s “Dallas Blues” was published in 1912. W.C. Handy’s “The Memphis Blues” followed in the same year. The first recording by an African American singer was Mamie Smith’s 1920 rendition of Perry Bradford’s “Crazy Blues”. But the origins of the blues were some decades earlier, probably around 1890. This music is poorly documented, partly because of racial discrimination in U.S. society, including academic circles, and partly because of the low rate of literacy among rural African Americans at the time

The Blues grew up in the Mississippi Delta just upriver from New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz.

Blues and jazz have always influenced each other, and they still interact in countless ways today. One of it’s greatest impacts came from the 30’s Jug Bands (Skiffle), who’s spirit of fix and make do and energy played a great part in the 50’s Rhythm ‘n’ Blues/Rock ‘n’ Roll mania.

Unlike jazz, the blues didn’t spread out significantly from the South to the Midwest until the 1930s and ’40s. Once the Delta Blues made their way up the Mississippi to urban areas, the music evolved into electrified Chicago blues, other regional blues styles, and various jazz-blues hybrids. A decade or so later the blues gave birth to rhythm ‘n blues and rock ‘n roll.

Jazz – Big Band – Modern Jazz

Developed in the latter part of the 19th century from Black work songs, field shouts, sorrow songs, hymns, and spirituals whose harmonic, rhythmic, and melodic elements were predominantly African. Because of its spontaneous, emotional, and improvisational character, and because it is basically of Black origin and association, Jazz has to some extent not been accorded the degree of recognition it deserves. European audiences have often been more receptive to Jazz, and thus many American Jazz musicians have become expatriates.

The origin of the word Jazz has resulted in considerable research, and its history is well documented. It is believed to be related to Jasm, a slang term dating back to 1860 meaning “pep/energy”.The earliest written record of the word is in a 1912 article in the Los Angeles Times in which a minor league baseball pitcher described a pitch which he called a “Jazz Ball” “because it wobbles and you simply can’t do anything with it”.

Early Jazz pioneers included: Scott Joplin (1868–1917), Buddy Bolden (1877–1931), King Oliver (1885–1938), Nick LaRocca (1889–1961), Jelly Roll Morton (1890–1941), Sidney Bechet (1897–1959), Louis Armstrong (1901–1971).

When Jazz moved to the Big Band/Swing style (more than 10 musicians) it was dominated by White bandleaders Paul Whiteman, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Glen Miller, Harry James, something more acceptable to it’s predominantly White audience. Black musicians who did make the grade in this White world included Count Basie, Duke Ellington and singers Ella Fitzgerald, Billy Holiday, however their White much better paid counterparts Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby. This has created two forms of tensions within Jazz: first, among some White performers who feel  that Whites have not been given sufficient credit for their contributions to this art which has had White participation since its earliest days; and, second, between Black performers and the Whites who mostly constituted the critics, writers, venue and record company owners who described, analysed, promoted, publicised, recorded, and distributed this music.

Modern Jazz: In the early 1940’s a group of New York based Jazz musicians became disenchanted with the prevailing style of the time. These included Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Thelonious Monk. They consciously strove to expand the harmonic, melodic and rhythmic possibilities of the music, thereby giving the music a greater sense of urgency and sophistication. This style became known as “Bebop”. By the end of the decade trumpeter Miles Davis sought to create a more mellow and subdued style of Jazz which would retain the complexities of bebop yet would also convey a more vocal and expressive mood. This came to be known as “Cool Jazz”. Followed on in the late 50’s and 60’s by two other diverse influences arose. The Dave Brubeck  Quartet experimented with various unusual time signatures, and the Modern Jazz Quartet expanded the structure of the music and paid great attention to programming, group interplay, dynamic shading and contrast, comparable to a classical string Quartet. The John Coltrane Quartet was probably the most influential group of the1960s an era that saw a lot of experimental attempts to broaden the scope of the music, and established instrumental practices.

The Electric Revolution – Rhythm ‘n’ Blues to Rock ‘n’ Roll

The hymn “Rocked in the Cradle of the Deep”, with words written in the 1830s by Emma Willard and tune by Joseph Philip Knight, was recorded several times around the start of the twentieth century, by the Original Bison City Quartet before 1894, the Standard Quartette in 1895, John W. Myers at about the same time, and Gus Reed in 1908. By that time, the specific phrase “rocking and rolling” was also used by African Americans in spirituals with a religious connotation. The earliest known recording of the phrase in use was on a 1904 Victor phonograph record, “The Camp Meeting Jubilee” by the Haydn Quartet, with the words “We’ve been Rockin’ an’ Rolling in your arms/ Rockin’ and rolling in your arms/ Rockin’ and rolling in your arms/ In the arms of Moses.” Another version was issued on the Little Wonder record label in 1916. “Rocking” was also used to describe the spiritual rapture felt by worshippers at certain religious events, and to refer to the rhythm often found in the accompanying music. By the early twentieth century the words were increasingly used together in secular black slang with a double meaning, ostensibly referring to dancing and partying, but often with the sub-textual meaning of sex.

Rock and roll emerged as a defined musical style in the United States in the early to mid-1950s. It derived most directly from the rhythm and blues music of the 1940s, which itself developed from earlier blues, boogie woogie, jazz and swing music, and was also influenced by gospel, country and western, and traditional folk music. Rock and roll in turn provided the main basis for the music that, since the mid-1960s, has been generally known as rock music. Black artists in the 40’s and 50’s suffered at the hands of White record companies and artists, they were made to sell their songs for a one off fee with no rights to royalties, prime examples are Elvis Presley ‘Hound Dog’ (Mama Thornton), Pat Boone ‘Tutti Fritti’ & ‘Long Tall Sally’ (Little Richard), ‘Ain’t That A Shame’ (Fats Domino). Although it was the record companies and producers who responsible for this, when asked if he felt guity about this Boone disgracefully stated “There were lots of Rhythm and Blues artists and they were doing well in their genre and they were famous and they had the charts and everything. (But) the only ones anybody knows today are the ones that were covered by the Beatles, by Elvis, by me and by many artists.” This gives the general belief that if the original version were given the same chances they would not have succeeded. Given the history of modern world music as it stands this is pure White arrogance, Black music by Black artists now dominate the world.

Soul & Funk and the development of Hip-hop, House, Rap & Disco

Soul music (often referred to simply as soul) is a popular music genre that originated in the African American community throughout the United States in the 1950s and early 1960s. It combines elements of African-American gospel music, rhythm and blues and jazz. Soul music became popular for dancing and listening in the United States, where record labels such as Motown, Atlantic and Stax were influential during the Civil Rights Movement. Soul also became popular around the world, directly influencing rock music and the music of Africa. The key subgenres of soul include the Detroit (Motown) style, a more pop-friendly and rhythmic style; deep soul and southern soul, driving, energetic soul styles combining R&B with southern gospel music sounds; Memphis soul, a shimmering, sultry style; New Orleans soul, which came out of the rhythm and blues style; Chicago soul, a lighter gospel-influenced sound; Philadelphia soul, a lush orchestral sound with doo-wop-inspired vocals; as well as psychedelic soul, a blend of psychedelic rock and soul music.

Funk originated in the mid-1960s, with James Brown’s development of a signature groove that emphasised the downbeat—with heavy emphasis on the first beat of every measure (The One), and the application of swung 16th notes and syncopation on all basslines, drum patterns, and guitar riffs.

Other musical groups, including Sly and the Family Stone, Kool and the Gang, Parliament-Funkadelic, B.T. Express, Fatback Band, Slave and Ohio Players. They began to adopt and develop Brown’s innovations in 1970s. The influence of Funk spread to other styles in the 1980s—mixing with the gritty realism of Hard Rock and Punk and the experimentation of much of the Electronic music of the time. With the rise of Rap music in the 1980s and its “sampling” of 1970s funk songs, funk grew in stature and significance in hip-hop culture. It became associated with ancient mysteries in the Black tradition, providing hip-hop with a historical link to artists and cultural movements of the past.Funk derivatives include the psychedelic funk of Sly Stone and George Clinton; the Avante-Garde Funk of groups such as Talking Heads and the Pop Group; a hybrid of Boogie, Disco music and Funk, Funk metal; a mix of funk and metal (example, Living Colour); G-funk, a mix of Gangsta Rap and funk; Timba, a form of Funky Cuban dance music and Funk jam. Funk samples and Breakbeats have been used extensively in Hip-Hop and various forms of Electronic Dance Music, such as House Music, and Detroit Techno. It is also the main influence of Washington Go-Go (Chuck Brown, Trouble Funk, EU), a subgenre associated with Funk.

NOTE: The early 60’s British Invasion (music) of the USA by bands like The Animals, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Them, The Yardbirds etc; during the height of Civil Rights activities in the USA woke up the American money men, the British were selling their own original music back to them and making millions – this paved way to allowing more Black labels to promote their music worldwide, the rest is history as they say.