African-American music is an umbrella term covering a diverse range of
musics and musical genres largely developed by African Americans.
Their origins are in musical forms that arose out of the historical
condition of slavery that characterized the lives of African Americans
prior to the American Civil War.
The modern genres of blues and ragtime were developed during the late
19th century by fusing West African vocalizations - which employed the
natural harmonic series, and blue notes. The exceptions are Hip-hop,
house and techno, which were formed in the late 20th century from
earlier forms of
African-American music such as funk and soul.
Following the Civil War, Black Americans, through employment as
musicians playing European music in military bands, developed a new
style of music called ragtime which gradually evolved into jazz. In
developing this latter musical form,
African Americans contributed
knowledge of the sophisticated polyrhythmic structure of the dance and
folk music of peoples across western and sub-Saharan Africa. These
musical forms had a wide-ranging influence on the development of music
within the United States and around the world during the 20th century.
The earliest jazz and blues recordings were made in the 1920s.
African-American musicians developed related styles such as Rhythm and
Blues in the 1940s. In the 1960s, soul performers had a major
influence on white US and UK singers. In the mid-1960s, Black
musicians developed funk and they were many of the leading figures in
late 1960s and 1970s genre of jazz-rock fusion. In the 1970s and
1980s, Black artists developed hip-hop, and in the 1980s introduced
the disco-infused dance style known as house music. In the 2000s,
hip-hop attained significant mainstream popularity. Modern day music
is heavily influenced by previous and present African-American music
1 Historic traits
African-American music styles
3.1 18th century
3.2 19th century
3.3 Early 20th century (1900s–1930s)
3.4 Mid-20th century (1940s–1960s)
3.7 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s
4 Economic impact
5 See also
8 Further reading
9 External links
As well as bringing harmonic and rhythmic features from western and
sub-Saharan Africa to meet European musical instrumentation, it was
the historical condition of chattel slavery experienced by black
Americans within American society that contributed the conditions
which would define their music. Many of the characteristic musical
forms that define
African-American music have historical precedents.
These earlier forms include:
call and response
vocality (or special vocal effects): guttural effects, interpolated
vocality, falsetto, melisma, vocal rhythmization
polyrhythms: syncopation, concrescence, tension, improvisation,
percussion, swung note
texture: antiphony, homophony, polyphony, heterophony
harmony: vernacular progressions; complex, multi-part harmony, as in
spirituals, Doo Wop, and barbershop music
African-American music styles
Jug band music
New jack swing
Rhythm and blues
Rock & roll
Work song § African-American work songs
In the late 18th century folk spirituals originated among Southern
slaves, following their conversion to Christianity. Conversion,
however, did not result in slaves adopting the traditions associated
with the practice of Christianity. Instead they reinterpreted them in
a way that had meaning to them as Africans in America. They often sang
the spirituals in groups as they worked the plantation fields.
Folk spirituals, unlike much white gospel, were often spirited: slaves
added dancing (later known as "the shout") and other forms of bodily
movements to the singing. They also changed the melodies and rhythms
of psalms and hymns, such as speeding up the tempo, adding repeated
refrains and choruses, and replaced texts with new ones that often
combined English and African words and phrases. Originally being
passed down orally, folk spirituals have been central in the lives of
African Americans for more than three centuries, serving religious,
cultural, social, political, and historical functions.
Folk spirituals were spontaneously created and performed in a
repetitive, improvised style. The most common song structures are the
call-and-response ("Blow, Gabriel") and repetitive choruses ("He Rose
from the Dead). The call-and-response is an alternating exchange
between the soloist and the other singers. The soloist usually
improvises a line to which the other singers respond, repeating the
same phrase. Song interpretation incorporates the interjections of
moans, cries, hollers etc... and changing vocal timbres. Singing is
also accompanied by hand clapping and foot-stomping.
Suggested listening: Spirituals
The influence of
African Americans on mainstream American music began
in the 19th century, with the advent of blackface minstrelsy. The
banjo, of African origin, became a popular instrument, and its
African-derived rhythms were incorporated into popular songs by
Stephen Foster and other songwriters. In the 1830s, the Second Great
Awakening led to a rise in Christian revivals and pietism, especially
among African Americans. Drawing on traditional work songs, enslaved
African Americans originated and began performing a wide variety of
Spirituals and other Christian music. Some of these songs were coded
messages of subversion against slaveholders, or that signaled escape.
During the period after the Civil War, the spread of African-American
music continued. The Fisk University Jubilee Singers toured first in
1871. Artists including
Jack Delaney helped revolutionize post-war
African-American music in the central-east of the United States. In
the following years, professional "jubilee" troops formed and toured.
The first black musical-comedy troupe,
Hyers Sisters Comic
was organized in 1876. In the last half of the 19th century, U.S.
barbershops often served as community centers, where most men would
gather. Barbershop quartets originated with African-American men
socializing in barbershops; they would harmonize while waiting their
turn, vocalizing in spirituals, folk songs and popular songs. This
generated a new style, consisting of unaccompanied, four-part,
close-harmony singing. Later, white minstrel singers adopted the
style, and in the early days of the recording industry their
performances were recorded and sold. By the end of the 19th century,
African-American music was an integral part of mainstream American
Early 20th century (1900s–1930s)
The Slayton Jubilee Singers entertain employees of the Old Trusty
Incubator Factory, Clay Center, about 1910
In early 20th-century American musical theater, the first musicals
written and produced by
African Americans debuted on Broadway in 1898
with a musical by Bob Cole and Billy Johnson. In 1901, the first
recording of black musicians was of
Bert Williams and George Walker,
featuring music from Broadway musicals. Theodore Drury helped black
artists develop in the opera field. He founded the Drury
in 1900 and, although he used a white orchestra, he featured black
singers in leading roles and choruses. Although this company was only
active from 1900 to 1908, black singers' opportunities with Drury
marked the first black participation in opera companies. Also
significant is Scott Joplin's opera Treemonisha, which is unique as a
ragtime-folk opera; it was first performed in 1911.
The early part of the 20th century saw a rise in popularity of
African-American blues and jazz.
African-American music at this time
was classed as "race music". This term gained momentum due to Ralph
Peer, musical director at OKeh Records, who put records made by
"foreign" groups under that label. At the time "race" was a term
commonly used by African-American press to speak of the community as a
whole with an empowering point of view, as a person of "race" was one
involved in fighting for equal rights. Also, developments in the
fields of visual arts and the
Harlem Renaissance led to developments
Ragtime performers such as
Scott Joplin became popular and
some were associated with the
Harlem Renaissance and early civil
rights activists. In addition, white and Latino performers of
African-American music were visible, rooted in the history of
cross-cultural communication between the United States' races.
African-American music was often adapted for white audiences, who
would not have as readily accepted black performers, leading to genres
like swing music, a pop-based outgrowth of jazz.
African Americans were becoming part of classical music
by the turn of the 20th century. While originally excluded from major
symphony orchestras, black musicians could study in music
conservatories that had been founded in the 1860s, such as the Oberlin
School of Music, National Conservatory of Music, and the New England
Conservatory. Black people also formed their own symphony
orchestras at the turn of the 20th century in major cities such as
Chicago, New Orleans, and Philadelphia. Various black orchestras began
to perform regularly in the late 1890s and the early 20th century. In
1906, the first incorporated black orchestra was established in
Philadelphia. In the early 1910s, all-black music schools, such as
Music School Settlement for Colored and the Martin-Smith School of
Music, were founded in New York.
Music School Settlement for Colored became a sponsor of the Clef
Club orchestra in New York. The
Clef Club Symphony Orchestra attracted
both black and white audiences to concerts at
Carnegie Hall from 1912
to 1915. Conducted by
James Reese Europe
James Reese Europe and William H. Tyers, the
orchestra included banjos, mandolins, and baritone horns. Concerts
featured music written by black composers, notably Harry T. Burleigh
and Will Marion Cook. Other annual black concert series include the
William Hackney's "All-Colored Composers" concerts in Chicago and the
The return of the black musical to Broadway occurred in 1921 with
Sissle and Eubie Blake's Shuffle Along. In 1927, a concert survey of
black music was performed at
Carnegie Hall including jazz, spirituals
and the symphonic music of W. C. Handy's Orchestra and the Jubilee
Singers. The first major film musical with a black cast was King
Vidor's Hallelujah of 1929. African-American performers were featured
in the musical
Show Boat (which had a part written for Paul Robeson
and a chorus of Jubilee Singers), and especially all-black operas such
Porgy and Bess
Porgy and Bess and Virgil Thomson's
Four Saints in Three Acts
Four Saints in Three Acts of
The first symphony by a black composer to be performed by a major
orchestra was William Grant Still's Afro-American Symphony (1930) by
the New York Philharmonic. Florence Beatrice Price's Symphony in E
minor was performed in 1933 by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. In
1934, William Dawson's Negro Folk Symphony was performed by the
African Americans were the pioneers of jazz music, through masters
such as Jelly Roll Morton, James P. Johnson, Louis Armstrong, Count
Basie, Fletcher Henderson, and Duke Ellington.
Mid-20th century (1940s–1960s)
Billboard started making a separate list of hit records for
African-American music in October 1942 with the "Harlem Hit Parade",
which was changed in 1945 to "Race Records", and then in 1949 to
Blues Records". By the 1940s, cover versions of
African-American songs were commonplace, and frequently topped the
charts, while the original musicians found success among their
African-American audience, but not in the mainstream. In 1955, Thurman
Ruth persuaded a gospel group to sing in a secular setting, the Apollo
Theater, with such success that he subsequently arranged gospel
caravans that traveled around the country, playing the same venues
that rhythm and blues singers had popularized. Meanwhile, jazz
performers began to push jazz away from swing, a danceable popular
music towards more intricate arrangements, improvisation, and
technically challenging forms, culminating in the bebop of Charlie
Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, the cool sounds and modal jazz of Miles
Davis, and the free jazz of
Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane.
African-American musicians in the 1940s and 1950s were developing
rhythm and blues into a genre called rock and roll, which featured a
strong backbeat and whose prominent exponents included Louis Jordan
and Wynonie Harris. However, it was with white musicians such as Bill
Haley and Elvis Presley, playing a guitar-based fusion of black rock
and roll with country music called rockabilly, that rock and roll
music became commercially successful. Rock music thereafter became
more associated with white people, though some black performers such
Chuck Berry and
Bo Diddley had commercial success.
The 1950s also saw increased popularity of hard blues in the style
from the earliest part of the century, both in the United States and
United Kingdom. The 1950s also saw doo-wop style become popular.
Doo-wop had been developed through vocal group harmony with the
musical qualities of different vocal parts, nonsense syllables, little
or no instrumentation, and simple lyrics. It usually involved ensemble
single artists appearing with a backing group. Solo billing was given
to lead singers who were more prominent in the musical arrangement. A
secularized form of American gospel music called soul also developed
in the mid 1950s, with pioneers like Ray Charles, Jackie Wilson
Sam Cooke leading the wave. Soul and R&B became a major
influence on surf, as well as the chart-topping girl groups including
The Angels and The Shangri-Las, only some of whom were white.
In 1959, Berry Gordy founded Motown Records, the first record label to
primarily feature African-American artists aimed at achieving
crossover success. The label developed an innovative—and
commercially successful—style of soul music with distinctive pop
elements. Its early roster included The Miracles, Martha and the
Vandellas, Marvin Gaye, and The Temptations, The Supremes, and
others. Black divas such as
Aretha Franklin became '60s crossover
stars. In the UK,
British blues became a gradually mainstream
phenomenon, returning to the U.S. in the form of the British Invasion,
a group of bands led by
The Beatles and
The Rolling Stones
The Rolling Stones who
performed blues and R&B-inspired pop, with both traditional and
WGIV in Charlotte, North Carolina was amongst a
few radio stations dedicated to
African-American music that started
during this period.
British Invasion knocked many black artists off the US pop charts,
although some, among them Otis Redding,
Wilson Pickett and Aretha
Franklin and a number of Motown artists, continued to do well. Soul
music, however, remained popular among black people through highly
evolved forms such as funk, developed out of the innovations of James
By the end of the decade, Black people were part of the psychedelia
and early heavy metal trends, particularly by way of the ubiquitous
Beatles' influence and the electric guitar innovations of Jimi
Hendrix. Hendrix was among the first guitarists to use audio
feedback, fuzz, and other effects pedals such as the wah wah pedal to
create a unique guitar solo sound. Psychedelic soul, a mix of
psychedelic rock and soul began to flourish with the 1960s culture.
Even more popular among black people and with more crossover appeal,
was album-oriented soul in the late 1960s and early 1970s, which
revolutionized African-American music. The genre's intelligent and
introspective lyrics, often with a socially aware tone were created by
artists such as
Marvin Gaye in What's Going On, and
Stevie Wonder in
Songs in the Key of Life.
The 1970s was a great decade for Black bands playing melodic music.
Album-oriented soul continued its popularity, while musicians such as
Smokey Robinson helped turn it into
Quiet Storm music.
into two strands, one a pop-soul-jazz-bass fusion pioneered by Sly
& the Family Stone, and the other a more psychedelic fusion
epitomized by George Clinton and his P-
Funk ensemble. The sound of
Disco evolved from black musicians creating
Soul music with an
up-tempo melody. Isaac Hayes, Barry White,
Donna Summer and among
others help popularized disco music. However, this music was
integrated into popular music achieving mainstream success.
Black musicians achieved some mainstream success, though some
African-American artists including The Jackson 5, Roberta Flack,
Dionne Warwick, Stevie Wonder, The O'Jays, Gladys Knight & the
Pips found crossover audiences. White listeners preferred country
rock, singer-songwriters, stadium rock, soft rock, glam rock, and, in
some subcultures, heavy metal and punk rock. During the 1970s, The
Dozens, an urban African-American tradition of using playful rhyming
ridicule, developed into street jive in the early '70s, which in turn
inspired a new form of music by the late 1970s: hip-hop. Spoken-word
artists such as The Last Poets,
Gil Scott-Heron and Melvin Van Peebles
are also cited as the major innovators in early hip-hop. Beginning at
block parties in The Bronx, hip-hop music arose as one facet of a
large subculture with rebellious and progressive elements. DJs spun
records, most typically funk, while MCs introduced tracks to the
dancing audience. Over time, DJs, particularly Jamaican immigrant DJ
Kool Herc for instance, began isolating and repeating the percussion
breaks, producing a constant, eminently danceable beat, which they or
MCs began rapping over, through rhymes and eventually sustained
lyrics. In the South Bronx, the half-speaking, half-singing rhythmic
street talk of 'rapping' grew into a cultural force known as Hip
hop. Hip Hop would become a multicultural movement in young black
America, led by artists such as
Kurtis Blow and Run-DMC.
In the 1980s,
Michael Jackson had record-breaking success with his
albums Off the Wall, Bad, and Thriller – the latter remaining the
best-selling album of all time – transforming popular music and
uniting races, ages and genders, and would eventually lead to
successful crossover black solo artists, including Prince, Lionel
Richie, Luther Vandross, Tina Turner, Whitney Houston, and Janet
Jackson. Pop and dance-soul of this era inspired new jack swing by the
end of the decade.
Hip-hop spread across the country and diversified. Techno, Dance,
Miami bass, Chicago house, Los Angeles hardcore and Washington, D.C.
Go-go developed during this period, with only
Miami bass achieving
mainstream success. But, before long,
Miami bass was relegated
primarily to the Southeastern US, while
Chicago house had made strong
headways on college campuses and dance arenas (i.e. the warehouse
sound, the rave). The DC go-go sound of
Miami bass was essentially a
regional sound that did not garner much mass appeal. Chicago house
sound had expanded into the
Detroit music environment and mutated into
more electronic and industrial sounds creating
Detroit techno, acid,
jungle. Mating these experimental, usually DJ-oriented, sounds with
the prevalence of the multi-ethnic
New York City
New York City disco sound from the
1970s and 1980s created a brand of music that was most appreciated in
the huge discothèques that are located in cities like Chicago, New
York, Los Angeles, Detroit, Boston, etc. Eventually, European
audiences embraced this kind of electronic dance music with more
enthusiasm than their North American counterparts. These variable
sounds let the listeners prioritize their exposure to new music and
rhythms while enjoying a gigantic dancing experience.
In the later half of the decade, from about 1986, rap took off into
the mainstream with Run-D.M.C.'s Raising Hell, and the Beastie Boys'
Licensed to Ill, the latter becoming the first rap album to enter No.1
Spot on the Billboard 200 and helping break down the doors for white
performers to do rap. Both of these groups mixed rap and rock
together, which appealed to rock and rap audiences.
Hip-hop took off
from its roots and the golden age hip hop flourished, with artists
such as Eric B. & Rakim, Public Enemy, LL Cool J, Queen Latifah,
Big Daddy Kane, and Salt-N-Pepa. Hip Hop became popular in America
until the late 1990s, when it went worldwide. The golden age scene
would die out by the early 1990s as gangsta rap and g-funk took over,
with west-coast artists Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg,
Warren G and Ice Cube,
east-coast artists Notorious B.I.G., Wu-Tang Clan, and Mobb Deep, and
the sounds of urban black male bravado, compassion, and social
awareness best represented by the rapper Tupac Shakur.
While heavy metal music was almost exclusively created by white
performers in the 1970s and 1980s, there were a few exceptions. In
1988, all-black heavy metal band
Living Colour achieved mainstream
success with their début album Vivid, peaking at #6 on the Billboard
200, thanks to their Top 20 single "Cult of Personality". The band's
music contained lyrics that attack what they perceived as the
Eurocentrism and racism of America. A decade later, more black artists
like Lenny Kravitz, Body Count, Ben Harper, and countless others would
start playing rock again.
1990s, 2000s, and 2010s
Contemporary R&B, as in the post-disco version of soul music,
remained popular throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Male vocal groups in
the style of soul groups such as
The Temptations and
The O'Jays were
particularly popular, including New Edition, Boyz II Men, Jodeci, Dru
Hill, Blackstreet, and Jagged Edge. Girl groups, including TLC,
SWV and En Vogue, were also highly successful.
Singer-songwriters such as R. Kelly, Mariah Carey, Montell Jordan,
Raphael Saadiq of
Tony! Toni! Toné!
Tony! Toni! Toné! were also
significantly popular during the 1990s, and artists including Mary J.
Blige, Faith Evans, and
BLACKstreet popularized a fusion blend known
as hip-hop soul. The neo soul movement of the 1990s looked back on
more classical soul influences and was popularized in the late
1990s/early 2000s by such artists as D'Angelo, Erykah Badu, Maxwell,
Lauryn Hill, India.Arie, Alicia Keys, Jill Scott, Angie Stone, Bilal
and Musiq Soulchild. According to one music writer, D'Angelo's
critically acclaimed album Voodoo (2000) "represents African American
music at a crossroads ... To simply call [it] neo-classical soul ...
would be [to] ignore the elements of vaudeville jazz, Memphis horns,
ragtime blues, funk and bass grooves, not to mention hip-hop, that
slip out of every pore of these haunted songs."
Blue-eyed soul is
an influence of
African-American music performed by white artists,
including Michael McDonald, Christina Aguilera, Amy Winehouse, Robin
Thicke, Jon B., Lisa Stansfield, Teena Marie, Justin Timberlake, Joss
Stone, George Michael, and Anastacia.
By the first decade of the 21st century, R&B had shifted towards
an emphasis on solo artists with pop appeal, with Usher, Rihanna, and
Beyoncé being the most prominent examples. Furthermore, the music was
accompanied by aesthetically creative and unique music videos.
Examples of these types of music videos include but are not limited
to: Beyoncé's "Crazy in Love", Rihanna's "Pon de Replay", and Usher's
"Caught Up". These music videos helped R&B become more profitable
and more popular than it had been in the 1990s. The line between
hip-hop and R&B and pop was significantly blurred by producers
Lil Jon and artists such as Missy Elliott,
Akon and OutKast.
"Urban music" and "urban radio" are largely race-neutral
today, terms that are synonymous with hip hop and
R&B and the associated hip-hop culture that originated in New York
City. The term also reflects the fact that they are
popular in urban areas, both within black population centers and among
the general population (especially younger audiences).
Edward Ray at Capital Records
The hip-hop movement has become increasingly mainstream as the music
industry has taken control of it. Essentially, "from the moment
'Rapper's Delight' went platinum, hiphop the folk culture became
hiphop the American entertainment-industry sideshow."
In June 2009,
Michael Jackson died unexpectedly from a cardiac arrest,
triggering a global outpouring of grief. Within a year of his death,
his estate had generated $1.4 billion in revenues. A documentary film
consisting of rehearsal footage for Jackson's scheduled This Is It
tour, entitled Michael Jackson's This Is It, was released on October
28, 2009, and became the highest-grossing concert film in history.
In 2013, no African-American musician had a Billboard Hot 100 number
one. This was the first time there was no number one in a year by an
African American in the chart's 55-year history.
Plans for a Smithsonian-affiliated Museum of
African-American music to
be built in Newark, New Jersey, and an R&B museum/hall of fame
have been discussed.
Record stores played a vital role in African-American communities for
many decades. In the 1960s and 1970s, between 500 and 1,000
black-owned record stores operated in the American South, and probably
twice as many in the United States as a whole. African-American
entrepreneurs embraced record stores as key vehicles for economic
empowerment and critical public spaces for black consumers at a time
that many black-owned businesses were closing amid desegregation.
In addition, countless
African Americans have earned livings as
musical performers, club owners, radio deejays, concert promoters, and
record label owners.
African American portal
African American musical theater
List of musical genres of the African diaspora
Music of the African diaspora
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to African American music.
Shall We Gather at the River, a collection of African-American sacred
music, made available for public use by the State Archives of Florida
20 historical milestones in African-American music
"Negro Melodies". New International Encyclopedia. 1905.
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Black Panther Party
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National Urban League (NUL)
Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH)
Thurgood Marshall College Fund
United Negro College Fund
United Negro College Fund (UNCF)
National Black Chamber of Commerce (NBCC)
National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC)
National Council of Negro Women
National Council of Negro Women (NCNW)
Negro league baseball
Baseball color line
Black players in professional American football
African Americans in the Canadian Football League
Black players in ice hockey
Louisiana Creole (of color)
U.S. cities with large populations
Louisiana Creole French
New York City
Trinidad and Tobago
US state firsts
Landmark African-American legislation
African American-related articles
Topics related to the African diaspora
American folk music
Folk revival (1950s–60s)
Banjo Hall of Fame Members