Music is the language of the soul. It allows people to cross cultures, boundaries, miles, and overcome illness. Music is such an important part of every culture, and that is no different when it comes to American music. American music has changed dramatically over the years, but one thing remains constant- it’s Black American foundation. In the late 19th century, European music had reached its zenith and a new sound would emerge. Ethnic music that carried with it a stronger pulse, one that talks to the heart emerged. Black American music addresses life as an experience more than notes on a page which is what led to it becoming a basis for almost all genres of American music today. We talked with Founder, Chairman, and CEO of GUION PARTNERS and Executive Publisher of Music Industry Quarterly (“MIQ”), Lindsay Guion, about the impact of Black American culture on modern music.
How Did Black American Music Get Started
Black American culture and music go hand in hand. You cannot separate the genetic memory from the people, as a result, the culture and tunes have seeped into all aspects of every genre over time. There really is no music in the US that is devoid of Black influences.
The layer of diversity added by Black Americans to the American identity enriches the culture. The failures, the struggles and gains through dozens of generations have been recorded in music, text, and through oral history. This is an important part of black culture that has allowed it to become the basis for all American genres of music.
Lindsay Guion explains that during the time of slavery, Black Americans that were brought over also brought their culture and their music. Conversion to Christianity was forced, but instead of killing the culture it created a spiritual one. This was and still is today one of the cornerstones of black culture used to express hope, sorrow, fear, history and much more.
Black American Influence in Music
The blues genre came to market in the ’20s. This was a way to help people connect and escape the bonds of violent racism. Lindsay Guion states that because black people were not included in the rest of society at the time, they made their own music. This did not stop their music from crossing over, albeit without credit. Jazz is another fusion style of music that is a mix of Black, European and Creole that came about in the late 1890s. It is made of many styles but has a distinct Black ring. It is a dynamic style that adapts to new influences easily and can be used for soulful ballads or upbeat swing dances and more.
Rock ’N’ Roll is largely touted as a “white” genre, but its roots are firmly planted in black culture. During the war, there was a massive migration of black people to other areas of the country. Their music traveled with them and the genre was born out of a mix of rhythm and blues mixed with European instrumentals. The edgy music was quickly appropriated by white teenagers and moved to the mainstream under an altered name.
Hip-Hop at its start was much different than the music you hear today but no less important. It started in the ’70s with break dancing, deejaying, and graffiti being used to explore the experience of urban black people. There is a mix of funk, R&B, soul and more that makes this genre truly unique.
Pop music as it is today would not exist without black people. Michael Jackson has aptly been crowned the king of pop music for how he changed the popular music landscape and his influence on the genre is still seen today. Lindsay Guion notes that essentially every pop star of every race can be traced back to Michael and other black artists.
Music is one of the most important forms of art and language in the world. It transcends language and culture and engages with people from around the world daily. As Lindsay Guion concludes, without the influence of Black American Culture, music as we know it would not exist today.