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African American Influences On American Popular Music Cultural Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 976 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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These days, it’s not uncommon to hear the fusion of different styles of music. In fact, American music is more integrated than before and showcases different music from around the world. Melding different styles of music was popularly done as early as the twentieth century with the growth of American popular music. One style of music that had major influence on popular music was African American music. At the time, American popular music was burgeoning with different styles of music; each style was distinct in its own right with different rhythms, melodies, textures, and performance styles. From 1930 to 1970, popular music can be traced to black music of the nineteenth and twentieth century as evidenced by the metric organization, scales, instruments, and performing styles that originated from African music. By recapitulating the influences of African American music on popular music, the impact that black music has had on various musical genres is shown.

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African American music was brought by slaves to the Americas and later adapted to European styles. Later, African American music would incorporate highly syncopated music and the features of ragtime. These features set the stage for more music to be created, and in time many of the characteristics of black music were embedded into other musical genres. In particular, the 1930’s-1940’s Big Band era; 1930’s country music; 1950’s-1960’s rock, used observable components of African American music. The music was not only influenced by the musical structure of black music, but by the performing styles of musicians. To adopt many of the African-American features, many musicians of the time had to re-invent or improvise the old with something new. These components lead up to the merging of different styles with African-American music.

For many people, jazz is pleasant and enjoyable. One of the reasons it is because there are so many different sounds that come together to form this music. In the Big Band era of the 1930’s, jazz, or swing, had become popular and incorporated the African elements of syncopation and riffs. Riffs, rhythms, and syncopations are just a few characteristics of African American influence on virtually all music, and jazz music in particular took this influence to a different level. (Campbell 70). What changed was that previously, in the early nineteenth century, ragtime was essentially syncopated music but was more in accordance with marching and piano music. Jazz is highly improvisational, which give way to more sounds and changes in rhythm, melody, and texture.

The structure and metric organization of the jazz band was also influenced by African American music. In no other musical genre can one find the “call and response “style of music that was originated from African American music, and many genres have since borrowed from this method. Many jazz bands used “call and response” between the players and their instruments. This made the music much livelier, adding to the energy created by the fast- paced flow of jazz that appeared in the twentieth century. Four-beat counts were used in jazz music characteristic of black music in the earlier part of the twentieth century. This was the main foundation for jazz which also used percussions found in ragtime and African drum dance.

Country music in the 1930’s was a whole different style of music. It prominently featured singers accompanied by simple chords, melodies, stanza forms, and topics. (online). It did however, have understated influences that can be traced back to African-American music. One of the most obvious influences is the use of the banjo, an instrument from Africa used by African Americans during slavery. The banjo has mistakenly been attributed to Western culture and identified in country music despite the fact that it originated in Africa. The delivery of songs in country was inspired by the blues, gospel, and spiritual songs. Jimmie Rodgers, known for his vocal style, used the style of blues throughout a lot of his music, the musical texture of the Carter Family was touched by gospel vocals and harmonies (online), and Hank Williams “tragic” songs were undoubtedly inspired by the spiritual songs and blues sung by African Americans. Many of these singing styles, textures, instrumentation set the standard for country music, aiding in the course of its span in popular music.

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The 1960’s and 1970’s music had a different feel to it. Various social, political, and technological movements helped advance music. Rock was not just white music, but black were widely responsible for developing rock music, although met with some oppositions. African Americans influenced a degree of rock music during the 1960’s and 1970’s, and here is where you can see how singing and performing styles were adopted by the musicians. For example, Elvis Presley was known for having a black feel to his music and performance. He was very popular but was criticized for his true contributions to rock ‘n’ roll. Many of the songs during that time were cover songs of black musicians, who because of little mainstream acceptance, did not receive the credit they deserved.

Although music certainly is about different origins, sounds, and functionalities, it is interesting to see that one style of music has served universally to change the whole landscape of music. Since Africans had to develop their own ways of communicating and celebrating since the beginning of time, these people possibly held the key to a fruitful point of departure for all of music today. We are well on our way to continue this pattern borrowing and influencing music to form new music that is by people all around the world.


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