This month, we are celebrating Black History – more specifically, we are celebrating the role that African-American culture has played in music throughout the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries. From the birth of the blues and the development of jazz to the explosion of hip-hop we’re experiencing now, African-American culture has shaped American music.
Throughout the 1940s, blues music took off with its unique scalar configuration and sliding melodies full of honesty. As we entered the 1960s, this genre morphed into soul music that continued to change into R&B and rap throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
Of course, the 1960s-2000s have been a time of rapid social change with regard to racial equality, marriage equality, and other forms of social justice. One potential reason why hip-hop is so popular right now is because it is the music of revolution, in the words of hip-hop/Broadway genius Lin-Manuel Miranda. It is hard to miss the tremendous amount of difficulty our nation is having trying to deal with racism that never went away following the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment. Indeed, even within the music industry, many white artists are crossing the line between appreciation and appropriation of cultures and subcultures that they are not a part of.
So, this is the perfect time to acknowledge and appreciate African-American musicians and artists who changed the American music scene. From the bluesy magic of B.B. King and Buddy Guy, the jazz perfection of Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington, and the soul of Aretha Franklin to the R&B of Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye and the rap of artists like Chance the Rapper. In particular, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly is full of social justice commentary and imagery. If you have not, please take a listen. Indeed, hip-hop is the music of the societal change we are enthralled in at this moment in time. Hopefully, current hip-hop artists will continue to revolutionize the music scene and move our culture in a progressive direction.
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