Last week, our class was visited by a guest speaker, Aram Goudsouzian. During his presentation, Goudsouzian placed quite a bit of emphasis on the impact that popular culture, especially music. He explained that influential musicians such as Little Richard, Nat King Cole, and even Elvis Presley, played an intricate role in shaping American culture during their time. This provoked me to think on how music has evolved within the African American culture and how apparent the influence is from today’s music.
Starting as early as the 17th century slavery days, music has shown to be a key component in the lives of African Americans. The slaves of this time period placed a great significance of the spirituals sung at church gatherings. The spirituals often had a dual message of Christian value and life as a slave. It is also believed that some spirituals such as “Follow the Drinking Gourd” and “Wade in the Water contained hidden messages to runaway slaves. During the 1920’s the African American community was in midst of a cultural movement known as the Harlem Renaissance. Out of this time period, Jazz and Blues music came to be quite popular between not only black audiences but white audiences as well. Famous figures like Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong displayed serious talents in their musicianship, showing the idea that African American can play equally if not better than their white counterparts. As time went on, both these genres evolved into many different branches that are heard to this day. Music in the 1970’s took on a new sound known as Hip-Hop. This musical genre would remain to be one of the most popular genres of modern America, especially within the African American community. Though Hip-Hop began its root from a poetic influence, the genre exploded with creative rhyming and danceable beats. Early rappers, rapped about topics ranging from revolution all the way to dancing and every day life. As a predominantly African American Hip-Hop began to flourish, a window was opened into the daily lives of the culture. This theme is seen to this day, as African American rappers have began to glorify their unique stories and lives, while continuing to appeal to the entire nation.
With this being said, I’d like to pose a few questions of how music plays a role in today’s American culture. Do you feel that music has always had a positive impact upon African American culture? During the Jazz Age African American musicians showed that they could play equally well as white musicians while still appealing to black and white audiences. As Hip-Hop began to be the popular genre of African American culture many people, including Civil Rights activists, claimed that it glorified violent and hateful behavior. As an avid listener of Hip-Hop music, I can completely see where some of the music has began to push social boundaries for the worse. However, other musical genres such as Rock and Roll can be argued in the same way. Do you feel that Hip-Hop is targeted more because it is a predominantly African American based culture?