ALL MUSIC is BLACK MUSIC
A few weeks ago, I did two Facebook Live concert tributes to Black Music Month.I did my best to represent LOTS of styles & eras, and to showcase both famous and lesser known acts.During the first concert, I made what I consider to be a boldly factual statement: All music is black music.
But – and this is a big one – I AM talking about ALL MUSIC FROM THE MODERN ERA.I’m talking about any music created in the last, let’s say, 140 years.A VERY inaccurate number, but close enough for argument’s sake.
Let me restate that: All music that anyone has ever written, performed, produced since the mid to late 1800s owes its existence to black music and black artists.No exceptions.No qualifications.
Let’s get the easy ones out of the way first.Every single song of every genre that has ever been streamed or downloaded or played on the radio since … well … the invention of the radio owes a debt to black music.Here’s a pitifully short list of music styles that WOULD NOT EXIST without black music influence, if not outright involvement & invention: country, blues, jazz, rock, pop, dance/disco, techno, a cappella, heavy metal, funk, hip-hop.
What about modern classical music?Instrumental & soundtrack music?Yes, yes & yes.What about the thing that just popped into your head that I neglected to mention?YES!
Now, those easy ones are easy for two reasons: 1. There’s documentation that proves how all of those styles were either invented by black artists, or were adopted (and yes often also coopted) by white artists directly influenced by earlier black music; and 2. You can frickin’ HEAR IT.
As to that second point, I’m going to flesh it out in the context of the second list above.We already know that lots of people inaccurately consider country & rock music to be “white” music.The more we listen & learn, the more we know that’s about as far from the truth as you can get.What we also know is that lots of people consider “high art” forms of music – a designation I think means nothing but I’m using as an expedient – to be “white” music, and they don’t think they’re wrong about that.
But they are.If a modern musical work contains any of the following, it’s has absolutely been influenced by black music: dissonance; syncopation; repetition; vocal inflections such as rubato or wailing; telling real stories with real emotion about real life.Yes, all of those things existed before the 20th century, in one way or another; but not in the way they’ve been used in the last … what arbitrary number did I use? … 140 years.
There’s one more way to show all of the above is true.Go back in history and read criticisms of various singers/songs/musicians through that entire period.There were times when those critics called a certain music “too black” – or even worse, used any number of worse descriptions.When we listen to ALMOST ALL of that older music today, most of us would not consider what we hear to have a strictly “black” sound.In fact, most of it sounds painfully stilted and “white”.Part of that is because we are again creating divisions that don’t really exist – like GENRES.Part of that is because what’s happened since has taken those ideas so much further that the older music pales in comparison.In other words, our perception of what something is or should be classified as is heavily influenced by our own experience & awareness, which in turn are heavily influenced by the times we live in and what came before.
The two main points of ALL this being: 1. We should always give credit where credit is due, and be open to revising our notion of who deserves credit for what; and 2. Every piece of music, every THING and PERSON for that matter, are all connected.Lines & divisions & borders only exist because we want them to.When we start to see the infinite connections, all that gets blurred until it’s just not there anymore.
And what’s left is us, and what we do for each other.