The Evolution of Black Music: In Celebration of African-American Music Appreciation Month



By: Melissa Brown

The poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said “music is the universal language of mankind.” Black music, from the work songs of enslaved Africans to the lyrics of today’s rappers, speaks to the experience of Black Americans. Black music happens to be on my mind after the BET Awards put on an amazing show featuring a performance by Beyoncé , an amazing speech by actor Jesse Williams, and a tribute worthy of the artist forever to be known as Prince.

This celebration of Black art came right on time for African-American Music Appreciation Month. Each major genre of Black music started as political expression and social awareness in relation to significant events in American history. Black music serves as a reaction to the state of society and a means to generate change. Black culture in the U.S. blends both African and Western influences, creating a form of social awareness and political expression that gives a unique flair to popular culture. From the 1600s to the present, the influence of Black music on popular culture continues to grow.

Black Music Starts With Work Songs and Spirituals

The Transatlantic Slave Trade delivered millions of blacks from West Africa to the New World via the Middle Passage from the 1400s to the 1800s. Enslaved africans maintained their own sense of culture and found some relief from suffering through musical exchange. Work songs had multiple purposes. For instance field hollers “consisted of calls and responses that were used as a form of communication between slaves working in the fields.”1 Songs like “Follow the Drinking Gourd, ” which urged runaway slaves to use the stars as guides to freedom helped them organize escape. Enslaved Africans blended the gospel hymns of the Southern church and...(Read More)