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Is 'black music' a valid category of popular music?

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Bethany Dumville A224675 Word Count - 1773 Is 'black music' a valid category of popular music? The first problem that arises in attempting to answer this question is actually defining 'black music'. Is it music made by black people, for black people, both or neither? And thus what exactly is it that sets it apart from 'white music'? On a wider scale legally classifying someone as black or white also causes some difficulties. Particularly in earlier decades, different states used different factors to define a black person, e.g., a 'visible' degree of 'Negro blood', one-eighth or one-sixteenth Negro blood etc, (Hatch and Millward, 1987:117). Simon Frith describes black music as 'performance-orientated, based on rhythm and improvisation rather than harmony and composition, essentially emotional and physical in its impact, and spontaneous rather than technical' (Frith. 1983:16-20). So an exact definition of 'black music' is not easily attainable. However several internet dictionary websites define 'black music' as 'music created by African-American musicians; early forms were songs that had a melodic line and a strong rhythmic beat with repeated choruses'. (http://www.hyperdictionary.com/dictionary/black+music). This essay will explore the history of 'black music' in the light of that definition, and discuss whether it is indeed still a valid category of popular music today. ...read more.


A website about the history of black music (http://www.rhino.com/blackhistory/timeline.lasso) claims that "Jazz made it possible for Afro-American music to be imitated for the first time by white musicians...the beginnings of what was to come" but in looking closer at history we have seen that black heritage and culture was not the only influence on this genre. Some great black jazz performers of this time were Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong, whose rasping singing style is typical of jazz. Similarly there are many great and popular white jazz performers, such as Chet Baker whose trumpet really is an extension of his voice, and vice versa. Jazz became more and more mainstream and in the mid 1900's many 'true' black music fans felt that it had lost its soul, which is where their form of it had come from. It would be going backwards to revert back to creating and performing blues but this soulful element was combined with the hard bop element of jazz, which had harder rhythms and sound. This new music that was created was 'rhythm and blues', one of the biggest influences of modern day rock and roll. Some of the great 'R&B' pioneers were Otis Reading, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye. ...read more.


With so many different types of 'black music' how can we put them all together into one category? In looking for a common theme, rhythm could be explored. Still, the style of rhythm is not the same across these genres so maybe just the importance and dominance, but this could be said of other musical styles and would be a very complex process. A website claiming to be 'the home of black music' which has news, reviews, forums and interviews with black music starts, includes Justin Timberlake and Eminem, both white alongside their black counterparts (www.darkerthanblue.com). This further illustrates the point made earlier that white artists are making 'black music' so this category cannot be defined by who is creating or performing it. Forms of black music like R&B, garage and hip hop are hugely popular in 'white' Britain, across Europe and the United States, so similarly the ethnicity of the audience is not the determining factor. In coming to no conclusion about the definition of black music it can only be said that this indeed is not a valid category in popular music today. The influences of many forms of 'black music' are arguably rooted in black culture, coming from Africa via the slaves' work song; but this huge variety of styles, artists and audiences of music associated with blacks proves that it is too restricting to put them all under the one heading 'black music'. ...read more.

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