Essay on African American Music
Number of words: 1443
Music plays a vital role in the society’s preferred for entertainment, expressing one’s feelings, and spreading an important message to the audience. Music has deep roots in the history of the African American community. African Americans are highly associated with music such as Jazz, Soul, and Rhythm and Blues. The development of the African American music is traceable back to the time of slavery (Floyd 111). African Americans in the slave trade America used music for various purposes, including spiritual connection and a way of expressing their feelings regarding their harsh treatment by the slave masters. The history of music among African Americans also has a significant impact on the development of contemporary music. The development of popular music in the modern society is privy to the history of African American music (Floyd 112). Music played a vital role in the history of African Americans during the period of slavery and the post-slavery period to advocate for equal rights and express their plight.
African Americans used music to come together as a community and share their experiences in the hands of their slave masters. The African Americans did not have many privileges, including the right to interact during working hours. The slave masters ensured that African American slaves gave maximum participation in their tasks on the plantations. Therefore, music was the only thing that brought the African Americans together after work. The solidarity of African Americans in their music was a sign of hope to carry on through the challenges that they were facing during the time of the slave trade. In Curtis Mayfield’s song, We are a Winner, he emphasizes on the lyrics, “And we’re a winner, and everybody knows it too, we’ll just keep on pushin’” (Mayfield). The lyrics of the song inform African Americans that they can still win, regardless of the challenges that they face during the time of slavery. A majority of African Americans lived in despair during slavery without hope for a better future or redemption.
African American music also helped African Americans to express their plight in a subtle manner. African Americans did not have a platform to express their challenges. However, the introduction of music enabled African Americans to express their feelings about the challenges they were facing under slavery. Arthur Symons’ song, Of Our Spiritual Strivings, notes, “All night crying with a mournful cry” (Du Bois 37) The song expresses the sheer sadness that the African Americans felt due to the challenges that they encountered in the camps of their White masters. The song expresses the sorrow that the singer experiences due to the situation facing African Americans. However, the lyrics embody the perception of all Afr4ican Americans across the country due to the challenge of slavery. Music was a good platform to ensure that African Americans showed the world and also shared among each other what they truly felt regarding their treatment by the slave masters.
African Americans also used music as an instrument of revolution against the White masters. Over time, the revolution was inevitable for the African Americans who had suffered slavery for many years. In the time after the end of slavery, African Americans still had to fight for their second liberation. After the end of slavery, few Whites acknowledged the new position of African Americans as free people. The Whites continued to exercise power over the African Americans through intimidation and fear-mongering. Many African Americans were lynched in the SouthSouth by the members of the Ku Klux Klan due to the emergence of the Jim Crow rules (Sullivan 36). Therefore, the African Americans needed a voice that would help them to fight back and regain their dignity. Immediately after the end of slavery, a majority of Southern states failed to recognize the freedom of black people. Therefore, they had to use music as a medium to push for a silent revolution that would help to recover their position of freedom.
The song by Public Enemy, Fight the Power, is an embodiment of how music applied in pushing for resistance against the dominance of the Whites after the end of slavery. The famous chorus of the song highlights, “We got to fight the powers, Lemme hear you say, fight the power” (Public Enemy). The song encourages the black people to fight off the powers of the White people that had trapped them for a long time. After the end of slavery, African Americans still feared the White people because they did not believe that they had the power to live a free life regardless of the declaration. After the declaration that ended slavery, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, eliminating the only source of power for the black people. Therefore, they needed a new source of power and motivation that would enable them to get over the new tyranny of the White people. The song encourages the black people to fight the power of the White people.
African Americans also used music to expose the dark culture of slavery and their slave masters. Slavery was a big challenge for African Americans because the majority of the whites in the SouthSouth did not see a problem with the acts of inhumanity that transpired against the back people. The few Whites who sympathized with the black people did not have a platform to express their sympathies because they would also face condemnation for their ‘treachery’ (Allen 169). Therefore, the Black people did not have a medium to show the world what they encountered. Billie Holiday’s song, Strange Fruit, embodied the perfect medium to express the inhumanity of slavery and the true picture of what went down in the SouthSouth in the name of slavery. Many people understood the nature of slavery because it entailed black people working on White plantations, but they did not understand the inhuman acts that befell the slaves on the plantations. Holiday highlights, Southern trees bear a strange fruit, Blood on the leave, Blood at the roots” (Rainei et al. 180). The song depicts the torture and death that befell the black people working as slaves in the SouthSouth. Slavery was the tree as depicted in the song. A majority of people believed that the fruits (outcomes) of slavery were economic growth. However, Holiday’s song depicts that the fruits anticipated from the practice of slavery come at the expense of the Blood and the lives of the slaves who work on the farms and plantations in the SouthSouth.
Therefore, music played a significant role in the lives of African Americans during the period of slavery and during the period after the end of slavery. Music brought African Americans together because it gave them the spirit of hope and amid tough times of torture and hard work on the plantations. The development of music also enabled African Americans to express their feelings about the practice of slavery and the effects that they encountered from the practice. Seemingly, music also helped the black people to spread the message of togetherness and retaliation against the Whites, who were profiting at the expense of the Blood and lives of the African Americans. The use of portrayal of music by black artists depicts the important of the genre I expressing the message about slavery in the SouthSouth. It shows the power that music held as an important medium for African Americans to express their pain, anguish, and determination to get liberated from the dominance of the SouthSouth.
Allen, Jeffrey Brooke. “Were Southern White Critics of Slavery Racists? Kentucky and the Upper South, 1791-1824.” The Journal of Southern History, vol. 44, no. 2, 1978, pp. 169– 190. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2208300. Accessed 23 Apr. 2020.
Du Bois, W.E.B. The Souls of Black Folk. New York: Courier Corporation, 2012.
Floyd, Samuel A. “Black Music and Writing Black Music History: American Music and Narrative Strategies.” Black Music Research Journal, vol. 28, no. 1, 2008, pp. 111–121. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/25433796. Accessed 23 Apr. 2020.
Mayfield, Curtis. We’are a Winner. YouTube, 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BLnd-Z01ONs
Public Enemy. Fight the Power. YouTube, 1989. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8PaoLy7PHwk
Rainey, Gertude. Blues Legacies and Black Feminism. New York: Pantheon Books, 1998.
Sullivan, Sarah K. “Extralegal Violence: The Ku Klux Klan In The Reconstruction Era.” Elements 12.2 (2016).