Music in Black Culture

Music has been integral to the foundation of black culture in the United States. It all started with spirituals while many African-Americans were enslaved. Dubois coined these spirituals as sorrow songs. The Sorrow Songs represented the struggle of slavery and hope for freedom in the future. Dubois invents the term Sorrow Songs, however he was not the first to draw attention to their importance. At the time Dubois was writing about the Sorrow Songs, the genres of Blues and Jazz were taking shape. Today Hip Hop is the modern phenomenon of these genres. The lyrics still represent the message of black culture, awareness and empowerment.

The spirituals were songs that connected all black bodies regardless of background or experience. I say black bodies instead of African-American because this is concept that transcend ethnic background. All that have been oppressed or seen as other can relate to this movement. In The Souls of Black Folk Dubois explains that though the songs originated in the South, as a northerner knew the songs are a representation of his identity (DuBois 204). One of the most famous examples of a spiritual is “Swing Low.” This song evokes feelings of hope and reassurance that God is looking out for those enslaved. Many classic spirituals have a Christian influence to reinforce hope.

Fisk Jubilee Singers, Christopher Benfy

* This is the Fisk Jubilee Singers, circa 1870 who sang ‘Swing Low Sweet Chariot’

Within the same work Dubois speaks a lot to double consciousness and the Veil that all black men and women have. The Veil is a representation of being non-white in America, a veil covers the details of ones face because white Americans can only see to the broad context of blackness, ignoring the details and individuality .The Blues was seen as an outlet to express their frustration to control simply being in the world, “his contradictory condition of free and not-free” (Eyerman 76). Similarly, Jazz was able to transcend the racial divide. Jazz went from being a predominantly African-Americans genre to needing to appeal to white audiences in the 1940s; this emphasized the double consciousness in black culture because producers began to appease its new audience.

Billie Holiday transformed the idea of vocal protest through her rendition of “Strange Fruit”. She would only sing the song at the end of her set if she had the respect of audience and the club wasn’t aloud to serve drinks during her performance. This song instead of promoting hope, it produced awareness. Billie Holiday was successful because she was able to sell the emotional impact of lynching. Black bodies in a tree are as commonplace as fruit in the South, juxtaposition between life and death.

`Duane Lee Holland came to Colgate University and presented on the idea of Hip Hop as a movement. Hip Hop dance is a series of purposeful movements styled after tradition dances from West Africa. Each dance step acts as a word in the continual conversation. Hip Hop was created in the poor boroughs of New York City to unite the community. It was created for empowerment similarly to all preceding music genres in black culture.

*This image to the right is from of Duane Lee Holland

*Billie Holiday feature image


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