Feeling the Spirit
Spirituals originated in the United States in the first half of the 19th century, amid widespread efforts to convert slaves to Christianity. The words to spirituals invoke Biblical imagery, particularly Old Testament stories of liberation from bondage and New Testament stories of Jesus.
Spirituals draw heavily on the African musical tradition of call-and-response. A song leader improvises verses while a group provides short repetitive and often rhythmic responses. This call-and-response form can still be heard in many musical genres today.
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Growing out of the spiritual tradition, gospel music is an emotional outpouring and affirmation of hope and spiritual belief. It is performed by vocal soloists, small groups, choirs, and instrumental groups, often in church. Thomas A. Dorsey, composer and pianist, is known as the “father of the gospel song.” Its joyous, pulsating rhythms and sometimes somber but intense feelings underlie what has become known as “soul” music.
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Blues grew out of the African-American experience between 1890 and 1910, expressing a wide range of emotions and musical styles. “Feeling blue” is expressed in songs about injustice, lost love, and longings for a better life, jobs or money. Blues can also be a raucous dance music that celebrates pleasure and success. A central concept is that, by performing or listening to the blues, one is able to overcome sadness and lose the blues.
LISTEN TO THE BLUES
“‘Feeling blue’ is expressed in songs about injustice, lost love, and longings for a better life, jobs or money.”
Ragtime came into fashion around 1910, evolving from jigs and marches played by African-American bands. The name derives from highly syncopated rhythms that are sometimes considered “ragged.” Usually performed on the piano, ragtime is a precursor of “stride” piano playing and also considered an early form of jazz. The most famous ragtime composer and performer was Scott Joplin.
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Jazz was born during the latter part of the 19th century in the bustling coastal city of New Orleans. African, American, Caribbean and European music melded within the context of the instrumental ensembles that accompanied funeral processions and other types of celebrations. The early jazz idiom recalled the two-beat rhythm of the brass marching band, gradually changing by the 1930s into the four beat rhythm associated with jazz today. Many styles of jazz emerged: the early New Orleans jazz of Louis Armstrong, the Harlem stride piano of Fats Waller, the multifaceted big bands of Fletcher Henderson and Jimmy Lunceford, the swing bands of Duke Ellington and Count Basie, the bebop of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, and the cool jazz of Miles Davis and the Modern Jazz Quartet.
LISTEN TO EARLY JAZZ
Like the movement of the music itself, jazz has continued to develop as performers and composers give form to new musical directions. The influence of this music originated by African-Americans is felt throughout the world. Since the mid-20th century, the hard bop of Clifford Brown and Max Roach, the funky soul jazz of Horace Silver and Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, the avant garde jazz of John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman, the jazz rock/jazz-funk fusion of Herbie Hancock and the Head Hunters and Miles Davis, the acid jazz of Us3 and James Taylor, the smooth jazz of Grover Washington and Kenny Burrell and the “fundamental” jazz of Wynton Marsalis and Joshua Redmond give credence to the enduring quality and appeal of jazz.
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Rhythm & Blues
Rhythm and blues combines jazz riffs with the lyrical content and format of blues to create a genre whose most prominent feature is its engaging dance rhythm. It began in the early 1940s with the “jump band” combo of saxophonist Louis Jordan and continued with the “Doo Wop” singing groups of the 1950s. Influenced by the gospel music artistry of Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin in the mid 1950s and the emotional intensity of James Brown in the 1960s, R&B evolved into “soul music.”
LISTEN TO EARLY RHYTHM AND BLUES
The immense popularity of R&B in the 1950s among American youth gave birth to rock ‘n’ roll. New styles of R&B, including “disco” and “funk”, emerged in the 1970s. R&B continued to influence international popular music throughout the latter part of the 20th century.
LISTEN TO LATER RHYTHM AND BLUES
Originating in the mid 1950s, rock combines rhythm and blues, gospel, and country and western music. Emanating from artists like Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Sam Cooke, and Buddy Holly, rock reached across ethnic and national divides to achieve immense popularity in musicians like Elvis Presley, the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones. The folk rock of Bob Dylan, the hard rock of Jefferson Airplane, and the acid rock of Jimi Hendrix suggest the range of styles that evolved.
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Inspired by Jamaican musicians mixing recorded tracks (dubbing) and talking over the music (known as toasting in Jamaica), African-American DJs in the Bronx created this global musical form. Hip-hop artists appropriated the fading technology of the turntable for “sampling” and “scratching” at about the same time that vinyl records were giving way to digital formats. Hip hop music carries within it memories of jazz, soul, R&B and other musical forms — and with them, memories of African culture.
Hip-hop embodies the holistic cultural aesthetic of the African Diaspora. It merges many kinds of expression into a unified cultural form encompassing lyrics/rap (the MC), music (the DJ), dance (break-dance), clothing and art (graffiti). Hip-hop also carries forward the musical traditions of the African Diaspora: improvisation, verbal acuity, complex rhythms, call and response, the use of available materials/found objects and an insistence on social commentary.
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“Hip-hop embodies the holistic cultural aesthetic of the African Diaspora.”