By Kaelyn Bremer
Gospel music‘s roots reach far back to a period of religious reinvention in America. The rise of Pentecostal churches kickstarted the shift from rhythm and blues to biblical shouting and spiritual melodies. Hymnals, as well as musicless, sung poems containing empowering sentiments and religious affirmations were intended to interact the congregation with the preacher. In the 1930s, as Black communities migrated to urban centers, they brought interpretive and improvisational syncopation and expressive lyrics with them. This religious renaissance also gave way to a rise in ragtime, blues and jazz, as the different styles complemented each other and gave performers the freedom to experiment with lyrical content. Key players in the Black gospel sound include Thomas Dorsey, Rev. C.A. Tindley, and Rev. C.L. Franklin- father of Aretha Franklin.
By Cayley O’Brien
From smooth harmonies, searing vocals and bouncing rhythms, soul music is a unique and distinct genre that traces its roots back to Black history and culture in the United States. Amid social and political unrest of the mid-twentieth century, Black Americans pioneered and innovated the sound that would eventually become known as soul music. Soul was developed in a continuation of traditional blues music and Black gospel music, and influenced and affected social movements across the nation and around the world by incorporating lyrics about struggles that marginalized people face. We can thank soul music for being the foundation for much of what we hear in modern music today, in everything from electronic to country to hip-hop music. Some soul music legends include Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Bill Withers and James Brown.
By Lily Tenner
New Orleans, Louisiana is historically known as the hotspot of Jazz music. Dubbed the “Crescent City,” New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz and is one of the most culture and music rich areas in the U.S. Black musicians created this monumental genre by combining various sounds of blues, R&B and ragtime. Some of the most influential artists who shaped jazz music include Louis Armstrong, Buddy Bolden, Fats Domino and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Jazz is also an extremely influential genre for every other area of music, as rock and roll, rap and even areas of pop music are inspired by jazz. Without jazz and New Orleans, music would not be what it is today.
Check out this playlist for a few iconic jazz tracks.
By Ashley Oakes
Jazz musicians in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s combined acoustic instruments with electronic ones. Jazz fusion, a progressive rock subgenre, synthesizes the amplified sounds of rock with the harmonies of jazz to create this blended music. Jazz fusion’s place in the timeline of United States music history can credit its popularity to Black musician Miles Davis, who was a pinnacle figure in the omnipresence of this genre. Davis’ albums “Miles In the Sky” and “In A Silent Way” sparked attention as Davis used elements of rock while still capturing the improvisational essence of jazz. Miles Davis’ rise to fame was assisted by his talented band of black musicians including his bassist Paul Chambers and saxophonists Julian “Cannonball” Adderly and John Coltrane. Other stand out figures in the history of jazz fusion include Black artists Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancok and George Duke.
By Emily Tobiason
The history of rock traces back to the 1950s, with influential singer-songwriters who combined rhythm and blues with Afro-Carribean, Cuban, Chicano, gospel, country and swing influences.
It began with Bo Diddley, otherwise known as “The Originator,” who created the “Bo Diddley Beat,” a staple guitar rhythm heard in popular songs like “I Want Candy” by The Strangeloves and “Faith” by George Michael, according to BO DIDDLEY. Shortly after, Fats Domino began his music career and incorporated the piano into rock and roll. Then came Little Richard, whose gospel background and piano training developed into an undeniably powerful stage presence that would later define performance quality within the genre, according to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Their contributions were essential in producing the rock and roll the world knows today. Rock attracted a diverse demographic while simultaneously responding to political, social and economic issues facing the country, as stated by Mikal Gilmore of Rolling Stone. Black icons of rock include Prince, Jimi Hendrix, Michael Jackson and Tina Turner, just to name a few of many.
Check out this Bo Diddley Beat playlist compiled by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
By Samay Shah
Experimental music is a general label for any music that pushes current boundaries that exist in a genre. By that definition, Black artists were fundamental in creating incredible genres and subgenres through the process of hybridization. Jazz was created on the basis of combining popular songs with Black American folk forms in the 19th century and eventually became popular through Miles Davis. Another great example is the creation of psych-rock or psycho-funk that saw the combination of Black soul and advancements in musical production techniques, pioneered by acts such as Sly and the Family Stone, Jimi Hendrix, Isaac Hayes and the Temptations in the 1960s. Prince became popular in the late 1970s as a nonconformist who put out umpteen albums demonstrating his lavish talent hybridizing infinite genres from rock to pop to psychedelia. This genre continues to grow and wind in different directions today in no small part by Black artists today that continue to push the boundaries on the mainstream.
By Eden Baker
Country music originally began as blues and folk music, which got its beginnings from the spiritual songs sung by enslaved African Americans. These original blues and folk spirituals were passed down amongst generations and are noted as the “oldest American folk songs.” Black artists are the credit to where many country artists learned their stylings from — Jimmie Rodgers was a high school dropout working along the railroad and was taught his signature yodel, bluesy stylings and falsetto thanks to his Black coworkers. Similarly, Rufus “Tee Tot” Payne served as an artist of inspiration to voices such as Hank Williams. Today, award-winning Black country artists, such as Kane Brown, Jimmie Allen, Blanco Brown and Breland are helping “country music’s overall success and sustainability as a genre.”
By Zoe Boyd
The 1970’s were a crucial time for music of all different genres, but from the noise arose a new one, much louder and faster than any other music that came before — punk music. The band Death is noted as being “punk before punk was punk” and was all-Black artist lineup, consisting of brothers David, Bobby and Dannis Hackney. In the late 70s, the band Bad Brains quickly became a name associated with the forefront of the punk movement. The lead singer for Bad Brains goes by HR — which stands for Human Rights — and is a Black artist that pioneered a historical relationship between punk’s loud and fast musicality and reggae’s lyrical themes. Punk also has ties with genres such as ska, in which a more in-depth history can be found here. Today, the genre of punk holds strong thanks to Black artist’s contributions, such as the styling of MC Ride’s genre-bending, experimental punk/rap group Death Grips.
By Sydney Osterbauer
In the early 90s, Riot Grrrl was a movement focused on female empowerment in the punk scene. Creation of music and zines aided with the primary goal of making the female voice heard in a punk scene that was male dominated at the time. At just 15, Ramdasha Bikceem started publishing their zine called “Gunk” that would go on to make powerful waves within the scene. Bikceem discussed in their zine how being a Black woman in the scene created a whole different level of weight to carry. Not only did Black women in the scene have to deal with a scene dominated by white men, but also the racism from white women too. Tamar Kali-Brown, Simi Stone, Honeychild Coleman and Maya Sokorabegan started having their own punk shows on their terms that would come to be known as the Sista Grrrl Riots. The movement was started with emphasis on the fact that it was completely made by Black women and for Black women this time — A movement that consisted of sold out shows, unapologetic self expression and a powerful impact on the punk scene forever.
By Alina Jafri
The popular and hugely influential genre of hip-hop is credited to its Black roots. Hip-hop culture extends throughout beatboxing, street art, hairstyles and more. Hip-Hop’s origins and lyrical content were a product of the socio-economic and living conditions in Black neighborhoods in New York. The genre started as rap battles on streets corners and party anthems at block parties with the likes of Grandmaster Flash, DJ Kool Herc, and Afrika Bambaataa. It soon expanded as protest and conscious rap to express the socioeconomic conditions the Black community was experiencing. From Tupac’s “Keep your Head Up” to Childish Gambino’s “This is America,” hip-hop is still used as a form of expression and political messaging. Today, hip-hop artists continue to empower and advocate as a way Black voices can be heard.
By Jordan Bates
The “house” in house music comes from the Warehouse, a gay Black nightclub in Chicago where legendary DJ Frankie Knuckles began mixing classic disco cuts with current Italo disco, New York post-punk, and electro-funk — all of which would be spruced up with the addition of a drum machine underneath. With their DJ sets, Knuckles alongside contemporaries Ron Hardy and WBMX’s DJ collective Hot Mix 5 quickly created a regional sound that mutated disco into something leaner, more mechanistic, and more propulsive. Local DJs caught on to this sound and crafted original compositions using affordable instruments — early examples of classic Chicago house include “On and On” by Jesse Saunders and “Your Love” by Jaime Principle and Frankie Knuckles. As time progressed, house music quickly spread throughout Midwestern Black underground scenes and diversified into niche subgenres — Detroit techno cross-pollinated Chicago house with the sleek futurism of Kraftwerk, and acid house unlocked the potential of Roland’s unheralded TB-303 synthesizer to create squelching, pulsating basslines. Black contributions persist in diverse and unique underground scenes. For instance, Jersey club producer Uniiqu3 contorts samples, breakbeats, and all manner of sound effects into hedonistic, libidinal head-rushes and footwork czar RP Boo crafts syncopated, pugilistic rhythms perfect for dance battles.
By Maile Gardner
UK Garage, abbreviated UKG, is a genre that rose to fame due to many Black artists in the underground United Kingdom music scene in the 1990’s. Several UKG artists, such as Ms. Dynamite and Wiley, got their start on pirate radio stations before entering the club and rave scene. The genre is recognizable by its bouncy basslines, fast bpm, breakbeats and kick drums. UKG artists often sample from soul, hip-hop, and R&B, like the popular 1997 remix of Tina Moore’s “Never Gonna Let You Go.” Because of the genre’s influences, many UKG songs feature Black voices even if they were remixed by non-Black DJ’s. UK garage had a profound impact on dance music in the 2000’s, and it branched off into many “daughter” genres like grime, bassline and dubstep. The genre is continued today with tracks like “Hood Mentality” by Kessler and “Black Bandana” by FooR.
By Arianne Landers
Dream pop can be easily distinguished by its dream-like, sleepy-space feel. Artists in this genre use a combination of breathy vocals and echo-filled guitars and synthesizers. There is often a blurry line between dream pop and shoegaze; these are often used interchangeably. While the genre originated in the United Kingdom during the 1960s, the genre saw growth in the mid-1980s, mostly due to contributions from the gothic rock genre. A notable duo emerged during this time, A.R. Kanes; Alex Ayuli and Rudy Tambala (Nigerian and Malawian artists, respectively) released three studio albums that rose to critical acclaim. The contributions of early Black artists in dream pop has led to incredible contemporary music in the genre. Some of these artists include; Moses Sumney, Body Language, Aerial and Spring Silver.
This list was compiled by the KCPR content staff. Cindy Nguyen is a designer and DJ trainee for KCPR.