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8 Facts about Black Music History

Exploring the depths of Black music history reveals a tapestry woven with resilience, innovation, and cultural significance. From the birth of blues to the revolutionary impact of hip-hop, these eight facts highlight the enduring contributions of Black artists. As we honor their legacy, let us celebrate the rich heritage and profound influence that Black music has had on shaping the musical landscape, leaving an indelible mark on history and inspiring generations to come.

1. The origin of Black music is traced back to slavery

In the era of slavery, enslaved individuals were prohibited from using their native languages due to owners’ fears of potential uprisings. As a means of expressing their emotions, whether sorrow or hope, they turned to singing and crafting songs that were handed down through generations. These songs, known as spirituals, emerged as powerful expressions of freedom and resilience, drawing influence from African traditions and religious practices. It is often acknowledged that Gospel music traces its roots back to the spirituals, carrying forward the legacy of these profound musical traditions.

Listen to “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” a famous spiritual performed by The Plantation Singers of Charleston, SC are a professional a cappella singing group renowned locally, nationally and internationally for their singing of the of the music of the Lowcountry.

Spirituals were one of the earliest forms of musical expression (1619–1865).

2. Blues music was created post-slavery

During the 1860s, a revolutionary music genre called Blues emerged in the Deep South. African-Americans birthed this unique sound, drawing inspiration from work songs and spirituals. The Blues quickly gained popularity, spreading throughout the United States. Defined by call and response patterns, a distinct 12-bar chord progression, and more, it became the pioneer of groove patterns. Over time, Blues diversified into sub-genres like Chicago Blues, Country, Delta, West Coast, Electric, and many others, leaving an indelible mark on the musical landscape.
Listen to Bessie Smith, the “Empress of Blues” and one of the highest paid Black entertainers of her time.

With its major influence on modern day music, Blues is arguably the mother of all music.

3. George W. Johnson was the first African-American to record commercially

Although numerous songs existed prior to his birth, George Washington Johnson holds the distinction of being the first African-American to commercially record his music. Despite the illegality of Black children learning in Virginia during that era, Johnson’s ability to read and write as a child contributed to his musical talents. Between January and May 1890, he collaborated with phonograph distributors who captured his whistling on cylinders. Notably, Johnson recorded iconic songs like “The Laughing Song,” “Listen To The Mocking Bird,” and “Carving the Duck.”

Listen to “The Laughing Song.”

Born a slave, his pioneering contributions remain integral to the history of African-American music.

4. Tommy Edwards was the first Black artist to hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100

Amidst an abundance of remarkable talent and a steady influx of captivating songs by Black artists, Tommy Edwards etched his name in history in 1958 by becoming the first African-American artist to claim the number one spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 list with his iconic track, “It’s All In The Game.” Even today, this song continues to resonate worldwide. Edwards recorded the track and amassed over 3.5 million copies sold globally.

Listen to Tommy Edwards perform his #1 hit.

This milestone solidifies Edwards’ enduring legacy as a groundbreaking artist and reinforces the lasting power of his music across generations.

5. Ella Fitzgerald was the first Black artist to win a Grammy

Ella Fitzgerald, celebrated as the “First Lady of Song,” captivated audiences worldwide with her mesmerizing voice. Her rendition of “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” catapulted her to international stardom and won her a Grammy. Fitzgerald continued her career with numerous Grammy wins and other esteemed accolades, solidifying Fitzgerald’s position as an unparalleled jazz icon.

Watch Ella Fitzgerald’s music video for the Emmy winning song.

6. Rock and roll, house, reggae, hip-hop, R&B, and more genres originated from Black musical styles

Following the expressive journey through blues, jazz, and ragtime, the musical landscape witnessed the emergence of an array of new genres. By the late 1950s, pop and rock and roll claimed their place on radio airwaves, captivating audiences worldwide. Simultaneously, the rise of reggae, house, hip-hop, and R&B added to the diversity of Black music, providing artists with a broader palette to connect with their fans authentically. This expansion allowed for greater artistic expression, empowering musicians to explore sounds that resonated deeply within themselves and fostered powerful connections with their audience.

7. Hip-hop created a voice for Black people in poverty and the conditions of Black lives

While traces of hip-hop styles can be heard in doo-wop music from the 1940s to 1950s, the genre itself took root in the Bronx neighborhood of New York City. It provided a vital voice for Black individuals in underserved communities, granting them an avenue to be heard when their pleas for improved conditions often went unnoticed. Among the pioneers of hip-hop was Jamaican DJ Kool Herc, who played a pivotal role as one of the earliest hip-hop DJs and artists. Artists like Public Enemy further emerged as voices of the people, utilizing their music and political messages to address American racism and the American media.

Watch Public Enemy’s hit “Fight The Power”

8. New Black music genres go global

Originating from Atlanta, the Trap genre, along with Drill music (born in Chicago but influenced by British grime), have transcended borders, gaining global recognition. These captivating musical styles have found resonance worldwide, captivating listeners with their unique sounds and cultural influences.
Check out this Drill music compilation, featuring songs in different languages from over a dozen different countries.

Additionally, sub-genres within R&B, soul, and pop are on the rise, showcasing the ever-evolving nature of music. As these genres continue to evolve, they contribute to the rich tapestry of contemporary music, offering diverse and compelling expressions that resonate with audiences around the globe.

Exploring the depths of Black music history reveals a tapestry woven with resilience, innovation, and cultural significance