American Black Music 101

By Leslye Joy Allen                                                                                                     Historian, Educator, Theatre and Jazz Advocate & Consultant, Ph.D. Candidate

“Listening” Self-Portrait. Copyright © 2014 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

Copyright © 2014 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

Back during the very short time that I was a music major, several of my instructors and professors commented on my unique ability to hear damn near anything and explain exactly what instruments I heard, along with my INABILITY to reproduce it in performance.  I always earned an “A” in aural studies.  I laugh loudly now because my old piano teacher said I would make a great musicologist, which is, among other things, a music historian.  I never practiced piano much, but I could always tell you the story behind the song or something about the life of the composer.

At the same time, no one needs to be an accomplished musician or be able to read music to identify a Blue Note—those often flatted third, fifth and/or seventh notes that became the signature of Black American music—in order to feel and absorb the origins of that Blue Note.  The origins are deeply rooted in the African American experience.  The rhythms of Africa, the melodic vocal and verbal patois of Black Americans severed from their ancient drums met the European scale to produce something as authentically American as Negro Spirituals, Field Hollers, Work Songs, Ragtime, Jazz, along with our Soul-Sauce-sprinkled-on-Jewish-folk-melodies that gave us Tin Pan Alley, and indeed American Popular Song.

All things American are deeply infused with the Black experience, so much so that it is hard to know where one or the other begins and where it all might end.  The Black slave in the field handed a musical gift to the White American composer; and both have more in common with each other because of this infusion than one might think.  Only the blighted soul has problems giving the Motherland Africa much praise for some of the creation of so-called American popular music, music that came from the hearts and souls and longings of her transplants in the New World.

So this blog is not just about your ability to know, but about your ability to feel and to hear how much things change yet remain the same when the roots are acknowledged and claimed.   All you have to do is listen to the following Trinity of songs that cover over one hundred fifty years of music.  All you need is a soul and a pulse to understand.  Àṣé!




Leslye Joy Allen is a perpetual and proud supporter of the good work of Clean Green Nation.  Visit the website to learn more about it: Gregory at Clean Green Nation!

Copyright © 2014 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.
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