Updated: February 13, 2023
“Hound Dog,” a song made internationally famous by Elvis Presley in 1956, is one of the “500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll” according to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Though it’s been recorded more than 250 times, it’s a tune synonymous with the name Elvis. Little do many know that the 12-bar blues song was originally recorded by Sister Rosetta Tharpe in 1952, four years before Elvis released his version, but we never hear about Tharpe.
“Black musicians and artists have been present throughout the evolution of music from the start, they just aren’t really included in history,” said Nadia Castagna, music teacher at The New England Center for Children. “Black artists and musicians have paved the way in the music community for some of the very popular genres that we covet today. Without their creativity, influence, presence, and expertise we wouldn’t have some of the most popular genres. These musicians incorporated their culture, history, and experiences into their music and really changed the music scene for the better.”
The History Of Black Music
According to Castagna, some of the styles that they created and heavily contributed to are genres of music such as blues, jazz, and rock and roll, among many others. “Much of the music and many of the artists, especially in genres that have been dominated by racism and segregation—which is pretty much most genres, but some were more severe than others—are slowly being recovered, preserved, and celebrated for the contributions and creativity they established,” she said.
For her part, throughout the month of February, Castagna will be celebrating Black musicians and their contributions to the music industry with her students. For example, the class kicked off the month learning about blues and funk music such as the structure of the 12-bar blues. They also learned about famous artists who have made contributions to these genres, including B.B. King, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Ma Rainey, Stevie Wonder, and so many more!
“Students are learning to play 12-bar blues on the xylophones, as well as learning timing and when to come in and play their respective parts during the songs,” she shared. “For younger students, we appreciated the music, still learning about 12-bar blues, but also how and when to move their bodies to the music based on qualities such as fast and slow, heavy and light, flow and rigidity, and starting and stopping.”
Castagna shared that no matter what lessons she teaches, her students “always teach me something new. I am looking forward to making some very creative music with some fabulous students, learning about Black musicians and their rightful and well-deserved place in music history, and exploring new genres.”
The Timeline of Black Musical Genres
Ragtime began in the 1890s and was popular until about 1918. Scott Joplin was a composer and largest contributor to ragtime music. Piano was the most common instrument. Ragtime is very lively music and was a popular music to dance to.
Blues began in the 1860s after the Civil War, though there were no recordings of the Blues until 1910. It was influenced by work songs and spirituals from slaves in the deep South. Mississippi is considered the birthplace of the Blues. Blues music described sad situations, such as woes and troubles. Guitar, upright bass, and piano were popular instruments. Some famous musicians are: Muddy Waters, B. B. King, and Ma Rainey.
Jazz music, which emerged in the 1900s, has roots in blues, ragtime, and spirituals. Brass instruments like the trumpet, saxophone, and trombone were important instruments in jazz music along with guitar, piano, drums, and bass. Famous musicians include Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Esperanza Spalding, Ray Charles, any of the Marsalis Brothers, and Nina Simone.
Rhythm and blues, more commonly known as R&B, is defined by its soulful singing and the strong bass and rhythm track behind the music. Common instruments in R&B include drums, bass, guitar, and sometimes horns or other small percussion instruments like the claves or shaker. The genre was first established in the 1940s and continues to be a popular form of music to this day. Famous musicians include Janelle Monae, Boyz II Men, Toni Braxton, Usher, Mary J. Blige, Alicia Keys, TLC, Destiney’s Child, and John Legend.
ROCK AND ROLL
Rock and Roll, emerging in the 1950s-60s, was inspired by blues, boogie woogie, gospel, and rhythm music. The most popular instrument in rock and roll music is the guitar. Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Chuck Berry pioneered the creation of rock and roll music. Other famous musicians include Jimi Hendrix, Little Richard, Bo Diddley, Lenny Kravitz, Ike Turner, and Fats Domino.
Pop music, short for “popular” music, has been enjoyed by most people since the 1950s. Tommy Edwards helped cross the bridge from past genres over to pop music. Pop music started to explore electronic music and sounds in the 1970s and continues to do so in the present day. In addition to Edwards, famous musicians include Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Tina Turner, Beyonce, Mariah Carey, Rihanna, Lizzo, and The Weekend.
Funk music emerged in the 1960s and was inspired by soul music, jazz, and African grooves. Soul music helped originate funk music by adding strong rhythm to it, and disco was later influenced by funk. Common instruments included electric guitar, electric bass, drums, and electric piano, and sometimes synthesizers, trumpets, trombones, and other small percussion instruments were used. Famous musicians include James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Donna Summer, Kool and the Gang, Earth, Wind & Fire, and Prince.
Motown, first appearing in the 1960s-70s, was inspired by blues music, but with more rhythm added in. This style of music was named after the record company Motown Records, whose goal was to feature African-American musicians. Famous Motown musicians include Diana Ross and the Supremes, The Temptations, Martha and the Vendellas, The Miracles, The Four Tops, the Jackson 5, and Marvin Gaye.
Hip hop and rap music was born in New York City in the 1970s. It was created by African American people who lived in the poverty-stricken, oppressed neighborhoods and became a cultural movement. Influences came from blues, R&B, and funk. Notable musicians include Dr. Dre, Jay Z, Ice T, Tupac, Notorious BIG, Snoop Dogg, P Diddy, Lauryn Hill, Lil Wayne, Ludacris, Kendrick Lamar, Salt-N-Pepa, and Nicki Manaj.
Did you enjoy reading this article about music and Black History Month? You can find out more with NECC by reading our latest News Stories.