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Black Power and the Lyrical Passage

Page history last edited by nena muehlberg 13 years ago

Music from the dawn of life, has been the universal expression of our being, a resonating prayer, manifested by our human condition and the common ground of who we are. Music can touch us with for social justice like Woody Guthrie or help us forget our troubles like Bob Wills when he would shout, "Take it away Leon," during the great depression. transforms thoughts and inflames mans heartawakens ideas.  can inflame the heart for change, cause uprisings or gathers humanity together with lyrical language, providing common ground that speaks surpasses all understanding Paraclete's passages its lyrical language, like the paraclete provides a deeper meaning and captures the universal heart of mankind. gives meaning and  understanding to the human heart universally speaks draws all races, cultures and people us nearer cultures, religions and humanity humanities  It is the common ground for all and a melodic threat that ties us together  

The history of the African American people begins in a most cruel and miserable life of segregation, displacement and servitude under the social white class.  From the early part of the 17th century, when African slaves first arrived on the shores of Virginia to the civil rights movement of the sixties, the African American had fought for the fundamental right of freedom of expression.  However, their distinct voices of praise became the sacramental sustenance that had always kept the flame of hope for freedom alive as it moved from one generation to the next.  Early on the African people found expression through worship. Their expressions began with dances and rituals of their own African heritage which in time, became the essential part of how the slave community worshiped with the shouts and spirituals. As the Jim Cr owe laws replaced slavery, the jubilant songs of gospel would be paramount to the black church. Eventually, black artists emerged fresh out of the choir and into the recording studio with songs of black awareness. The sound of African American music meshed into the sound of funk,  rhythm and blues and soul and is a significant part of the American culture.   




 .The Old Plantation 

Source: Abby, Aldridge Rockefeller


average day for the slave was For the slave community,  the heritage of their native Africa spilled sweet spirituals was celesignificantkeep their faith alive. Slaves, as seen in this picture, often gathered together to sing and dance, influence by African traditions. The structure of early African American music was a "free and fluid rhythm," as Elizabeth Barkley defines in, Crossroads, the Multicultural Roots of America's Popular Music. She says, The cries, calls and hollers were their own method of communication across the fields and plantations and "was common in African tradition,"Work songs'tend to be more rhythmic and repetitive because of their frequent use to coordinate physical movement." (68). It involved one leader who began first and followed by a response from the others working the fields. Primarily, three different type of songs. Spirituals, were religious in content and referred to the Holy Spirit. They focus more on the Christian theme of faith, hope and charity. Jubilee songs, she says,  "tend to be more exuberant than spirituals because their origins were the jubilant expression of the heart." (66). Shouts, involved dance movements.  Nonetheless, these spirituals were the positive means to a negative existence for centuries. Fredrick Douglass, himself, a former slave said, "I did not fully understand the deep meaning of those rude and apparently incoherent songs...They breathed the prayer and complaint of souls overflowing with the bitter anguish..." (67). 



Black leaders, were also a means of support. Through years of struggle, these leaders were present and relentlessly spoke out against the white establishment in order to attain an identity for the Black population. These leaders not only fought long and hard for freedom, they also gave unity to all in suffrage, whether free or not.  from 1520-1870, hundreds of thousands of African natives, were exported across the Atlantic ocean to the North American continent and for the next four hundred years, slavery and degredation would be their miserable lot in life. During the diaspora, many African men resisted. In Reversing the Sail,by Michael A. Gomez, suggests that resistance came in many forms, from merely "sassin massa" or as extreme as "mothers klling their young infants or not having children (or sex) suggest that not all saw survival as resistance." (121). Nonetheless, the slave, "almost faced an impossible navigation in a sea of dilemma." (122).  Early on the white social structure, considered the Negroid, child-like, and sub-human, as a justification of the cruel and harsh existence brought on by the masters.  Not only did they suffer phyisical pain, poverty and unending humiliation, their identity had been a long and agonizing state of limbo.  


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Prominant black leaders like Martin Robinson DelanyFredrick Douglass andW.E.B. Dubois, Booker T. Washington, and even the radical Black nationalist, Marcus Garvey, all stood up for the black mans identity and freedom, by speech, pen, agitation and intellect. Perhaps no leader said better on the black mans conscience and the struggles for identity, said it better than W.E.B. Duboise, who David W. Blight cites in his book, Fredrick Douglass' Civil War, Keeping Faith In Jubilee: "double-conssciousnees" of the black people, Dubois argues, is a "struggled with being 'an American, a Negro, two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in on dark body'" (Blight 2). 

The Civil war was a bitter defeat for the South, hence, a glorious moment for the people in bondage. President Lincoln's historic Emancipation Proclamation, was an  the Black man's identity beginnings of the Reconstruction of the South rlegislatures of the south, resisted and set up new black codes. These black codes, established a new social structure in the south, kown as the the Jim Crowe laws, that further minfied black identity as inferior beings. Jim Crowe laws relegated black citizens in order to preserve the white mans superiority.  Shortly after  Plessy vs. Fergeson. decision was handed down in 1896, "sperate but equal" was now considered constitutional and segregation became the black mans way of life. 




Exposing Black Spirituals     



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 Fisk Jubilee Singers

ca. 1880 Source, Corbis/Bettmen  


In 1871, the Negro College, Clinton B. Fisk University, sent their choir, "The Colored Christian Singers" on tour in order to raise money.  Their concerts included southern cities.  This was certainly a dangerous time for Negros. White resentment and bitterness was at its peak, during reconstruction.    Although, the choir performed traditional Protestant hymns and the classical European songs, response from the mainly white audience was usually lukewarm. However, a decision was made which changed the music industry forever as Berkley describes it, "in an inspired move he decided to include at a performance that included a spiritual at the end of the program." (71). They chose "Steel Away."  The audience's response was so overwhelming, that from that point on, performing these spirituals would be the new format.  The Fisk Jubilee singers, as they would later be called, became so popular, there tours would include Europe and a performance before President, Ulysses S. Grant. (71).  Eventually, the spirituals would be infused with European psalms budding even more genres of music, blues, jazz and even country to name of few.   


The Leaders


While music sustained the spirit of the black people, their need for representation and identity was found in their leaders.  With the countless set-backs throughout the black struggle, Black leaders such as, Douglass, Dubious and Delany, and even Booker T. Washington, continued to provide the voice for the people. Moreover, each leader carried within them, their own   unique gifts to offer in the slow struggle towards freedom. Douglass with his great oratory skills, Duboise, a Harvard graduate and black,  did extensive research and supplied demographics of urban cities to better understand poverty and crime. Booker T. and the Tuskegee agricultural school  he helped found, offered students courses in agriculture to better the lives as of Negros. Yet, with all their differences, their voice of hope fell on two important needs platforms. First, each believed, America was a great and for the African Americans long struggle and dream to enjoy in the same freedom as others do. During the Great Depression, Langston Hughes expressed the sentiments shared among colored people in Let American Be America, Again. In it, Langston speaks of this desired dream and the potential the country might he can only wish was his too. 



"Let it be that great, strong land of love

Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme.

That any man be crushed by one above

It never was America to me."


Langston Hughes (1936).



Birth to Gospel


Because music was inseparable to the African American tradition, it's influence eventually infused with other sounds. In Crossroads,Berkley explains the birth of blues came "shortly after the Civil War and the emancipation of the slaves, growing out of a fusion of several musical influences, most notably African-American work songs, spirituals and field hollers" (95). She also gives an analogy of why the blues was considered the devils music: "Perhaps the connection between the blues and the devil was simply because of the blues and it's development in the juke joints...in which blacks would gather to drink, dance and be entertained by musicians." But for the devoutly religious, felt that, "the cavorting at these juke joints may have been sinful...hence, the music that accompanied it was sinful." (102).  Tommy Dorsey, an early piano blues playing composer, but in 1926, he composed his first gospel songs, "If You See My Savior." Dorsey, incorporated his blues riffs and the empasis of the rythmn.       



Music and the Civil Rights Era 





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