With so much racial unrest in our sad little world, I thought I would view race from a musical standpoint. It’s obvious when you look at the history of modern music that race played a major role in music as we know it now.
In 1946, King records began producing what was called race music, music produced primarily by and for African-Americans. People who had been brought to this country already full of rhythm and blues and gospel were forced into servitude by white land barons, but the whip could not silence their music. They found hope in their music, and these African people began to mingle with Native Americans, who themselves were already enslaved and close to being exterminated, clinging to their own music, beliefs, and hope for freedom. As these different musical traditions flowed into and around each other, a beautifully unique musical world was created. All of these cultural traditions formed the roots of jazz, American folk, gospel, and the blues. As I mentioned last week on his death, the music of blues great B.B. King was once labeled race music.
Fast-forward to 1954 and Blackboard Jungle, a film about a teacher at an inner-city school that featured Bill Haley and the Comets' "Rock Around the Clock" in the opening credits. The film helped boost the popularity of rock and roll among teens, but for the rest of the population, it raised fears that rock music was related to juvenile delinquency. In January 1957, the U.S. congress considered legislation that would require song lyrics to be screened by a review committee before they could be sold because of a controversy over so-called obscene lyrics.
As recently as February 2015, Cleveland's Fox 8 news anchor Kristi Capel used the word jigaboo during a live broadcast to describe Lady Gaga’s music, saying "It's really hard to hear her voice with all that jigaboo music, whatever you want to call it...jigaboo." Apparently, Capel is one of the newsies with hair and no brains. I have some hope she didn't know that jigaboo was an old racial slur against African-Americans, a term I heard growing up in the south. What I don’t get is why she used a word she probably didn't understand. Hair got in her eyes and affected her brain, I guess, as she made this statement.
We all have our own tastes in music, and thank god, or we might all be listening to nothing but spoons ensembles. I don’t like rap, especially the violent, gang, damn-you type of rap, so I don’t listen to it and hope it doesn’t encourage violence. But rap music is an example of free speech, whether I like it or not, and it is music to some ears. Anyone who tries to stop rap music is as much a racist as the first Americans who brought slaves to the colony of Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619, or the people of 1946 who established race music as a genre or the congress of 1957. I still believe that music can save our mortal souls.
There are more thoughts on all this and other topics on the shores of Rambling Harbor. Play the podcast and join me there.