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Thu, 06.01.1820

Black History and Folk Music, a story

*Black history in folk music is celebrated on this date in 1820.  This musical genre's representation along with jazz comes near to being the first truly American classical music. 

As soon as Blacks came through the Middle Passage, a gradual transformation of African culture began to what some now call African American. They had to learn how to communicate with each other as they came here speaking many different languages. In order to adjust to the new sounds, surroundings, and customs, they gradually learned to combine the music and the dances they brought from African along with the music and the dances of the Europeans.  

As far back as Black Africans in North American cultural history stretches, it has been accompanied by a soundtrack of folk music. Some of the most timeless songs of empowerment and perseverance come from the American slaves and their communities of forced immigrants held in bondage throughout the Antebellum South.   Black influence has been immeasurable. There are features that look at African American music as a part of the Black African cultural continuum, and they represent struggles, joy, and sorrows, also empowerment, and perseverance.  Black music of this era was a group activity that was integrated into daily life among the peoples of Africa. These aspects of African culture were easily adapted into the New World.  “It had such a gargantuan effect on American culture, world culture,” Rhiannon Giddens says of the genre, which took descriptive root in the 1820s and ’30s. “This was the first time that tunes were written down. So, I’ve been going at it from a musicology point of view, rather than looking at it as blackface and running screaming from the room.”

From the Chanteys (Virginia area) came work folk songs that were integrated to the Americas from Africa whenever people worked in groups. Accompanying the movement of the labor, the singing warded off fatigue, lifted their spirits, and enabled slower workers to keep up. This singing could accompany picking cotton, laying railroad tracks, hoeing, and other slave labor.  secular music retained characteristics associated with African music, despite the influence of White European music. The dancing was immediately recognized by outsiders as non-European even if the Africans now knew English or were born in the New World. The notation-al system designed for European music was the only way to preserve folk music prior to the rise of recordings.  

Solomon Northup was a Black abolitionist and author of ‘Twelve Years a slave’ which was the first songbook to bring Black folk music to a wider audience.  From the blues, hip hop to R&B, African American folk music inspires all. It is a base of all American music as it ties cultures together. Just like the music of today, folk music expressed the sorrows and pains of everyday life. But it also expressed unity, rejoice, and happiness. Through the diaspora, we can hear Africa sounding different based on its region, but they all bring people together with the natural inclination to move to a melody or beat.  In the 20th century, Odetta was an artist that carried on the rich Black tradition of folk music.  Many whites often treat our music and dancing and modify and co-modify it to their comfort without acknowledgment of its origins, but this is something that is unique to our flavor and style.

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