How Black Culture Has Influenced Music

It seems like a lot of the music we know and enjoy today was influenced and started from the African American Community. White culture seems to like to use black influence and spin it to use as our own. That may be a bold statement, but it’s time to stop taking from the black community & start enhancing it: their sound, voice, artistic abilities, creativity & so so so much more.

Considering all we are facing currently (& how in the world are we still here), I wanted to do a little digging, some research, to educate myself on what genres were influenced by who & by what. For the most part, music was inspired by the black community. Hip Hop. R&B. Jazz. Motown. Rock & Roll even. But looking at the music industry today, it doesn’t look like much progress has been made to allow space for black artists, producers, executives (that’s a whole other blog y’all, coming soon) to have a major influence in the music community.

I wanted to dive into the history a little bit about where, who, what influenced each specific genre of music:

Blues/R&B/Soul

One, I want to start by saying genres are so interesting because I had these all separate and then when I was reading more into Blues, R&B, & Soul, they all seemed to be tied together, so here we are.

Starting in the 1950s, you’ve got artists like The Kings of Rhythm, Sam Cooke, Ray Charles & James Brown, who were big influences when it came to R&B/Soul music. One article I read stated: “…white artists such as Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly adopted the sound, removing most of the gospel message but keeping the same musical techniques, instrumentation, and feeling.” And here we are: white artists adopting black influence.

Aretha Franklin also seems to have been a big influence when it comes to R&B/Soul – okay, maybe a lot as she is pegged the “Queen of Soul.”

Jazz

I have never actually followed or listened to Jazz often, but whenever it is on, I am never mad about it. The ease of the instruments in my ears is just so peaceful to listen to. “The evolution of jazz was led by a series of brilliant musicians such as Louis Armstrong [1923 until 1971], Duke Ellington [started in 1923], Charlie Parker, and Miles Davis,” all black musicians who heavily inspired this kind of music. Ellington’s influence seems to have made the most impact, “…his inventive use of the orchestra, and thanks to his eloquence and charisma, Ellington is generally considered to have elevated the perception of jazz to an art form on a par with other more traditional musical genres.”

Motown

This is probably one of my favorite genres on this list, having enjoyed hefty amounts of this music when I lived in Nashville, attending a night called “Motown Monday” at the iconic 5 Spot in East Nashville. Looking into the influence behind this music is a man named Berry Gordy. He seems to have dove into many facets that accompany being in Hollywood: producing, record executive-ing, & even seems to have been involved in films/TV. He helped bring artists such as Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, & Marvin Gaye into the scene, “their music [having] communicated and brought together a racially divided country and segregated society, around the world, touching all people of all ages and races.”

Rock & Roll

I’ve always heard for the longest time that Elvis is the king of Rock and Roll. But, is he really? We can look at some influences from artists before his time (and even mentioned above with the influence from Blues) where the African American community had paved the way for Elvis to receive that title. Coined the Godmother of Rock and Roll, Sister Rosetta Tharpe was known for playing the electric guitar and “her originality played a pivotal role in the conception of Rock & Roll as a genre of music.” Chuck Berry is also said to have been a big inspiration when it comes to “Rock & Roll guitar.” We also have The Kings of Rhythm (as mentioned above), who released a song titled “Rocket 88,” in 1951 “and is often cited (and debated) as the first rock ‘n’ roll record.”

Reggae

Two words: Bob Marley. He is the soul person or artist I believe to be responsible for this category of music, which I still love to listen to to this day. Reggae stemmed heavily from Jamaica in the late 1960s and “was considered a rag-tag, hodge-podge of other musical styles, namely Jamaican Mento and contemporary Jamaican Ska music, along with American jazz and rhythm & blues, something like what was coming out of New Orleans at the time.” I also was reading that the term reggae was stemmed from a word that means raggedy which makes me sad because that’s not at all how I see reggae music. Reggae is so flowy, mellow, and good vibes. It breaks my heart the genre was named after a word with such negative connotation.

Hip Hop

I think this is the most interesting genre, especially when it comes to how & why it was started. The direct ties to the racial divide in our country is alarmingly loud when we’re speaking about the origins of Hip Hop. “During the 1950s and 60s, many white, middle-class people left the cities to move to the suburbs. The African Americans and Latino Americans that were left behind in cities (or who moved to the cities in the intervening years) encountered many challenges in their neighborhoods, as budgets were slashed and resources diverted to the wealthier, whiter communities. Faced with a lack of economic opportunity, as well as rising crime and poverty rates, the young people in the Bronx and nearby communities began creating their own kinds of cultural expressions. These forms of expression would come together to form the four pillars of hip hop.”

Pop

I’m not even sure I have to say much about this category because of the iconic names on the list of pop influences: Michael Jackson, Prince, & Whitney Houston The one thing I will point out in this category has nothing to do with how or why this genre was started, as I honestly didn’t do much background investigation here. Buuut! Whitney Houston’s most popular song, in my opinion, is “I will Always Love You,” written by Dolly Parton. White writer, Black singer. It’s the little things back in this time where you’d think the roles would have been reversed, but Hallelujah that is wasn’t, as Whitney CRUSHES.

Gospel/Folk

If you know me, you know I am into my faith and love listening to worship music. I never had any idea the origins of where that may have come from. I guess Gospel could be considered a different genre than what we consider worship music today but I still enjoyed learning a little bit more about this. Anyways, some history for you: “In conjunction with gospel music, spirituals were used to express the oppression that still plagued blacks 100 years after emancipation. Often, music historians consider Negro spirituals to be folk music, which, by nature, must tell a story — a clear legacy of African oral tradition.” I also never knew Gospel and Folk could be considered influenced and inspired by the same sounds.


I want to first start by saying that I am certainly no expert on this topic. I am trying to learn here in a space that I love: music. I found a lot of my information from the following articles who have provided details to help me along this journey. I may have gotten some things wrong. I may not have quoted the articles correctly. I may not have said things in the right way, as to the correct language, terms, etc that are not offensive in this sensitive time. But I promise, I am here to support. To listen. To learn.


A Timeline of History Making Black Music

30 Times Black Music Changed the World

What is Soul Music

Soul Music History

What is Jazz

Duke Ellington

Motown History

Hip Hop History

Songs of Struggle & Spirit