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The Evolution of Black Music

June is the month of summer. It’s the halfway mark of the year that is known for its hot temperatures, maxi dresses, bbq’s, and trips to the beach. All of which are accompanied a good playlist for a good time. It makes sense then, that June is also Black Music Month (or as its more properly called African American Music Appreciation Month). In honor of black music and to help you make your playlists the best they can be, we’re celebrating all month long. And first up is an exploration into the evolution of black music. Taking a look back at where we started, how far we’ve come, and where we’re going from here.

An Evolution of Black Music

Black Music Month

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Rhythm & Blues and Jazz: If we’re talking about Black music from the African American lens we’ve got to start with the negro spirituals. These songs were a refuge for black people during the slavery era where music and dance was used as a form of worship, joy, liberation, healing, and even pain. These songs and rhythms were responsible for what can be considered the first true genre of music, rhythm and blues. This genre, along with jazz, flourished in the early 20th century and played a huge role in one of the greatest artistic revolutions of our time, the Harlem Renaissance. This genre ruled the music scene until the early 1940’s where it became a staple for both black (and white) Americans alike.

Black Music Month

photo via Youtube

Rock & Roll &Soul: The next twenty years gave way to a new era in black music that was defined by strong beats, instrumentals, and soulful singing. Everybody knows that rock & roll was invented by black musicians but after its transformation from rhythm and blues, it was swiftly taken over by popular white musicians in the space. From there the birth of soul music including early r&b and gospel became popular and it was during this time that some of the best voices of our lifetime were recognized. Towards the end of this era, the early to mid 1960’s, a more upbeat pop vibe was stirring in the black music scene which led to a new genre of music to take center.

Black Music Month

photo via Billboard

Funk, Disco, and Pop: The next big genre created by black musicians was birthed in the 70’s during the funk era. With this genre came funky beats and rhythms that were unlike anything the music industry has heard before. Artists were riding the funk wave using electric guitars and instruments reminiscent of the rock & roll wave, while soul music evolved into a more uptempo vibe that was dubbed disco music. And still in another musical subset, upbeat singing groups were taking over the pop scene. By the end of this decade, black musicians went mainstream which opened doors to more creativity and musical evolution.

Black Music Month

photo via Genius

Hip Hop: The hip hop era just may be the biggest musical genre of our time with beginnings in the early 80’s and still going strong today. In its early days, it was dominated by MC’s and DJ’s rapping over beats and breaks. It grew quickly from an underground genre to the mainstream and by the end of the decade, hip hop had reached what many believe to be its golden era. The next two decades were full of hip hop transformations morphing from classic MC’s to gangster rap and everything in between.

Black Music Month

photo via Biography

Hip Hop, R&B, and Neo Soul: Still under the hip hop expanding umbrella the 90’s, 00’s, and 10’s birthed a new wave of black music that includes r&b peppered with boy and girl singing groups, artists leading the way in the conscious tunes of neo soul, and a new wave of artists that dabble in a little bit of everything. Today we have black musicians and artists occupying every genre of music and flourishing from rock & roll to rap, hip hop to gospel, pop to r&b.

As you’re making your playlists for all your summer events, remember that black music goes much further back than the 90’s. Spice up your music collection with a few hits from the pioneers of black music this month and let us know what songs and genres you find yourself falling for all over again!


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