The tremendous influence of black people on modern music is obvious, superstars like Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and Bob Marley have stood out over the years, but is the black influence even more widespread than commonly thought?
[Read: Is Rihanna To Barbados What Bob Marley Is To Jamaica?]
My analysis of the most prevalent music genres on the Billboard Hot 100 this week showed that the chart was dominated by pop, hip hop and related genres such as pop rock, country pop and trap. The continued presence of dancehall music on the charts following its incorporation into hits like Rihanna’s Work is notable.
A Genealogy of Popular Music
Many genres of popular music that are considered “white music” actually have black roots. Let’s look at some of the genres that matter and their origins.
Rock and its derivatives remain very popular today but it owes its existence to early black pioneers of rock and roll such as Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Little Richard and the influential Sister Rosetta Tharpe. These pioneers were heavily influenced by another “black” genre, rhythm and blues. In those days of racial segregation, white musicians like the “King of Rock and Roll”, Elvis Presley, adopted this musical style and people have been playing it in every garage in the world since then. Elvis’ recognition of his gratitude to African-American musicians is clear.
“The colored folks been singing it and playing it just like I’m doin’ now, man, for more years than I know. They played it like that in their shanties and in their juke joints and nobody paid it no mind ‘til I goosed it up. I got it from them. Down in Tupelo, Mississippi, I used to hear old Arthur Crudup bang his box the way I do now and I said if I ever got to a place I could feel all old Arthur felt, I’d be a music man like nobody ever saw.”
— Elvis Presley
Pop music as we know it today has undergone continuous evolution but its roots in rock and roll, and rhythm and blues are still apparent.
Reggae, Dancehall, Hip Hop and Rap Music
It shouldn’t take much to convince you that reggae, dancehall, hip hop and rap music are of black origin. These genres generally are associated with black people and all can be linked to Jamaica. Reggae came out of earlier Jamaican genres of ska and rocksteady; dancehall evolved from reggae. Hip hop was developed in the Bronx, New York but owes its initiation to Jamaican-born Clive “DJ Kool Herc” Campbell. Elements of rap music were derived from Jamaican practices such as toasting (lyrical chanting over a “riddim”).
Electronic Dance Music (EDM)
The modern rapper with his boastful improvisation arose from the Jamaican deejay, and the Jamaican sound system selector was the precursor to the flashy modern EDM DJ. “Rave-headlining dance DJs are the latest pop music phenomenon whose lineage is directly traceable to the earliest days of the Jamaican sound system,” says Billboardand I’m not one to argue. Yes, my friends, this one also can be linked to Jamaica (as well as the remix which owes its invention to the late King Tubby).
Between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, approximately 12.5 million West Africans were forcibly shipped to the Americas and with them came their unique cultures including food, musical rhythms and the banjo, an instrument integral to country music. Country music is ostensibly white but as the Guardian puts it “since the first ‘hillbilly’ records from the early decades of the 20th century there has always been a black presence in country”. Despite incomplete record-keeping and segregation it is evident that Black people have been involved in the development of country music from its inception. I’ll only mention Ray Charles, Huddie Ledbetter, DeFord Bailey and Charley Pride but there are numerous other black people involved in the evolution of country music, many whose names have been lost to history.
A Case for Truth
It is difficult to find music on the charts today that doesn’t in some way have a connection to black pioneers. In many cases, these musicians haven’t been given credit for their contributions but the widespread African influence on music often speaks for itself.
Today the world dances, pulses and undulates to the same drum… And it’s African