American music defines African American culture. It is as broad as, the legacy of its people and as of Marian Anderson at the Metropolitan Opera, W.C. Handy's blues on Memphis' Basin Street, Mahalia Jackson's Gospel, Count Basie's blues, Sam Cooke, Duke Ellington, Lady Day, Jelly Roll Morton, Fats Waller, Miles Davis, Lightning Hopkins, Nat King Cole, Sammy Davis Jr., Marvin Gaye, Fats Domino and others set the standards. All else follow the patterns they set. The living legends kept the standards high including Little Richard, Herbie Hancock, Harry Belafonte, The Five Blind Boys of Alabama, The Supremes, The Temptations, Gladys Knight, Patti LaBelle, Tina Turner, Shirly Caesar, Nancy Wilson, Joe Williams, Qunicy Jones, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, and Jerry Butler.
Artists like Regina Bell, Jennifer Holiday, Whitney Houston, Al Jareau, Luther Vandross, and The Winans keep the traditions high. Black music not only defined the culture of Black America, but it became the original cultural expression of America.
As America's only original art form, the music was created on these shores by the condition of its people with little memory of its past also created its own language words like blues, jazz, rock and roll, soul, cool, hot licks, hip, solid and gospel. They are all creations of Black music. This month is a time to celebrate the richness of Black Music and the contributions it has made to the American cultural scene. It is America.
The Europeans brought DeBussy, Bach and Tchaikovsky from Europe. Africans brought their pain and their spirit and their souls. And the music reflects the same. From work songs of "John Henry" a steel driving man, to the blues of a lonely man or woman who lost his or her baby, or the message filled slave songs like "Steal Away to Jesus" - Black music has told the story of a people and their condition. There have always been few limits on what Blacks could sing or play, with the exception of drums and native tongue.
In slavery times, drums were not allowed because the slave owner believed it called for rebellion. Nor were their languages allowed because of the possibility of planning a rebellion. In the Caribbean where use of Native tongues and of drums was less restricted, slavery lasted for a shorter period.
The richness of the music reflects the richness of a people born of a rich past, captured and stripped of their culture. However, from the remnants they could preserve, they dug down and created a new culture, reaping control for themselves the rich heritage of Black Music which permeates throughout this country.