*Admin note: Music programs, programs related to the Arts are often the first to be cut. Save The Music Foundation is fighting against that erasure. Consider supporting them and their work. Thank you. -JBHarris
If you know me in real life, you know that I love music. My father had and ear out of this world! I listened to everything growing up! But when I discovered, Sophisticated Lady by Duke Ellington? Or Satin Doll by the lovely, and incomparable Nancy Wilson? I loved jazz.
But, being a melaninated scholar, I had to really look at the roots of this thing called American Music–it is not, nor has it ever been rooted in this idea of whitness; neither does it stop with hip-hop or rap. What I need y’all to remember Torches, is that American Music is Black Music. Black Music is American, because WE made it in AMERICA. Never forget that.
What I need you to remember my dearest, brightest Torches is that this thing called music–has been our superpower as a people for the entire time we have been these pilgrims in this strange land. From the captive people humming, those hums becoming the chords and notes which were sung in churches to express plans to escape, to cry without tears and mourn without weeping. From this roux, from this power source has come everything else.
Rock & Roll. Hip-hop. Jazz. Rap. Even Country, Zydeco and Bluegrass.
American Music is Black Music. Black Music is American because we made it here.
Robert Johnson. Scott Joplin. Ella Fitzgerald. Louis Armstrong. Berry Gordy. Timbland. And the avalanche of people I am sure I am forgetting–and don’t have space to mention.
This thing, this entity known as Black Music is beautiful and breathing and changing. I want you to encourage the mini-Torches who are bent towards music to pick up an instrument. I want you all to encourage the mini-Torches to work at their craft! I am fond of telling the people in my world that I cannot do what musicians do.
As a writer, I just decode the world—musicians make it talk.
Music is intergenerational. It is hereditary. It is sustaining and it is anchoring. What those whom are at the intersection of Black and musician you cannot help but be seen as special. What we as writers put down, they can translate into note, emotion and sound. Quincy Jones, the legendary super composer, said in regards to arranging music you have to leave space to ‘let the Lord walk in the the room’. I am almost positive that in the lives of Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and Prince they HAD to do the same.
Clifford “TI” Harris has said as it relates to rap and hip-hop it is storytelling; some of the stories that are told just happen to be violent. I’m sure all members of the Wu-Tang clan can get behind that wisdom. In my almost 4 decades of living, there is a soundtrack. There are favorite songs. There are memories attached to them. There are late night dedications and playlists that are were made. Even now.
Black Music is American, because WE made it in AMERICA. Never forget that.
The kids growing up now will learn there is more to this experience than what is trending on the radio now–but then again, the songs that were trending and hot when I was a girl are now played on the old school stations. What is more important is that they know what history is beneath it. At the heart is still those same people whom we will never see who hummed to keep their children quiet as they ran from masters. It is the dirges that helped to bury the dead, and allowed the rejoicing to happen after the internment. It is still the songs we sing to clean houses to, the mood we need to set when we have that special someone–or the playlists we made which are in the back of yearbooks! I know I got more than a few. It is still the feeling you get when you hear a song that makes you pick up the instrument you loved to play–and never miss a note. It is still the feeling of when you used to be in the trap and decide to buy back the block after you made it.
Black Music is Black History…and it’s future. Besides, I am convinced music by another name is–storytelling.
[images from tripadvisor.com, npr.org, and Tumblr]