Most any rational person in the modern world would concede that slavery is a bad thing. Slavery has been in existence since the beginning of human history and may be the result of many different things. For today's Debate Topic we will be looking only from the standpoint of slaves taken from Africa to the Western Hemisphere for the economic development of the "New World". The enslavement of no other cultures will be considered since the African slave trade is the one most often considered when discussing slavery in the Americas.
We will also add greater specificity to the topic by limiting the discussion to Black slavery in the United States. The Spanish colonists brought the first slaves to the area that is now the United States in 1581, where they were settled in Florida. Slaves were later introduced to the English colonies in about 1620. As time went on and the practice expanded, slavery became an integral part of the economic structure of colonial America and the later United States. African cultures and European cultures began to mesh. This brings us to the question for today:
If there had been no African slave trade to the Western Hemisphere, would there have been Rock and Roll?
I would argue that there would have not been rock and roll if there had been no African slaves in the Americas. Not only would there have not been rock and roll, there would also have been no jazz or any of the types of music related to these forms. The topic is much too vast to be examined within the parameters of this blog article so I'll just make a very encapsulated version of the music history.
The music of the slaves was influenced by the traditional European religious music and ballads and other traditional styles. Slave music was expressed in the form of spirituals, work music, and story telling songs in an oral tradition. The music was often infused with deep emotional expressions of sadness or joyfulness, and typically combined with syncopated and contrapuntal rhythms.
The white musicians and composers in those days would hear this Black music and begin to incorporate it into their own music. Minstrel shows became a highly popular form of entertainment, with whites in black make-up performing black influenced music. Several black performers also became popular entertainers and composers in these minstrel shows. The minstrel shows were often racially derogatory, but they served to popularize the black influenced music. Songwriters like Stephen Foster began turning to the black styles and turned the music publishing industry into a huge business.
In later years, composers like Scott Joplin and artists like Al Jolson began shaping and popularizing the emerging sounds of jazz. Popular music became dominated by various forms of the new jazz music and soon jazz influenced music was everywhere. As the recording industry flourished new styles were continually sought out. Various forms of blues, country and folk began to converge and merge into new styles that eventually culminated in Rock and Roll in the 50s.
Thus we can see a direct descendancy from the early music of the slaves, to the popular music forms of the music industry, to ragtime and jazz, to rhythm and blues, and finally to Rock and Roll. However, one might argue that if there had been no population of African descent in the Americas, then perhaps the rise of the Industrial Age and the Age of Machines might have birthed a music similar to Rock and Roll. The sounds of industry and machines have a rhythm that can be suggestive of musical patterns and these sounds combined with the technology of sound amplification could have eventually inspired music similar to punk, metal, synth-pop, or other similar musical styles. It's possible.
Who really knows? Do you think a style similar to Rock would have developed without the influence of black music--especially the plaintive music of those in bondage? If there had been no European interference in the development of Africa, what do you think African musical styles would sound like today? If Blacks had come to the New World through immigration like different European groups and not by force, how do you think they would have shaped the music of the United States?
A special note: Next Monday May 24 I am going to be doing a jazz list called "Nine Nice Jazz Favorites". It's kind of short notice I know, but I also know there is probably limited interest in this list. If you would like to join me in this one I will put a Linky list at the top of my page tomorrow so you can sign up. For the next few Mondays I will be doing additional lists on Classical, Country, Christian, Latin, and maybe more. I'd love to have as many join me in these as can. Watch this site for more information.