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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Without Slavery There Would Have Been No Rock and Roll

             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.



  1. I think rock would've still evolved, but on a different path. I might have taken on an even angrier tone.

  2. Now mthat is a question to ask.
    I knew Stephen Foster was from the south from my musical examination days, one thing I learned was Scott Joplin's music counted as Jazz, Wow, I can play the Entertainer on the keyboard, so I know a bit about Jazz after all.
    I wouldn't like to hazzard a guess as to whether the slaves were responsible for rock 'n' roll it's a thing I;ve never heard about.
    I know they had a different musical background and sang different types of songs but that is far as I can answer.
    A good debatable question and a most interesting post.
    Have a good day Lee.


  3. Tough question! The same question could be posed of Southern Christian churches!

  4. What a great lesson Arlee! I tend to agree that our music here today was greatly influenced from slavery although I do think our music would have evolved into something similar just not quite as soon.
    One of the great things about music is it's constant evolution!
    Love Di ♥

  5. Tough question. But I don't know enough about music to venture an answer.

  6. Alex -- If rock had evolved thru the influence of inhuman industrial and machine rhythms I do think there would have been a harsher and perhaps more angry sound.

    Yvonne-- The musical influence of the African descended slaves is pretty well documented.

    L. Diane -- You pose a good point about the influence on pentecostal and Southern church worship styles. Part of that might also be related to musical styles as well.

    Diana -- Thanks for your input. You are correct about musical evolution. The study of how Classical music evolved is very interesting.

    Kittie -- Thanks for venturing so far as to read about it.

  7. I think without the influence of the emotional and physical experiences garnered from the enslaved African Americans there wouldn't be the same 'rock 'n roll' as we know it.

    I also think the total musical scene has gotten its push from the Black experiences. Even the youth of today pull music from deep in the past and integrates it into their own songs and claim it as their own. There is almost no original music.

    As for the influence if we had walked here on our own, I don't think anything would have changed. Knowing the world as I do, we would still have been racially mistreated because of the times in society.
    Thanks for the post. I enjoy learning history which is why I wrote my history book. Every colors contribution is a valuable piece of gold in every segments of society.

  8. rLEE-b ~
    Well, Brother, I could certainly name plenty of personal Jazz favorites - far more than nine - since Jazz is my favorite musical genre.

    But because my FIFTEEN FANTASY ISLAND FAVORITES list already included my top 6 favorite Jazz albums, it hardly seems worth bothering to add the next 3 that I would select. MY half dozen favorites are already known, so I think I'll bow out of this project.

    I will, however, most definitely read your Jazz Blog Bit, as I'm curious to see what (besides Brubeck's
    Time Out") will make your list. And you can count on me leaving a comment and maybe suggesting a few others that won't be included on your list.

    See Ya Then!
    ~ "Lonesome Dogg" McD-Fens

  9. Totally agree. Blues, R&B, Gospel, Jazz, even Country and Western evolved out of the African American pentatonic scale and three chord (dominant, sub-dominant and Root) sequencing. The blues was the first, and really the only truly original form of music to be born in America and it and all the sub-genres are now copiously copied all around the planet.

    Nice post.

  10. I think it probably would have still evolved - maybe in a slightly different tone.

  11. I think you are right. I am not so sure some of the good blusy rock, jazz, or blues would have evolved as some of the other commentors state. There must be a starting point. The feelings, emotions, and intensity that came out of the slave songs cannot be manufactured.

    This is why programs like American Idol and such really rob both the contestants and music lovers. Some of these kids have are to young to experience what they are trying to sing. They have never come up the ranks and paid their dues. The are walking commercial developments in many cases.

    It is hilarious to me and not entertaining to see a 19 year old try to belt out with feelings a song about broken hearts, demolished dreams, and deeply wounded spirits. The majority have not experienced it. It is obviously missing from their song.

    Slaves developed emotions and feelings that are haunting. Those songs were developed into some of the most haunting and arresting songs of rock and roll.

    Where do you think Elvis got alot of his stuff?

  12. Any change that large in history would have huge repercussions. I'm sure the music would have evolved along a different path. I wish we could go back, eliminate those atrocities and find out.

  13. Well, that's defintely interesting. I never knew that. I learned something new today. Please check your email!!! It's VERY important!!!

  14. The Voice --- Thank you for expressing your thoughts about this topic.

    StMc -- Look forward to hearing what you have to say about my jazz picks. I'm not going to use picks from my previous lists.

    Marvin -- The music of the U.S. has indeed influence the rest of the world.

    Debbie -- It would be interesting to know how it would have developed. I wonder if some sort of computer modeling study could make a guess?

    Gregg -- the infusion of actual emotion can make the music more credible, but I'm not going to say a singer can't be a good enough actor to pull off a pretty credibe performance as well.

    Jemi -- If we could go back and change things the world today would be vastly different. It might be better, but it could be a whole lot worse. Who knows?

    Wolfie -- the study of music reflects a lot about history and sociology among other subjects.

  15. I think you're right to give credit where credit is due.
    I'm just guessing, but I don't think rock and roll existed in, say China, or any other countries where there was no African influence.
    Imitation is flattery, as they say.
    I think it's great that the cultures of the world learn and exchange from one another.


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