Black musicians are the artistic warriors whose continuous soundtracks reflect the goings-on of this Amerikan Plantation. These rhythms have permeated the air with its indifference and outright anger towards America’s injustice from civil rights to voting rights, to police brutality and the deliberate cloaked building of institutional racism. Black music is a strong family of Negro spirituals, blues, r&b, funk, jazz, gospel, bebop, do wop, hip hop, neo-soul and more. President Jimmy Carter instituted June as Black Music Month in 1979 as a way to pay homage to the many black musicians who have significantly impacted America and the world with their tenacity and creative activism.
The sounds of our ancestors were heard long before the American sound and European instruments. In “Slave Culture” (1987), Sterling Stuckey noted, “The ring shout was the main context in which Africans recognized values common to them, that is the values of ancestor worship and of contact and of communication and teaching. The ring helped preserve the elements that we have come to know as the characterizing and fundamental elements of Black music: calls, cries, and holler, call and response; additive rhythms and polyrhythms; blue notes, bent notes, hums, moans, grunts; and constant repetition of rhythmic and melodic figures and phrases (from which riffs and vamps would be derived); hand clapping and foot patting.”
These sounds came from cotton fields and prison chain gangs, the precursor to call and response, and grew in the Baptist church pulpit, ringing in the minister’s cadence, “Let the congregation say amen.” It’s the response in Negro spirituals, it’s the soul of Solomon Burke singing, “I ain’t gonna’ work on Maggie’s farm no more,” it’s that thumpin beat of Ray Charles and the Raelettes, Dr. Lonnie Smith stormin’ on his Hammond B3 organ; it’s Oscar Brown Jr. on “Bid’em In”/ “she’s good in the fields/she can sew and cook/strip her down Roy and let the gentlemen look.” And James Brown shoutin’ “Say it Loud I’m Black and Proud” or his hollers to Maceo “take’m to the bridge.”
Black music is Marian Anderson singing on the Lincoln Memorial steps in 1939. It is gospel singer Mahalia Jackson having to sleep in her Cadillac with background singers because Jim Crow said so; or her singing at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963.
Black music is the descriptive title and lyrics of “Fk The Police” on the “Straight Outta Compton” album by N.W.A. that caught the attention of President George W. Bush. Of course, he was only concerned with the vulgarity and not the reality of LAPD’s brutal force against people of color.
There is a Message in Our Music Wake Up Everybody Backstabbers may be Rolling Down A Mountainside. The Gigolo and The Prisoner are on a Maiden Voyage with Four Women, Mary Don’t You Weep, it’s a Family Reunion but they will surely be checking out Hazel’s Hips. Shaft is Walking in Space but Killer Joe I Never Told You about Q’s Jook Joint and the African Cook Book with African Rhythms talking about Little Niles and HI-Fly. The Musician said Hello Again but needed Downtime listening to Black Radio but Business Goes on As Usual The Impossible Dream Last Chance for Common Sense said We Free Kings. On the Blues Farm Everybody Loves the Sunshine and Uptown Conversation. Is Blue Nude a Painted Lady or Golden Lady? I Wish Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington and Bessie Smith would swing with The Shout but Five Will Get You Ten or a Jack Knife with a Flight of the Sky. Give it Up or Turn It Loose Keep on Pushing We’re A Winner was playing at Café Regio’s No Name Bar. The Healer’s Voyage on the Sacred River said something ’bout Americana has to Tell the Truth Shame the Devil said Misterioso but Who is Jill Scott? Ginger Bread Boy You Had Better Listen Bang Bang Azucar Mode for Joe on Blue Train, Joe Williams is Out of this World. Billie Holiday had Soul Eyes and took Giant Steps. Save Room for Ole Love Supreme and Song of Praise ooops the Ape is High. I Want You but What’s Going On Mercy Mercy Me Flyin High (In The Friendly Sky) Lulla Bye, How Much Would You Cost, I Am, Mantana Roberts. The Conduct of Jazz doesn’t exist We Insist: Freedom Now!, Off the Wall Jon Hendricks Jumpin’ At the Woodside in a Twisted Thriller digging Birth of the Cool in Spanish Key like a Black Comedy hip to Stuff hearing Fille De Kilimanjaro In a Silent way for some reason the Water Babies want a AfroPhysicist.
It’s not You It’s Me (But you didn’t help) I Know You Got Soul Hey Girl I Could Dance All Night Show You The Way, Sweet Baby, I’m a Black Action Figure. Hey Love your Finger Tips got me Uptight but I Was Made to Love Her. I Surrender Dear, Eddie Jefferson, Ruby, My Dear Should Care Ask Me Now when Lulu’s Back in Town Off Minor.
Down south checking Bright Mississippi, Mississippi Goddam, Alabama at Five Spot Blues eating at Kates Soulfood. Life In the World, World in a Life digging Nicole Mitchell’s Black Earth ensemble. Dam Nat King Cole is Walkin’ my Baby Back Home. I knew she was a Ramblin’ Rose even Louis Armstrong, Art Tatum and Sonny Rollins were hip. Are you familiar with Gil Scott Heron and his Midnight band, the poetry of Amiri Baraka and his Blue Ark Word Band and the Last Poets. Hey B.B. King and Lucile, where’s Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson?
I Love Music, Why Can’t We Live Together, Why Can’t We Be Friends, Blood on the Fields, Muhal Richard Abrams. Yes, Freddie’s Dead, Super Fly, but if you Give Me Your Love we can Trickle Trickle 1,000 Miles Away. But Stagger Lee I’m So Young and Why Do Fools Fall in Love, Yakety Yak. Along Came John, Hey Joe, My Girl is Jennine Forever. Hey Love Welcome to the Club only pay 10% everybody will be there Rockin Robin, Signifyin’ Monkey and Brown Baby at the Function at the Junction. Remember to Stand because Everybody Is A Star even if they Turn Back the hands of Time I Only Have Eyes for You.
Florence Please Let Me Love You Stick With Me Baby until the Break Of Dawn. I’ll Get A Job but Reach Out I’ll be There Crowned and Kissed in the City of Asylum with The Dancing Monk while Children of Harlem ask What Is Wrong with Groovin’ and Paper Man is Light as a Feather holding a Forest Flower. Go eat some Cheese Cake I Smiled Yesterday eating Salt Peanuts that gave me A New Perspective on Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson. Abbey Lincoln You Can Depend on Me Could It Be I’m Falling in Love. Gypsy Woman, For Your Precious Love Never Gonna Give You Up and Thanks Forlettinme Be Myself even with 992 Arguments.
But I Was Cool even on the Chain Gang then Blueberry Hill made me think If There’s A Hell Below there must be Dead Presidents better Straighten Up and Fly Right Jack Johnson with that Machine Gun. Hey Joe I Wish I knew How it Feels to be Free Give Me that Lickin Stick Please Please Please play Song For My Father, Mom or Blues and the Abstract Truth with Roy Haynes. You Gotta Pay the Band Poinciana at The Awakening in El Ghada (The Jungle). It was The Hustlers Don’t Blame Me We Got By but You Don’t See Me at Huntington Ashram Monastery with My Little Brown Book In the Land of Oo-Bla-Dee hanging with Mister Magic talking Dat Dere with Freddie Freeloader.
Florence Mills was singing “I’m Just Wild About Harry” written by Noble Sissle in 1921 with music by Eubie Blake for the Broadway show Shuffle Along. Dreamed about standing at the Chicago Bus Stop doing the Alligator Boogaloo with Joseph Boulogne, the Chevalier de Saint-George, Hazel Scott and Jessye Norman. The Freedom Rider knew it was too late to Search For A New Land, Tell It Like It Is, This Is Our Music, Ornette Coleman.
CORRECTION: Last week’s piece on The Shed (Troy Anthony) should have stated out of 1,500 applicants, 27 artists were selected to receive up to $15,000.