Written by: Caroline Walters
Without Black musicians and inventors, we wouldn’t have most of the genres of music that we have today. From the invention of the guitar to the genre of hip-hop, most of our favorite things were invented by Black people! In honor of Black History Month, we wanted to use this week’s blog to discuss some of the people who helped further music!
One of the most obvious contributions is the invention of jazz music coming from New Orleans in the late 19th century. Brass bands were incredibly popular back then, and since some musicians couldn’t sight-read music, they became fond of improvising and playing what they felt would work best! It deviated from the blues genre because jazz was more upbeat and had a faster melody. It was also originally spelled “jass.” Some of the most notable jazz musicians include Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald. 🎺
A genre that most people don’t immediately attribute the creation of to Black people is country music. The genre dates back to the origination of slave spiritual music and field songs they would sing while working, and the country music that we know today follows the same narrative and storytelling style. Country music was originally very banjo-based since the banjo was a version of the West African lute that was brought over. Now, country music is being brought back to its roots by artists such as Brittney Spencer and Breland. 🪕
Rock ‘n’ roll was made into its own distinct genre in the late 1930s and early 1940s by a woman now known as the godmother of rock ‘n’ roll, Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Tharpe originated the genre of pop gospel and loved the electric guitar, and her consistent use of electric guitar over anything else was absolutely foundational to the creation of rock! She was a queer black woman and is the main reason that rock ‘n’ roll exists in the way we know it today, inspiring artists such as Elvis and Johnny Cash. 🤍
It’s no surprise that hip-hop was invented by a Black man, but did you know it came from a man who was throwing dance parties in his New York City apartment in the 1970s? DJ Kool Herc (born as Clive Campell) noticed that his crowds loved instrumental breaks in songs, and created the technique of looping one break after another, popularizing the new deejaying culture. He used the mic to rally attendees to dance, and ultimately laid the groundwork for what would become known as rap. He never became a commercial artist, but instead, he inspired people such as Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash! 💿
Without Dr. James West, recording vocals would be harder than it already is. He invented the electret microphone in 1962, and artists and engineers loved this microphone because it had better performance, accuracy, and reliability. Not only was it better, but it was cheaper, lightweight, and incredibly small. Now, over ninety percent of the microphones we use today are electret microphones, and they’re also found in phones and hearing aids! 🎤
We also wanted to showcase Black artists that we’re currently obsessed with and think are incredible, so we created a Spotify playlist to stream! The playlist includes up-and-coming such as Arlo Parks, Blood Orange, and Steve Lacy, but also some of our all-time favorites like Beyoncé, Prince, and so many more!
This Black History month, we took the time to do a deeper dive into the music we all know and love to find out more about the incredible Black musicians who pioneered some of our favorite genres. If there’s anything in here that you didn’t know as well, let us know on our Instagram or Twitter! 💜