We’re still not there. In the 21st century, we in America are still not to the point where everyone is truly equal. Where no one person has an advantage over the other because of a superficial reason like skin color. It’s a shame really especially since so much of our culture has been built by black Americans.
Every February, there seems to be some controversy over whether or not Black History Month is important or not. It is very important. Black history in America is American history and this should be celebrated because to not celebrate it would simply be unpatriotic in my opinion.
If you look at it from purely a music point of view, black Americans created the first truly unique American music genre: Jazz. Every culture around the world has it’s own folk music styles but Jazz is something special, something completely and utterly American that it took awhile for the rest of the world to even understand it. Europe hated Jazz for the longest time being the snobs that they were but eventually Jazz brought America to the musical stage of the world and got the attention of a serious genre and art form that it is.
Jazz made America a legitimate country the rest of the world had to pay attention to through music before we were made by world wars. I’m proud of that and so should everyone in America. We were able to make the world see us with our music and that’s all thanks to the black American composers like Scott Joplin, Jelly Roll Morton, Sidney Bechet, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and more.
This is why I say that celebrating Black History Month is a supremely patriotic thing to do and that’s just based off of music. There are so many great black artists, teachers, inventors, leaders, authors, innovators, scientists, problem solvers, and these patriotic men and women have helped America become a better place and a unique place to live.
So I would like to take today and celebrate Black History Month with some great musicians and artists who have influenced music and literature to an enormous degree.
Louis Armstrong – When the Saints Go Marching In
I feel like Louis Armstrong is necessary for any list of great musicians. That makes him a no brainer for a list of composers and musicians celebrating Black History Month. Armstrong helped bring early American Jazz to the forefront of the world with his performance style, voice and cornet. What better song to list than the birthplace of jazz and New Orleans classic, “When the Saints Go Marching In”.
Scott Joplin – Maple Leaf Rag
The King of Ragtime and an enormous influence to the creation of the jazz genre. Joplin is famous for “The Entertainer” and his composition, “Maple Leaf Rag” was his first song and the first ragtime song to become a hit. Unfortunately, his life ended much too soon at the age of 49 but the compositions that he did write during the span of his life created the standard for ragtime sound and helped build the foundation on which jazz could stand.
Billie Holiday – Strange Fruit
When I think about performing songs in general, Billie Holiday always comes to mind as an example to strive for. The way she could feel the song and make you feel the song down to your bones. Her delivery of each and every note has purpose and “Strange Fruit” is a perfect example. This song protests racism and the lynching of African Americans. Its writing is moving and Holiday’s delivery of this song is heartfelt and will bring goosebumps to your skin.
Iceberg Slim – The Fall
Robert Beck (aka Iceberg Slim) is most known for creating the American Crime genre of literature. If you haven’t read his first book, Pimp: The Story of My Life, I strongly suggest you do so. The book is about falling into a life of crime, his time as a pimp, his time in prison and his time finding himself and what he could be without that life. Beck has influenced a wealth of authors but he has also influenced several Hip Hop stars such as Ice-T (who took his name from Iceberg Slim) and Jay Z. He made one album during his career which he tells a story of a life of crime in the style similar to a pimp toast (which you can read more about here) backed by a jazz band.
Lena Horne – Good For Nothing Joe
Like Holiday, Lena Horne was a master of delivery. So much so that she was able to make you feel an undertone of a second meaning to several songs that she sang. “Good For Nothing Joe” is one of those songs to me and maybe it is to you too but to be able to imply something just from the way she sang a word or phrase is something that all singers can learn from. Honre was also a civil rights activist and because of this activism she was blacklisted during anti-communist hearings in the 1950s.
Little Walter – Crazy Mixed Up World
The genius who helped create the Chicago blues sound with his harmonica. I’ve always looked up to Little Walter. The idea to plug a harmonica into an amp and distort the sound like what was happening with guitars at the time completely altered the future of harmonica playing forever. Not only that but Little Walter was the best harmonica player. Arguably ever. I still listen to his recordings and I am amazed at how he made a harmonica sound like that.
Julius Eastman – Gay Guerrilla
I recently came across Julius Eastman and I’m so glad I did. Eastman was a minimalist composer ahead of his time whose music was never given the amount of attention it deserved. One, because he was black and two, because he was gay. His music focused on these aspects and what it meant to be black and gay in society. Therefore, his pieces were very powerful, political and downright brilliant. He was yet another artist who left this world too soon. He was 49 when he passed.
For the rest of this month, be the most patriotic you can be and listen to black artists, read black authors and celebrate black history.