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The African-American Influence

The African-American influence on American music is immense. Most Africans came to the United States against their will, to work as slaves, primarily in the south. Cultures were shattered, families broken up, but the rich African tradition of music survived and thrived. In America, these people reached into a mixture of African rhythms, harmonies, and musical subtleties and combined them with European music to create brilliant new musical forms, which themselves became traditions. Nearly every branch of American music owes some rhythmic or harmonic debt to African-American music.

Three major currents of African-American music show the greatest influence.

  • The blues acts as the backbone, forerunner of both jazz and rock and roll.
  • Jazz covers immense harmonic territory, subdividing into dozens of sub-genres, evolving constantly.
  • The gospel music of the African-American church has had its own infectious influence.

From these three interlinked genres sprang a wealth of styles and musical types. Rhythm and blues and soul have each gone through many manifestations and regional styles. Motown succeeded in bringing the African-American voice into the mainstream of American pop music. Funk, rap, and hip-hop bring the energy and genius into new areas today.


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