Politicized Music and Race Relations

In the 1890’s, with the enactment of the Jim Crow Laws racial tension worsened, especially in the south. The idea of “seperate but equal” were equal was hardly equal for black Americans. Lynching’s were put on postcards and radicalized racism. In response to the Jim Crow laws, black people started leaving the south by the masses. Many went to work in industrial jobs in the north. The racial tension was only marginally better in the north. In Chicago people were racist but black people could vote and attend public school. During WWI, the workforce became integrated.

For years black artist’s music has been appropriated by white artists. These artists proffitted off of music that was originally created by a black person, simply because they are white. By the 1920’s records were marketed as “race records”. Marketed to whites or blacks. “Black Swan Records” was created in Harlem in the 1920’s it was the first only black by black self representing recording company.  Rhythm and Blues were marketed to black people, Rock to white people, and Jazz was an openly mixed genre. Artists that could fill more than one of these categories were troubling, where do you put them?

Were artists that could cover more than one genre so troubling because people did not know what to do with them or because music has been so politicized and they have created these narrow niches that people were concerned with messing with the status quo. In “Segragating Sound” Miller states, “The racial genres, on one hand, were an extension of the phonograph industry’s international campaigns. By 1920, the successes they had achieved internationally and with U.S. immigrant consumers enabled them to see African American and southern white consumers as separate niche markets.”  Miller writes about Lomax and his views that black music comes from the isolation of of black people. Especially in the case of Huddie Ledbetter, Lomax found him in prison and believed he would be the perfect example of black music because he had been isolated from “white” musical influence. Lomax played a role in getting Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter out of prison to sing in folklore programs at colleges, marketing his music as “authentic African American” music.

A large part of this class has been about racial politics of music and how white Americans appropriate black music for monetary gain. Miller writes about Willie Blackwell, “He understood that recording for a folklorist could conflict with his commercial label, so he insisted that Lomax not use his real name. Both Lomax and the commercial scouts were making a living off of recording his songs.”

It almost seems to me that the racial politicization of music made racial tensions worse, while spot lighting African American music. Why can’t everybody enjoy different types of music? (I understand this type of thinking is probably a product of my upbringing) Even now music is racially politicized, not quite as much as back then but enough to be noticeable.


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