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Timeline of African American Music

by The Urban News
Fisk Jubliee Singers 1882, with composer Ella Sheppard,
seated on the left.

Led by Dr. Portia K. Maultsby, a pioneer in the study of African American music, Carnegie Hall’s Timeline of African American Music offers a detailed view of the evolution of African American music, from the earliest folk traditions to present-day popular music.

This celebration of African American music explores the unique characteristics of more than 50 genres and styles, while also offering in-depth studies of pioneering musicians who created some of America’s most timeless artistic expressions.

Grouped by sacred, secular, and secular instrumental music and featuring styles such as go-go, funk, and soul, this resource is a great way to explore the spectrum of American popular music influenced by African American artists. The site offers digital resources, snippets of music, biographies, and more.

The section on Revolutionary Concepts in African American Music demonstrates the numerous ways African Americans have used music as a way to push back against oppression. According to the site, folk spirituals like “Wade in the Water,” rhythm-and-blues songs like Curtis Mayfield’s “This is My Country” (1968), Donny Hathaway’s “Someday We’ll All Be Free” (1973), and R&B/Neo-soul tracks like Donnie’s “Welcome to the Colored Section” (2002) have all musically captured the very existence of African Americans as enslaved and oppressed people surviving and agitating for their rights in a white supremacist world.

The section also shows how Black music has the power to stir emotions. According to the site, the vocal expression and lyrical content in Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddamn” (1964), Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message” (1982), Tupac’s “Changes” (1998), and Lauryn Hill’s “Black Rage” (2014) mine the deep emotions that are inevitably connected to the enduring struggle of Black existence in the United States.

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