How black music has shaped American culture over time
Music and the performing arts have not only entertained the masses; they have also served to document history – from early American music like ragtime and jazz to R&B and hip-hop and several genres in between.
Time and time again, black musicians reflect what is going on in the world through their music and by providing music to others. Sidney Madden is co-host of NPR’s “Louder Than a Riot” podcast, which focuses on the intersections of music and culture. His expertise as a music journalist provides insight into how black culture has influenced the music and entertainment industry as a whole.
“Every genre born in America has dark roots associated with it, from rock’n’roll and blues to disco,” Madden said. “Black designer fingerprints are everywhere what makes American music so unique.”
This interview has been edited slightly for length and clarity.
What impact has the black community had on American music?
Sidney Madden: There would be no American history without black people. The fabric of what American society is socially, economically, industrially – it wouldn’t be without black people. And it shows especially when it comes to music.
What is the particularity of the American music industry that often goes unnoticed?
Madden: The theft of black creativity is something that is at the foundation of American society. And if you go back to people like Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who is considered one of the godmothers of rock ‘n’ roll, a lot of people didn’t know who she was. You might think of Elvis and where he took a lot of his stage presence, where he took a lot of his bravado and his conviction and his lines, even some of the storytelling in his music – it was stolen directly from black descendants like Chuck Baie. Even if you look at the pop charts right now, so many artists who are considered titans of the game right now would be nothing and they wouldn’t have a song to follow without their black authors. I am thinking in particular of Ariana Grande, that latest album, “Positions”, which was co-written by one of her best friends, and someone who I think has one of the best pens in the game ever. this moment is Victoria Monet.
How did social movements coincide with black music?
Madden: Like we say on our “Louder Than a Riot” podcast, all hip-hop is protest music, isn’t it? It’s the foundation of what hip-hop has always been. What happens in hip-hop is a microcosm of what happens in black America because it is an art form of black origin. And I think with the defining moment that we had last year that continues to permeate the Black Lives Matter movement in America and around the world, more and more people are seeing that there would be nothing, that there would be no soundtrack of the event, without black music. And it’s not just hip-hop. It happens in pop music. It happens in R&B. It takes place in jazz.
Where do you see the future of black music?
Madden: I see the future of black music going where black people go, and it’s limitless. The more we use our voices to talk about things that matter, things that need to be changed and not in a far-dreamed utopian way, but in a concrete, logistical, step-by-step way – these are the things that need to be improved in our community, because if it’s going to be improved in our community, it’s going to be improved across America. This is where we are going. We are moving towards more positions of power, influence and applicable change.