The Power of Black Music: Interpreting Its History from Africa to the United States

Paperback | April 30, 1999

bySamuel A. FloydAs told bySamuel A. Floyd

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When Jimi Hendrix transfixed the crowds of Woodstock with his gripping version of "The Star Spangled Banner," he was building on a foundation reaching back, in part, to the revolutionary guitar playing of Howlin' Wolf and the other great Chicago bluesmen, and to the Delta blues traditionbefore him. But in its unforgettable introduction, followed by his unaccompanied "talking" guitar passage and inserted calls and responses at key points in the musical narrative, Hendrix's performance of the national anthem also hearkened back to a tradition even older than the blues, a traditionrooted in the rings of dance, drum, and song shared by peoples across Africa. Bold and original, The Power of Black Music offers a new way of listening to the music of black America, and appreciating its profound contribution to all American music. Striving to break down the barriers that remain between high art and low art, it brilliantly illuminates the centuries-oldlinkage between the music, myths and rituals of Africa and the continuing evolution and enduring vitality of African-American music. Inspired by the pioneering work of Sterling Stuckey and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., author Samuel A. Floyd, Jr, advocates a new critical approach grounded in the forms andtraditions of the music itself. He accompanies readers on a fascinating journey from the African ring, through the ring shout's powerful merging of music and dance in the slave culture, to the funeral parade practices of the early new Orleans jazzmen, the bluesmen in the twenties, the beboppers inthe forties, and the free jazz, rock, Motown, and concert hall composers of the sixties and beyond. Floyd dismisses the assumption that Africans brought to the United States as slaves took the music of whites in the New World and transformed it through their own performance practices. Instead, herecognizes European influences, while demonstrating how much black music has continued to share with its African counterparts. Floyd maintains that while African Americans may not have direct knowledge of African traditions and myths, they can intuitively recognize links to an authentic Africancultural memory. For example, in speaking of his grandfather Omar, who died a slave as a young man, the jazz clarinetist Sidney Bechet said, "Inside him he'd got the memory of all the wrong that's been done to my people. That's what the memory is....When a blues is good, that kind of memory justgrows up inside it." Grounding his scholarship and meticulous research in his childhood memories of black folk culture and his own experiences as a musician and listener, Floyd maintains that the memory of Omar and all those who came before and after him remains a driving force in the black music of America, a forcewith the power to enrich cultures the world over.

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From Our Editors

Bold and original, 'The Power of Black Music' offers a new way of listening to the music of black America and appreciating its profound contribution to all American music. Striving to break down the barriers that remain between high art and low art, it brilliantly illuminates the centuries-old linkage between the music, myths, and ritu...

From the Publisher

When Jimi Hendrix transfixed the crowds of Woodstock with his gripping version of "The Star Spangled Banner," he was building on a foundation reaching back, in part, to the revolutionary guitar playing of Howlin' Wolf and the other great Chicago bluesmen, and to the Delta blues traditionbefore him. But in its unforgettable introductio...

From the Jacket

Bold and original, 'The Power of Black Music' offers a new way of listening to the music of black America and appreciating its profound contribution to all American music. Striving to break down the barriers that remain between high art and low art, it brilliantly illuminates the centuries-old linkage between the music, myths, and ritu...

Samuel A. Floyd, Jr. is Director of the Center for Black Music Research, Columbia College, Chicago. He is also the editor of Black Music in the Harlem Rennaissance.

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:336 pages, 6.14 × 9.25 × 0.87 inPublished:April 30, 1999Publisher:Oxford University Press

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0195109759

ISBN - 13:9780195109757

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Table of Contents

Introduction1. African Music, Religion, and Narrative2. Transformations3. Syncretization and Synthesis: Folk and Written Traditions4. African-American Modernism, Signifyin(g), and Black Music5. The Negro Renaissance: Harlem and Chicago Flowerings6. Transitions: Function and Difference in Myth and Ritual7. Continuity and Discontinuity: The Fifties8. The Sixties and After9. Troping the Blues: From Spirituals to the COncert Hall10. The Object of Call-Response: The Signifyin(g) Symbol11. Implications and ConclusionsAppendix

From Our Editors

Bold and original, 'The Power of Black Music' offers a new way of listening to the music of black America and appreciating its profound contribution to all American music. Striving to break down the barriers that remain between high art and low art, it brilliantly illuminates the centuries-old linkage between the music, myths, and rituals of Africa and the continuing evolution and enduring vitality of African-American music.

Editorial Reviews

"The most scholarly and imaginative exploration yet of the origins and development of black music....An invaluable contribution."--Sterling Stuckey, Professor of History and Religious Studies, University of California, Riverside