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Lift Every Voice traces the roots of black music in Africa and slavery and its evolution in the United States from the end of slavery to the present day. The music's creators, consumers, and distributors are all part of the story. Musical genres such as spirituals, ragtime, the blues, jazz, gospel, rhythm and blues, rock, soul, and hip-hop—as well as black contributions to classical, country, and other American music forms—depict the continuities and innovations that mark both the music and the history of African Americans. A rich selection of documents help to define the place of music within African American communities and the nation as a whole.
Peretti (history, Western Connecticut State Univ.; The Creation of Jazz) undertakes the daunting task of summarizing the history of African American music from slave hollers to gangsta rap within social, economic, and racial contexts. He lays a solid foundation with an examination of African and American slave music, spirituals, and minstrelsy and continues with a good description of syncopated ragtime and a thumbnail sketch of the beginnings of the blues. In the most successful section, Peretti describes the origins of jazz during the 1920s from the marriage of ragtime and the blues. He also discusses, e.g., classical music, jazz avant-garde, gospel, soul, and the birth of rock 'n' roll. Peretti ends with a disappointing chapter on more recent music like Motown, funk, disco, and hip-hop, making a few missteps along the way (e.g., characterizing house music as early rap; referring to the Notorious B.I.G. as Christopher Smalls rather than Christopher Wallace). Overall, however, Peretti scores more often than he misses in the ambitious task of capturing the many and varied contributions of African Americans to our musical heritage. Recommended as a college text or as a brief overview for general readers.