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

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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. 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 and traditions 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 in the 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, he recognizes 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 African cultural memory.

Bold and original, this powerful examination of the roots of black music, from the ancient tribes of Africa to today's recording studios, offers a new way of listening to the music of black America and of appreciating its profound contribution to all American music. 2 figures; 19 musical examples; 39 rhythm examples.

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Editorial Reviews

Aaron Cohen
African American music deserves but seldom gets as much attention from academics as from music critics. Floyd takes the rare scholarly approach to it and sets a standard for subsequent studies. The range of genres he discusses is comprehensive (it includes slaves' ring shouts, turn-of-the-century cotillion dances, jazz, R & B, etc.), and the connections he makes are particularly perceptive. Drawing on the works of prominent cultural theorists, such as Henry Louis Gates, Floyd traces the key elements in the music's panorama to an aesthetic that is still clearly linked to African myths and rituals (one example he cites is call-and-response technique, which is pervasive throughout many stylistic categories). A midwesterner, Floyd attends to the historically important but frequently overlooked Chicago Renaissance of black cultural activity and to the influential composers from that city as well as to the more familiar Harlem efflorescence. Complementing the discourse are plenty of musical examples. Academics, critics, scholars, and fans alike stand to gain much from carefully reading this impressive work.
From the Publisher

"Diligently traces the history of Black music--its African influences and evolution."--Emerge

"Dares to take on the whole span of black musical history."--Chicago Tribune

"Important...An exceptionally erudite and thoroughly readable work."--I.S.A.M. Newsletter


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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195082357
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 7/27/1995
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 6.46 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 1.16 (d)

Meet the Author

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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Table of Contents

Introduction 3
1 African Music, Religion, and Narrative 14
2 Transformations 35
3 Syncretization and Synthesis: Folk and Written Traditions 58
4 African-American Modernism, Signifyin(g), and Black Music 87
5 The Negro Renaissance: Harlem and Chicago Flowerings 100
6 Transitions: Function and Difference in Myth and Ritual 136
7 Continuity and Discontinuity: The Fifties 160
8 The Sixties and After 183
9 Troping the Blues: From Spirituals to the Concert Hall 212
10 The Object of Call-Response: The Signifyin(g) Symbol 226
11 Implications and Conclusions 267
Appendix 279
Printed Works Cited 281
Sound Recordings Cited 297
Films and Videotapes Cited 305
Index 307
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