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Civil Rights, Black Power,
and the Struggle for Black
The spirituals sounded a call to action--uniting African-American history with a contemporary freedom struggle. The freedom songs galvanized parts of the Black community when other forms of communication failed. Adaptations of earlier spirituals inspired all people, Black and white, female and male, together to fight injustice. Spirituals embodied persuasive ideological elements toward holistic human actualization.
--Cheryl A. Kirk-Duggan
The time was perhaps right. After five decades of elite leadership--Washington, Du Bois, and Walter White's NAACP--the black workingclass would emerge from out of the shadows of bourgeois values to directly address its own economic concerns. The process was begun as A. Philip Randolph prepared to march on Washington in 1941, followed by the revolt of black youth in Detroit and New York during the summer of `43, and the second wave of southern migrants, who rejected a history of slavery and sharecropping in the South to pursue economic interest in the industrialized North and West. As the liberal bourgeois leadership of the black community purged itself to protect itself from the wrath of McCarthyism and prepared landmark legal action against legal segregation, the black working class began to rearticulate its relationship to both labor and commodity culture in this country.
Bebop was the first radical sign: the creation of an art form, clearly informed by the sensibilities of a marginalized, male-dominated, urban constituency that needed to reclaim the critical edge of black communal expression from the arms of mass consumer culture and American modernity. Ten years after jazz, in the form of swing, becomes the language of mass consumer culture and an integral part of the cultural buffer that diverts working-class resistance from the realities of Depression-era America, bebop emerges to articulate a distinctly mid-twentieth-century urban blackness. Hard-bop and soul would emerge in the 1950s to emphatically construct an urban working-class blackness that was distinct from the black community's more visible southern-based liberal bourgeois leadership, but a blackness in which the successes of the Civil Rights movement are ultimately premised.
Challenged by a second wave of northern migration, the infrastructure of black urban spaces were under significant stress, though many of these spaces become the aesthetic sanctums for cultural exchanges that undergirded the most profound resistance activities of the period. Ironically, the result of many of these cultural exchanges was the classic and historic conflation of often divergent aesthetic sensibilities, highlighting the profound strengths of communal struggle. In the process, Martin Luther King and the Motown recording label became the dominant icons of black middle-class aspiration. Both would evolve during the 1960s, representing significant structural and economic changes within the African-American diaspora. The failure of the traditional middle-class-driven Civil Rights movement to adequately respond to the realities of black working-class life allowed for the emergence of political alternatives like Malcolm X and the young nationalists within the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The Watts revolts of 1965 bespoke the rage that could no longer remain contained within the black urban neighborhoods. Toward the end of the 1960s, the black popular music tradition would also come to reflect the inner rage of some segments of the African-American diaspora.
The Chitlin' Circuit: Memory, Community, and Migration
In the 1940s radio stations began to use recorded music instead of live music in their programming. As Reebee Garofalo states, "Records emerged as a relatively inexpensive medium.... Records soon became the staple of the music industry, surpassing sheet music as the major source of revenue in 1952. About the same time, radio overtook jukeboxes as the number one hitmaker." As recorded music became the dominant format for American music, the appearance of the transistor radio--a technological advance that allowed for the transformation of radio entertainment from a family-centered activity to a more personal and dispersed listening experience--along with the expansion of the recording industry during the favorable economic period of postwar America, provided the stimuli for the mass commodification of black popular forms. As Gerald Early writes:
The effect of the invention of the transistor was similar to the later invention of the microchip: it made electronic appliances smaller and cheaper, particularly radios. And the growth of portable radios had an enormous impact on where music was heard, and on the courting habits of people who used radio for those purposes. In fact, it spurred the growth of portable radios, which had an enormous impact on where music was listened to and on the mating habits of people who used music on the radio for sensual purposes.
Within the context of black popular forms the transistor allowed for a distribution of these texts with a velocity and efficiency that had been previously unrealized within mass consumer culture. Furthermore, the development of transistor radios allowed young whites to access black forms like rhythm and blues by circumventing the parental surveillance that accompanied radio listening in the past. Previously, particularly before the introduction of television into mainstream culture, the old bulky radio console served as centerpiece of intrafamilial relations.
Rhythm and blues became the first form of black popular music to be exposed to the rampant mass consumerism that has defined the post-World War II period. The emergence of rhythm and blues is owed in part to the decentering of big band/swing music and the rise of vocalists in the recording industry. The demise of big band and swing music have both commercial and aesthetic impetuses. In the immediate postwar economy it was impractical and imprudent to support the elaborate needs of a big band; this gave rise to smaller combos. We also witness the rise of bebop and the electrified bass and guitar, significantly enhancing the role of rhythm in the music, hence the term rhythm and blues. The dominant artist from this period, Louis Jordan, is recognized as a genius in rhythm and blues because he anticipated the demise of the big band sound and produced black instrumental music that responded to the need for black dance music that would be commercially viable to the recording industry. Many critics consider him the first true black "crossover" artist.
A shortage of shellac limited the number of 78-rpm recordings that were produced immediately after the war, and the major record companies focused on the more popular vocal music as opposed to bebop or instrumental rhythm and blues. This led to the appearance of what Arnold Shaw has called "sepia Sinatras"--named in tribute to the most popular vocalist of the era and the one who arguably benefited most from the new technology--or blues balladeers in the likes of people like Percy Mayfield, Charles Brown, and Dinah Washington. Describing the phenomenon, Shaw writes:
A fusion it was, mixing elements of country blues, boogie woogie and jazz in a cauldron fired by the seductive sales of pop balladry. If the Inkspots were the progenitors, Leroy Carr the father, and Nat Cole an influence, the exponents of the murmuring gentle vibrato ballad style were bluesmen like Charles Brown, Lowell Fulson, Percy Mayfield and Ivory Joe Hunter. They were the black ghetto equivalents of the baritone crooners in pop--in short, they were "sepia Sinatras."
In fact, this phenomenon, as Shaw suggests, explains why Nat King Cole disbanded his highly successful King Cole Trio in favor of a career as pop vocalist. Sinatra of course personifies the technological changes in popular music in that the electric microphone allowed singers who did not possess the chops of blues and gospel singers to be heard above the raucous sounds of swing or rhythm and blues bands.
The music of a group like the Coasters ("Yakety Yak" and "Charlie Brown"), which placed African-American artists in the long-accepted position of jesters, appropriated many of the aesthetics of minstrelsy. Though generally viewed as the domain of white males, James Weldon Johnson writes, "Minstrelsy was, on the whole, a caricature of Negro life, and it fixed a stage tradition which has not yet been entirely broken. It fixed the tradition of the Negro as only an irresponsible, happy-go-lucky, wide-grinning, loud-laughing, shuffling, banjo-playing, singing, dancing sort of being." As Shaw, Garofalo, and George all submit, the music was primarily accepted for its value as dance music. Though many of the lyrics reflected innocuous romantic notions or a popular dance of the time, many of the messages alluded to the very subversive themes advanced during slavery, namely those of community as well as spiritual and physical transcendence. In an examination of the work of Louis Jordan, who on occasion has been charged with advancing clownish black stereotypes, George asserts:
The titles "Beans and Cornbread," "Saturday Night Fishfry," and "Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens" suggest country life, yet the subject of each is really a city scene. In "Chickens," for instance, the central image is of chickens in a coop having a party that's keeping the farmer from sleeping. But clearly the bird bash is just a metaphor for a black house party that the farmer--perhaps the landlord, maybe the police--wants to quiet.
The text of this music is of course shaped by what is still a very precarious existence in America for many blacks. The lyrics of rhythm and blues, particularly as a commodified product, could simply not directly address the issues concerning the majority of blacks. As the political terrain for blacks began to change after the Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas trial in 1954, so did the style and content of the dominant forms of black popular music.
By the end of the 1950s, modern jazz was transformed from an urban dance music and salve of working-class misery into a concert music, appropriated by the mainstream cultural elite and later the Academy. Jazz would, for all intents and purposes, end its organic relationship with black working-class communities and black vernacular culture. I maintain that there has been a continued project among some segments of the black jazz community to reintroduce and reintegrate jazz music into the Black Public Sphere and the black public(s) contained within it. Some black musicians have attempted to conflate modern jazz's aesthetic sensibilities with the rhythms that dominate the Black Public Sphere and in the process create subgenres of jazz that were still honest to the traditions of modern jazz, but accessible and palatable to a larger and often younger black audience. Informed by the black church and the rudimentary elements of a new style of music that was largely derived from the music of the black church, hard-bop emerged in the mid-1950s as a form of modern jazz with roots in black working-class culture.
In some regards the emergence of hard-bop, like that of soul music later, was simply a response by black artists and the black community to the intense commodification and mass consumption of an organic black music form. Paul Gilroy's argument in regards to this best illustrates a structural component of African-American diasporic cultural production since the rise of mass consumerism; namely that the volatility of post-World War II black popular culture is a response to the intense commodification and appropriation of organic cultural forms in the black community. As Gilroy suggests:
The anticapitalist politics that animate the social movement against racial subordination is not confined to the lyrical content of these musical cultures. The poetics involved recurrently deals with these themes, but the critique of capitalism is simultaneously revealed in the forms this expressive culture takes and in the performance aesthetic that governs them. There is here an immanent challenge to the commodity form to which black expressive culture is reduced in order to be sold. It is a challenge that is practiced rather than simply talked or sung about.
Within the context of Gilroy's thesis, black popular music's ability to create an aesthetic buffer from the travails of mass commodification is contingent on the support of socially taut communities--communities that legal segregation unwittingly helped to maintain.
Hard-bop emerges with and is perhaps also influenced by rhythm and blues music. With the heavy sounding, honking tenor saxophone as its centerpiece and the prominence of an electrified bass, rhythm and blues represented the hard-driving and passionate though predictable life of post-World War II black public(s) in urban spaces. Gone were the aesthetic excesses that defined the bebop moment of the early to mid-1940s; gone were the expectations captured in the concept of "Double V, Double-Time." Rhythm and blues and hard-bop instead inspired forms of spiritual catharsis as opposed to physical transcendence rooted in political or social resistance. Nevertheless, it was an aesthetic mood that resonated among a black urban public resolved to the realities of "the promised land."
The tenor saxophone was only one of the instruments on which the hard-bop tradition stood. Black jazz musicians would literally pull the dominant musical instrument of the black sacred world out of the church and into the secular world: in 1955, jazz musician Jimmy Smith traded in the sounds of eighty-eight keys for the sound of the Hammond B-3 organ. Though there were examples of the organ's use throughout black popular music, the performances of Wild Bill Davis on the instrument were what persuaded Smith to take up the instrument. The organ perhaps had been introduced into jazz by Fats Waller, an early giant of jazz and son of an assistant minister at Harlem's famed Abyssinian Baptist Church, who began recording on the pipe organ shortly before his death in 1943.
The instrument's use in a jazz context could not have endeared jazz musicians and audiences to the black church, because the organ was in many ways the emblem of gospel music itself. As Rosenthal indicates, the Hammond B-3 found its public voice not in the church, but in the community bar in the form of the very popular organ/tenor combos and organ/guitar trios. These tensions again highlight the continued presence of a hyperdemocracy within black life that valued the various counternarratives to the liberal bourgeois sensibilities of the black church and mainstream political establishment. New York's famed Apollo Theater is perhaps the most visible icon of democracy within black public life, given its seminal role in creating a public space for communal critique of black cultural production. Artists like Brother Jack McDuff, Jimmy McGriff, Big John Patton, Baby Face Wilhitte, and Larry Young made their livings traveling the highly democratic Chitlin' Circuit with these combos and trios. In fact, jazz great John Coltrane, often associated with the highbrow trend that has dominated jazz since the late 1950s, honed his formidable skills as a honker in many of the black bars in Philadelphia in the early 1950s. According to Rosenthal the Hammond B-3 "offered jazz/R&B performers a number of advantages," including a big sound, variety of tones, and a bass line that could replace the need for piano and string bass, which in part reflected the economic and spatial sensibilities of the Chitlin' Circuit.
Removed from the travails of the marketplace and its legions of uninformed consumers, hard-bop retreated to and thus strengthened the quality of Black Public Sphere activities in the form of the so-called Chitlin' Circuit. This loose network of black nightclubs, juke joints, and after-hours clubs was invaluable for the creation of common aesthetic and cultural sensibilities among the African-American diaspora--a noble and significant feat, given the changing demographics of black public life in the midst of post-World War II migration patterns. In large response to economic transformations in the American South, namely the mechanization of the farming process, more than four million blacks migrated to the urban North and urban South during the postwar period. At its core, the Chitlin' Circuit invoked the reconstruction of community and the recovery of cultural memory for many of these second-wave migrants. Crown jewels of the Chitlin' Circuit, like Chicago's Regal Theater, New York's Apollo Theater, and activities like "Amateur Night at the Apollo," are stark reminders of the African-American diaspora's strident devotion to the democratic tenets of American society. Black popular music in the 1950s and the significance of the Chitlin' Circuit represent a singular moment in the role of the black public(s) in the creation, maintenance, and distribution of black musical expression in the post-World War II era, in that it is a period also marked by the intense commodification of black popular music forms.
Hard-bop's popularity was largely based on its ability to remain malleable to the full range of musical influences and tastes contained within a still largely segregated black public. Thus hard-bop stalwarts like Art Blakey, Horace Silver, and Lee Morgan, as well as fringe jazz artists like hornmen Willis "Gator" Jackson, Jimmy Forrest, and Gene Ammons, had to be well versed in the blues, bebop, and gospel idioms and willing to accept the contemporary influences of rhythm and blues and, later, soul and funk. It is thus no surprise that soul, the next aesthetic movement in black popular music after rhythm and blues and hard-bop, resonates among the total diversity of an increasingly stratified black community. Soul's singular role during the Civil Rights and Black Power movements as a conduit for political expression--a role scarcely repeated among black music forms since--would have been virtually impossible without the solidification of the Chitlin' Circuit in the 1950s. These trends would continue well into the decade of the 1960s, though the black jazz clubs of urban spaces would increasingly represent alternatives to varying class and ideological constructs within the black community, as the Chitlin Circuit represented a distinct link to a worldview predicated on the suppression, exploitation, and disenfranchisement of the black community.
Increasingly a younger generation of black intellectuals, personified by Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones), Larry Neal, and the Black Arts movement, began to posit the aesthetic innovations of jazz artists like John Coltrane, Archie Shepp, and Albert Ayler, as emblematic of the postcolonial and black nationalist politics needed to empower the black community. Underlying these notions were powerful desires to sever black expressive culture from the mainstream critical establishment and provide more authentic and informed interpretations of black culture via the Black Arts intelligentsia. Baraka's Blues People is perhaps the most profound articulation of this concept. As Lorenzo Thomas suggests in his work on the Black Arts movement,
The militant attitude of writers such as Neal was reflected--and perhaps instigated--by jazz musicians whose playing matched the intensity of an entire generation of African American intellectuals who were too young to know much about Jim Crow but old enough to see that integration was, at best, a barely hatched chicken if not a bird in the bush. One of the most interesting projects of this group was an attempt to control authorship of jazz criticism and, thereby, reclaim the music itself as a central cultural expression of the black community.
These ideas anticipate the burgeoning nationalist movement, which would engulf the black community in the latter part of the 1960s, and the emergence of an organic and largely male critical establishment, initially represented in Baraka, A. B. Spellman, Stanley Crouch, and a generation later in Nelson George, Harry Allen, and Greg Tate. These writers helped provide a context in which to appreciate the artistic innovations of artists like Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Marion Brown, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Henry Threadgill's Air, and Don Pullen.
Cerebrally challenging to both musicians and audiences, many of these recordings and performances effectively countered critical renderings which often reduced jazz as the music of brothels, drug addicts, and a socially deviant subculture. The desire of black musicians to shatter caricatures of the smiling entertaining "sambo," and convey a serious musicianship worthy of high brow considerations--Miles Davis in Hickey Freeman suits is the best example--was also a part on this design. Unfortunately many of these artists and crities earned such concessions at the expense of their core black audiences. As Bebop presaged, the heady jazz of the 1960s, often devoid of swing and an accessible blues center, quite possibly represented the genre's final break with the black working class, who often valued it, like the blues and rhythm and blues, for its cathartic powers in the leisure spaces they inhabited. In this regard, the political agenda of critics and the personal choices of musicians were at odds with the desire and pursuit of pleasure on behalf of some black audiences, particularly as pleasure often undermined, temporally at least, the realities of segregation, Jim Crow politics, and racism.
Davis's last major group of the 1950s serves as a useful metaphor for the stratification that would appear among black jazz musicians and by extension the black public at large in the 1960s. In tenor saxophonist John Coltrane and alto saxophonist Juliann "Cannonball" Adderley, the Miles Davis sextet contained the opposite poles of jazz sensibilities as they would appear in the decade of the 1960s and beyond. Coltrane would attain cult status and his recordings become the measure of jazz's presence as a highbrow American art form, while Adderley would reach back to his own blues roots and create a music capable of creating instantaneous catharsis among his black audiences. Adderley intuitively understood Jazz music's historical role in the everyday lives of everyday black folks and, as such, fashioned a jazz style that was both warmly received and culturally useful for the black community. Baraka writes of Adderley: "Ball's glibness and easy humor coupled with a kind of swinging formalism and miniaturism enabled him to create the kind of solos and compositions that would be commercially significant .... Cannon's direction is more commercial because it freezes blues as blues form." Adderley's unprecedented commitment to recording with live audiences--the aural reproduction of community which I discuss in the next chapter--underscores his significance in the continued credibility of jazz for black working-class audiences.
Throughout the '60s, many black jazz musicians, under the banner of hard-bop and later soul jazz, recorded music that was extremely popular to a larger black and mainstream audience. This sentiment is perhaps best captured in the mainstream success of Lee Morgan's "Sidewinder," Adderley's "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy," and Ramsey Lewis's single "The In Crowd." The duo of Grant Green and Lou Donaldson, who often recorded together in the early 1960s, and Donald Byrd, were most notably attuned to the changes taking place in black popular music and the black community for that matter. These artists would infuse jazz with the syncopated rhythms often associated with the music of James Brown and introduce a new subgenre of jazz, with an emphasis on catching the attention of a younger, politically motivated, culturally assured audiences raised on the music and production techniques of the Motown and Stax recording companies.
Largely unknown to casual jazz listeners, the St. Louis born Green was Blue Note's most recorded artist from the years 1960-1965. According to the linear notes to Blue Note's The Best of Grant Green vol. 1, Green's solo on Lee Morgan's Search for the New Land recording is still used in jazz guitar classes. (Green, though well regarded among his peers as a session musician, capable composer, and leader in his own right, often fought with the demons of drug addiction. Inevitably it curtailed his work during the latter sixties and led to his early death at the age of forty-nine in 1979.) Green reemerged in the early 1970s and created a body of work that was wholly in step with the music associated with some of the dominant social institutions of the Black Public Sphere. Largely disparaged by critics who longed for the straight ahead style of Green's earlier recordings, Green's music of this period was recovered later on both ends of the Atlantic, particularly recordings like "Cease the Bombing" and his remake of Don Covay's "Sookie, Sookie," that anticipate the emergence of jazz-influenced hip-hop on America's East Coast and acid jazz in Britain, more than twenty-five years after their release.
Lou Donaldson, on the other hand, reemerged several times during his career. The alto saxophonist began his career largely influenced by saxophonists Earl Bostic, Johnny Hodges, and rhythm and blues artist, Louis Jordan. He emerged in the 1950s playing straight-ahead hard-bop, the early sixties playing soul jazz, and finally in the late 1960s and early 1970s with funk-jazz. Donaldson profoundly understood the power of syncopated rhythms and the concept of funk within the black community. When queried about the significance of Funk, Donaldson related:
That's the way Jazz is supposed to be played. People got the wrong concept about what Jazz is. Jazz is not just running through a lot of notes and stuff. That's not Jazz. What they call Funk, that's not Funk, that's Jazz music.... See when I was a kid, all the Jazz bands played for dancing. That's all they played for. When we play that style of music, it's to make people dance.... Put a beat in there to make people get on the floor. Because, you get in these clubs and the cats say, well man if the people don't get on the floor, you fired.
Donaldson's comments highlight the historic role of audiences in keeping musicians accountable to the vernacular traditions and communal desires of the black community. Of course much of this accountability was wholly related to the economy of the Chitlin' Circuit in that the economic livelihood of many black musicians was predicated on the willingness of black working-class audiences to spend their hard-earned money on performances they derived pleasure and sense of community from. While audiences would continue to influence the aesthetic choices of black musicians in the future, particularly as consumers of recordings and live performances, increased corporate intervention in the black music industry and intense market segmenting would limit access of a diverse range of black musical styles to a broad range of black audiences and thus limit their capacity to hold some musicians and artists accountable.
Donaldson's 1967 release Alligator Boogaloo, is perhaps the best example of his efforts to remain connected to his core black audiences. The recording which contained Donaldson originals like the title track and organist Dr. Lonnie Smith's "Aw Shucks," featured a rhythm section anchored by a young guitarist named George Benson and the Boogaloo rhythms of New Orleans-bred Idris Muhammad. Muhammad's drumming was the product of the intense polyrhythms that were native to New Orleans. Muhammad, like Meters drummer Joe "Zigaboo" Modelsite, was a student of session drummer Earl Palmer, who Ricky Vincent suggests was the "original funk" drummer. Muhammad's role in Donaldson's band was significant for several reasons. Hard-bop, like Bebop before it, was a product of regional taste. Muhammad's New Orleans-styled rhythms, as well as the playing of New Orleans trumpeter Melvin Lastie, effectively creolized Donaldson's sound making it more attractive to a broader range of black listeners, while mirroring black migration from the South to northern cities. Accordingly Alligator Boogaloo, which Donaldson said "brought them back," meaning the black audience, was one of the Blue Note label's all-time top sellers during the era, along with Lee Morgan's Sidewinder and Horace Silver's Song for My Father.
But the New Orleans syncopation of Alligator Boogaloo also contained elements that were useful to the heightened political sensibilities of the black masses. In some regards Muhammad's playing in Donaldson's band represented the retention of premodern jazz sensibilities. As Vincent relates:
The polyrhythmic emphasis of New Orleans drumming was a specialty of the region--the only region in the United States where black slaves were allowed to play drums from day one. The endless drumming and rhythmic interplay of the slaves at Congo Square is still visible among the storied "second line" of musicians that has followed parades and funeral marches throughout New Orleans for generations.... The very African quality of performing with multiple rhythms playing simultaneously--in a lively syncopation--was retained by the people in the region and has spread through New Orleans Dixieland Jazz, ragtime, rhythm and blues, and, ultimately, The Funk.
These cultural retentions were particularly powerful as African-Americans began to seriously examine their African heritage. New Orleans syncopation was one of the more pronounced remnants of that heritage. Political elements in New Orleans syncopation were also evident in the work of New Orleans natives the Meters, who recorded a spate of popular recordings like "Cissy Strut," "Chicken Strut," and "Sophisticated Cissy" in the late 1960s. The latter recording had its basis in a popular dance from the period known as "the sophisticated sissy." According to dance historian Katrina Hazard-Gordon, the dance called for "black men to step forward as leaders in both their communities and in the black struggle." Such commentary, once again suggest that many Chitlin' Circuit spaces were not only sites of recovery and pleasure, but spaces that afforded some forms of political agency.
Subsequent Donaldson recordings like Hot Dog (1969), Everything I Play is Funky (1970), and "Pot Belly" with it's use of the Fender Bass--a sound that would come to dominate hip-hop music produced in the Northeast during the late '80s and early '90s--are tributes to the lasting significance of his music. Donaldson's 1970 recording The Scorpion: Live at the Cadillac Club (1971) is not only a testament to Donaldson's aesthetic sensibilities, but ultimately according to jazz jock Bob Porter a testament to the Chitlin' Circuit as represented by spaces like the Cadillac Club and Key Club in Newark, New Jersey.
Dr. Donald Byrd, born Donaldson Toussaint L'overture Byrd, like his late contemporary Lee Morgan, was a child prodigy of the hard-bop movement. Possessing a restless intellect, Byrd would spend several years abroad in study and would eventually attain a doctorate in ethnomusicology during the mid-1960s. Byrd's resistance to the commercial affects on the quality of jazz as it related to the black community would become one of his major focuses throughout the decade of the sixties. Byrd devoted significant amounts of his time to the teaching of jazz, but most significantly Byrd would create bodies of work that were indeed reflective of the African-American experience.
In the early 1960s, Byrd introduced gospel chorale groups to jazz and would later recover what Stanley Crouch calls the "gutbucket grandeur" of the blues on recordings like 1967's Slow Drag. But no one could have imagined what Byrd would produce when he and a cadre of his Howard University students went into Rudy Van Gelder's New Jersey studios and produced Black Byrd. Black Byrd, with its production duo of former Motown studio hands Larry and Fonce Mizell, became Blue Note's best-selling recording to date and one of the first Jazz recordings to embrace the recording techniques of popular black music. Ursala Davis writes of this historic album, "Although the public continued to buy his records and the young folks were dancing to them, critics gave Byrd devastating reviews.... Byrd did something that no one realized at the time: he developed a way out of the impasse that had developed in jazz by becoming too experimental and stale. Byrd, sensing the changing dynamics of black music, created a sound that resonated not solely within the Chitlin' Circuit, a concept no longer in vogue among younger audiences and under tremendous attack during the urban upheavals of the 1960s, but within the discotheque, a communal formation that I will examine in later chapters.
Given the near eradication of a visible and viable political left after McCarthyism, the insular dynamics of segregated black urban neighborhoods, and the Chitlin' Circuit, in particular, provided the necessary distance from mainstream surveillance and control. Marable writes that perhaps in response to the encroachments against freedom that the House Un-American Committee (HUAC) represented, "The Silent Generation of the white middle class began moving from urban centers to the suburbs; the populace and politicians alike were occupied with televisions, automobiles and other mass consumer goods." Ironically, the very presence of insular cultural exchanges within a segregated diaspora make the Chitlin' Circuit and its mainstream facsimiles the ideal setting to politicize a generation of young whites who correctly viewed aspects of African-American expression as oppositional to America's ideological devotion to materialism and militarism.
Soul as Struggle: Soul Music, Polytonality, and the Discourse(s) of Black Resistance
In many regards, the successes of Brown vs. the Board of Education and Montgomery's historic bus boycott were driven by the presence and weight of black middle-class influence. While a diversity of class and political perspectives theoretically benefited from both efforts--the working class in Montgomery being an ideal example--the battles provided momentum for a largely southern middle-class social movement against legal segregation and constraints on voting rights and social mobility. For a new generation of northern migrants and second- and third-generation urban dwellers, attacks against Jim Crow were far removed from the issues of economic empowerment, police brutality, and housing discrimination that defined life in the urban North and Midwest. Despite these significant differences, the rudimentary elements of the traditional Civil Rights movement were critiqued and distributed across the African-American diaspora, creating a social environment of hope and expectation. This was partly achieved because the burgeoning Civil Rights movement was initially mediated and distilled by the most significant institution within the traditional Black Public Sphere, the black church.
It was only natural that black popular music, like the Civil Rights movement, would also draw from the black church. Its devotion to liberal bourgeois models of black public life and often puritanical notions of social relations have helped generate alternative spaces of critique and resistance, which have often sought to undermine the church's influence and thus broaden models of black life. Nevertheless, the black church, as both public space and metaphor, has remained an invaluable artery of African-American expression. Describing its impact on black life Higginbotham writes:
For African-Americans, long excluded from political institutions and denied presence, even relevance, in the dominant society's myths about its heritage and national community, the church itself became the domain for the expression, celebration and pursuit of a black collective will and identity. The question is not how religious symbols and values were promoted in American politics, but how public space, both physical and discursive, was interpolated within black religious institutions.
Though various political factions within the black community, dating back to the era of the Harlem Renaissance, sought to remove critical expression from the overwhelming influence of the black church and other mainstream institutions in the Black Public Sphere, the attacks on the left and on black artists and intellectuals like Langston Hughes and W. E. B. Du Bois created the conditions for the black church's reemergence as dominant institution within black public life.
The renewed influence of the black church is partially predicated on aesthetic revisions of black sacred music to make it more palatable to a broader range of audiences within the black community. Mirroring aesthetic changes in jazz during the 1950s, black sacred music began to more closely reflect the growing influences of black secular music like the blues. The creative energy behind such transformations was a former pianist of the great blues singer Ma Rainey. Known during the 1920s as "Georgia Tom," Thomas A. Dorsey is generally recognized as the father of gospel music. Creating a context that often highlighted and privileged the emotional impact of the music over traditional religious discourse, Dorsey, with the help of Sallie Martin, Mahalia Jackson, and others, created an annual gospel convention. The conventions served as a critical apparatus to develop the tradition, while providing commercial space for what was becoming a burgeoning sheet music industry, in which Dorsey compositions like "Precious Lord" and "Peace in the Valley" were top sellers. Dorsey well understood the power of the blues industry and created in gospel an economic vehicle that unlike the urban blues, could be contained within the black community.
Soul music, the popular and secular offspring of Dorsey's innovations, culturally relied upon what Smitherman has called "tonal semantics." As she relates, "To both understand and `feel' tonal semantics requires the listener to be of a cultural tradition that finds value and meaning in word sound." Influenced by West African tone languages, the practice of tonal semantics allows for different meanings to be derived from the tonal quality of a particular word or phrase. This was of course a powerful tool for blacks in the antebellum South and would become such for the vocalists of black popular forms like soul music. It is within this theoretical context that I want to suggest that the motion and musicality of the African voice, on which tonal semantics are largely premised, are perhaps best understood as the practice of polytonal expression. Denied access to the predominant instrument(s) of rhythmic (human) expression, the vocal quality of the first and second generations of Africans in the United States began to mimic the very diversity of tones and colors that were inherent in the African polyrhyghms of the past. The practice of polygonal expression or polytonality, in which complex and varying meanings were conveyed via vocal tones, represents a unique process that is emblematic of the African-American experience:
Ironically, it is through Christian indoctrination and exploitive labor practices, both designed to socialize enslaved blacks to be productive laborers and model citizens within a racially defined economic caste system, that blacks were most able to realize as an option the liberatory meanings of poly-tonality through the practice of song (church and work songs)--songs that were often interpreted by the agrarian aristocracy of the South and their managers as proof that their socialization efforts were having desired effects. Unbeknownst to those outside of the slave community, these songs conveyed rich, textured, and nuanced meanings that were primarily conveyed via tonal qualities as opposed to specific narrative content. Furthermore these songs were impregnated with expressions of pain that related the miserable circumstances of enslaved blacks.
A constant state of terror and fear foregrounded polygonal expression as a set of complex intercultural negotiations that ultimately represented a fuller articulation of black spirituality. Central to this project was the mystification of language in ways that projected communally derived critiques, while simultaneously protecting the organic sites of production and producers of such critiques. Elaine Scarry's work on pain suggests that real biological and psychological needs frame these linguistic and rhetorical negotiations. Scarry identifies eight dimensions of physical pain. For my purposes the fifth dimension is particularly useful in examining the nature of polygonal expression:
A fifth dimension of physical pain is its ability to destroy language, the power of verbal objectification, a major source of our self-extension, a vehicle through which the pain could be lifted out into the world and eliminated. Before destroying language, it first monopolizes language, becomes its only subject: complaint, in many ways the nonpolitical equivalent of confession, becomes the exclusive mode of speech,
In the introduction of her text, Scarry suggest that the transcendence of pain is contingent on naming the sources and implications of pain. Scarry writes:
Often, a state of consciousness other than pain will, if deprived of its object, begin to approach the neighborhood of physical pain; conversely, when physical pain is transformed into an objectified state, it (or at least some of its aversiveness) is eliminated. A great deal, then is at stake in the attempt to invent linguistic structures that will reach and accommodate this area of experience normally so inaccessible to language.
The public articulation of pain and the ultimate transcendence of pain would provide the foundation of the black modernist project of naming and visibility. Thus tonal semantics can be referenced among efforts on the part of enslaved blacks to give name and, with it, meaning to their oppression and oppressors, as a precursor to emotional and psychic transcendence of their condition--forms of transcendence that themselves foreground efforts of physical transcendence.
Polygonal expression also provides a theoretical framework in which to examine the dominant existential challenges to black life. In many ways the practice of slavery obliterated the distinctions between public and private life, rendering most aspects of black life in the antebellum period open to public domain, as that domain was constructed by the whims and wishes of the planter class, who, ironically, denied blacks the ability to be "public" persons. Thus much of black liberatory expression was initially defined by the desire to create covert spaces that, on the one hand, would provide the physical parameters in which to recover humanity, including the pursuit of pleasure, but also the space to develop more meaningful forms of resistance. While the role of the black church as the seminal institution within the black public sphere, both before and after emancipation, highlights the most visible example of the creation of covert social space, there were clearly other efforts that less effectively or perhaps less visibly constructed covert space. I would suggest that the practice of polygonal expression, particularly when premised by the type of public/social formations that accompanied field work, created the context for the creation of a covert social space in which the parameters were not physical, but aural.
Furthermore, notions of social space imply a framework in which community can be constituted. Though blacks in most cases could convene publicly under the auspices of the agrarian labor system or the mainstream Christian church, there remained incredible obstacles to the construction and maintenance of black community. The desire to create community and the pursuit of covert social space remained two of the dominant existential tensions within the African-American diaspora well into the twentieth century. I would further suggest that the practice of polytonal expression, particularly within the context of field labor or other social formations in which blacks were communally constructed, represented the reconstitution of community within the parameters of aurally defined social space, that is in and of itself circumscribed by aural expression. It is within this framework that the black musical tradition--in particular the vocal tradition--came to serve as a primary instigator, if not conduit, of black liberatory expression.
In its essence soul music represented the conflation of polytonal vocal expression, over a layered musical landscape of rhythm and blues and gospel. The process of polytonality represents the creolization of various discourses and energies to create a mode of expression that is uniquely African (pretext), uniquely American (context) and capable of liberatory (subtext) interpretations. Thus soul represents a powerful "bricolage" or collage of black public formations, whose presence can be dated to the antebellum South. As polytonal expression constructed aural notions of community and social space, rhythm and blues and gospel music represented music that was distinctly created for transmission within two of the dominant social spaces within the Black Public Sphere of the twentieth century. Soul music represented the construction of "hypercommunity" in that both physical and metaphysical notions of space and community, and all the political and social meanings that underlie such formations, converge within its aesthetic sensibilities. Thus soul music became the ideal artistic medium to foreground the largest mass social movement to emerge from within the African-American experience. As Cornel West writes:
Soul music is more than either secularized gospel or funkified jazz. Rather, it is a particular Africanization of Afro-American music with intent to appeal to the black masses, especially geared to the black ritual of attending parties and dances. Soul music is the populist application of be-bop's aim: racial self-consciousness among black people in light of their rich musical heritage.
While the blues tradition of the early twentieth century represented a precursor to the purpose that soul would serve after the midcentury, soul singularly emerges in its role because of its conscious deconstruction of black church music, effectively reanimating the most politically benign aspects of the mid-twentieth-century black church, to reconnect the social functions of the black church with the populist demands of the black working class.
Within this historical context, the soul singer emerges as the popular representation of an emerging postcolonial sensibility among the black community, despite the perpetual constraints placed on black public expression that could be deemed as expressions of resistance. Scarry's work suggests that this phenomenon is directly related to the incidence of pain. In The Body in Pain she writes:
Because the person in pain is ordinarily so bereft of the resources of speech, it is not surprising that the language for pain should sometimes be brought into being by those who are not themselves in pain but who speak on behalf of those who are. Though there are very great impediments to expressing another's sentient distress, so are there also very great reasons why one might want to do so, and thus there come to be avenues by which this most radically private of experiences begins to enter the realm of public discourse.
Emerging at a moment of intense commodification of black musical expression, the soul singer is on a par with the liberal bourgeois leaders of the community as the dominant icons of freedom and liberation.
The forerunner of this cultural development was a very talented blind jazz pianist from Seattle, Ray Charles. Heavily influenced by the instrumental jazz of the King Cole Trio, Charles began to assert his blues and gospel roots during the mid-'50s. With recordings like "I Got a Woman" and "What'd I Say," Charles engendered rage in some audiences because of his use of profane subject matter in what was clearly a sacred musical context. As George suggests, Charles's project served to erode unnecessary boundaries within the black community:
This sound, not yet called soul, emphasized adult passion.... By breaking down the division between pulpit and bandstand, recharging blues concerns with transcendental fervor, unashamedly linking the spiritual and the sexual, Charles made pleasure (physical satisfaction) and joy (divine enlightenment) seem the same thing. By doing so he brought the realities of the Saturday-night sinner and the Sunday morning worshipper--so often one and the same--into a raucous harmony. It was in this spirit that Charles's children began to multiply, begetting converts and boosting record sales.
One of the most important of these initial converts was a young, Chicagoborn son of a Baptist preacher. At the age of nineteen, after a stint with the Highway QCs, Sam Cooke was asked to join the legendary Soul Stirrers, the preeminent gospel quartet of the day. Cooke was an instant success on the gospel circuit because of his good looks and the brooding sensuality he infused into the music. It was only a matter of time before Cooke would permanently alter black popular music and instigate a phenomenon that inspired future generations of black church singers and fueled the burgeoning Civil Rights and Black Power movements of the '60s.
Cooke's transition from gospel to secular music was a significant acknowledgment of the economic opportunities within the black popular music tradition. Michael Eric Dyson explains the significance of Cooke in a critique of the singer's performance of "Any Day Now":
Sam Cooke evokes a world teeming with cultural nuances hidden from white society while gesturing to the future of pop music. Though Cooke is singing about going to Heaven, he masks a complaint about earthly restrictions on black life by pining for a day when there's "no sorrow or sadness/Just only complete gladness...." But it's the way Cooke bends the notes, shaping his desire for freedom in effortlessly undulated phrases.
Cooke's use of what Smitherman identifies as "other-worldly" lyrics is firmly rooted in the black spiritual tradition in which such lyrics, when framed by tonal considerations, created rich political narratives. In that soul emphatically represented the secular purposes of the black church tradition, the traditional relationship of God and "man" also had to be redefined within the context of soul music's secular social concerns.
Cooke never repeated the success of his initial secular recording, "You Send Me," which was released in 1957, though he remained a consistent commercial artist until his death in 1964. Toward the end of his short life--Cooke was murdered under questionable circumstances at age thirty-three--Cooke began to refocus his energies on the business aspects of the recording industry. Though he recorded on the RCA-Victor label, Cooke published many of his own compositions through his own publishing company, KAGS, and co-owned the SAR recording label with close friends. SAR recorded several acts during its short time span, including the post-Sam Cooke Soul Stirrers. Based in Los Angeles throughout much of his professional career, Cooke was increasingly influenced by the burgeoning nationalist community in black Los Angeles, whose presence can be dated as early as the 1930s. Cooke was close to Muhammad Ali and knew Nation of Islam spokesman Malcolm X. Cooke's business decisions regarding the production and distribution of his own work would prefigure the nationalist narratives of the late '60s and early '70s.
[CHAPTER ONE CONTINUES ...]
Preface.............................................................ix Acknowledgments...................................................xiii INTRODUCTION Toward A Black Public: Movements, Markets, and Moderns..............................................................1 CHAPTER ONE Legislating Freedom, Commodifying Struggle: Civil Rights, Black Power, and the Struggle for Black Musical.......25 CHAPTER TWO From Protest to Climax: Black Power, State Repression, and Black Communities of Resistance.....................55 CHAPTER THREE Soul for Sale: The Marketing of Black Musical Expression..........................................................85 CHAPTER FOUR Soul for Real: Authentic Black Voices in an Age of Deterioration...................................................101 CHAPTER FIVE Postindustrial Soul: Black Popular Music at the Crossroads.........................................................125 CHAPTER SIX Postindustrial Postscript: The Digitized Aural Urban Landscape....................................................159 Endnotes...........................................................173 References.........................................................185 Index..............................................................191