Black Music Month 2012 - Part II: "Lost Firsts"
June 5, 2012
In this the second of our four-part series celebrating Black Music Month 2012, we reflect on the progress we've made as part of our celebration. Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, says Black music is an umbrella term given to a broad range of music and musical genres emerging from or influenced by the culture of African-Americans. Black music genres have been highly influential across socio-economic groupings.
From the way we sing to the way we swing; from our greatest triumphs to the ones yet to come, how many “lost firsts” were there in the history of Black music in America? How many were due to African-American ingenuity and inventiveness? We may never know. Much has been lost in history and in many cases, whites took credit for insights they received from their slaves or servants.
The influence of African-Americans on mainstream American music began in the 19th century, with the advent of blackface minstrelsy. The banjo, of African origin, became a popular instrument and its African-derived rhythms were incorporated into popular songs by songwriters. By the end of the 19th century, African-American music was an integral part of mainstream American culture.Â So whether it’s Top 40, AC, Rock, Country, Jazz or Punk -- all have been influenced to some extent, by American Black music genres.
The Music Investment
As we fast-forward to today, we find that despite the sagging economy, it’s still an exciting time for the music/entertainment industry. On one hand you have an explosion of technology. On the other hand, the margins and profits are smaller. There are still mergers and joint ventures taking place. When two or more of these companies come together as a successful fit, not only will they make investors money, they will be situated to play an important profitable part in the future.
The consensus among several knowledgeable African-American portfolio managers is that while consumer spending dropped, some artists and music are still selling. The television and movies sector, which includes cable, motion pictures, video and record production and publishing, is included in the overall entertainment numbers.
Meanwhile, back at the casinos, one and two-armed bandits collected $28 billion from reckless gamblers. Those figures all reflect money spent in a one-way proposition â€“ gone from your pocket. Don’t worry about it. That was yesterday. The investment climate today, however, will allow African-American investors to pick up their heels and make money at the same time. So it’s not just music, but entertainment overall that we need to examine as part of Black Music Month.
Black Music Month exists because of a need -- a need to recognize its contributors. The artists, writers, publishers, executives, programmers, air talent, promoters, journalists, educators, students and others who join with us to celebrate the immense contributions of African-American music to our changing culture.
Our concern should be that the generation which replaces the current one will be better, wiser and able to make its own contributions. The new generation needs to prepare by setting up institutions that will continue to benefit them and their children as they prepare to grow old and live longer than any other generation. In today's tough economic times, they can no longer spend what they want. The ultimate baby boomer philosophy of "we want to have it all" is gone. In spite of the current struggle, they're still not a generation that has had to deal with the reality of sacrifice nor fully understands the benefits of hard work.
This is the same generation that refuses to step aside and sees itself as part of change that it still passionately believes will continue. The origins of the entertainment culture can be traced back to live shows, vinyl records and AM radio, all of which made possible for the first time the development of a genuinely mass-musical culture. But until very recently, entertainment was a luxury in which we could indulge upon only on occasion. Now, thanks to new media, it is a daily reality, perhaps a necessity, and certainly, in the minds of many of us, an entitlement.
During the remainder of Black Music Month 2012, we will continue to touch on and remember distinguished people and events from all sides of our industries. Some of those who we will recognize this year are people whose efforts and contributions have enriched lives and whose sacrifices might have gone unnoticed:
There is a chance that this generation may reclaim its earlier legacy. They could have a second coming in terms of social idealism and find new ways to contribute that mean something beyond themselves. In some realms, this new generation already takes pride in what they have bequeathed.
This generation didn't invent the genre, but they were the fans who made it so durable. Even as music remains youth-oriented, today's young "music freaks" can't escape the feeling that they wanted something more. They now have to admit that both the performers and the times have changed. The explosion of energy that happened earlier is just a memory.
Although progress has been made we still live in a time where many musicians continue to be deliberately isolated, racially classified and often systematically deprived of both the resources and the opportunities to succeed. For too long and despite our obvious talent and gifts, we have been allowed to only assume limited roles in our industries.
Black Music Month allows us to reflect on the rich history our music conveys from one generation to another -- its lessons and obligations. Obviously, the journey is just as important as the destination. We may have lost some firsts, but our music will always be part of the American Dream. And it’s a dream that should be open to everyone.
In a very real sense, we are part of the modern social justice movement. The world is watching both our achievements and our failures. Many who are part of our legacy were born into a world divided by color -- a world that offered them little and expected even less in return. We have seen prejudice hurt all that participate in it. And we’ve seen togetherness and equality give it power and joy.
(Next Week Part III â€“ A Better Best)