Looking back at the history of Black American music



Louis Armstrong performs alongside Trummy Young and Edmund Hall

Emma Gramm, Feature Editor

Through Black History Month, it is important to highlight Black American contributions and take a look back on the diverse range of music created by these musicians. African American music embodies the struggle of marginalized people and has heavily influenced American culture, creating many of the modern songs that we hear and love today. To trace back all of Black American music and the many genres of musical art they have fostered is an overwhelming task to complete. However, there is much to learn from just these five sub genres of music.

Spiritual and Sacred Music

With long days working on slave fields, Black Americans developed a short series of calls they would make to each other on the plantation. These short call-and-response songs used for spreading information, made their way into becoming popular hymns. Some of the most recognizable songs are “We Shall Overcome,” “I Shall Not Be Moved” and “Amazing Grace,” which all took part  in the same theme of empowerment.


This then started to take off into a new branch, gospel. Gospel music takes after many of the hymns and sacred songs developed in the 17th century. This music originated in the Black church where it was based off of Christian psalms melded with traditional African styles. Its main function was for worship and conveying religion. 

NotableArtists: Mahalia Jackson, James Cleveland, Thomas A. Dorsey 


The blues were first introduced in the early 1900s and led as one of the most influential music genres for the cultural and social lives of Black Americans. It was born during the Great Depression, a time of poverty and struggle for many, so the moody, melancholy tunes quickly picked up and gained attention during this stage. 

Notable Artists: Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, Muddy Waters 


A new sound of smooth harmonies started to make way during World War I and established itself as Jazz. The audacious, bold music originated in New Orleans, but played from coast to coast across the U.S. Although the foundation of jazz is blues, jazz still persisted on as a more syncopated and energetic theme. 

Notable Artists:  Miles Davis, Bessie Smith, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong 

Hip Hop and R&B

R&B and Hip Hop are some of the most popular and modern genres of music today. Both of these styles arose from the 70’s and have embedded themselves into modern-day culture and media. R&B stylistically covers a wide range of genres incorporating blues, jazz, and even gospel. On the other hand, Hip Hop embraces more originality in its fashion and has developed many sub genres from this. R&B and Hip-hop are now even used as a way of expression and speaking out on social and political issues. 

Notable Artists: Schoolly D, Curtis Mayfield, Biggie Smalls