The Expression of Race Through Music

Despite history’s dark past regarding racial relations, music has always been something that seemed to lift people’s spirits. Whether it was the 1960’s with the Civil Rights Movement, or the 1980’s with the various urban race riots; Music has always been a contributing influence in the make up of society. Black music songwriters wanted to create songs that unified a populace of people based off of factors that all black citizens faced on a daily basis: oppression, segregation, and harassment.

Otis Redding
Otis Redding

Many of the artists of these time periods went about their way to not just make music, but make music that meant something. James Brown’s “Say it Loud- I’m Black and I’m Proud” placed emphasis on the fact that being African American is not something to be ashamed of. Otis Redding’s “Respect” (made famous by Aretha Franklin) was originally written as a demand from black Americans to receive the respect of whites. This mentality bore into the minds of African Americans and eventually they began to peacefully fight for what they knew they deserved. The constant songs on the radio were almost hypnotic, and convinced African Americans that something needed to be done about their situation; that being black is not a bad thing.

As time went on, however, black Americans began to realize that nothing had really changed. They were still beaten, targeted, and arrested more than any other racial subgroup. Years went by with this, and as time grew, their patience shrunk. Emerging in the 80’s was so called “Gangster Rap”, which contained lyrics so explicit, there had to be a warning on the cover of the album. The lyrics essentially gave the same message but with much more violent, vulgar language. A group named Public Enemy was funded by The Black Panthers, who were a radical group of militant extremists. In their lyrics were sayings such as, “There are brothers and sisters swingin’, while I’m up here singin’.”. They incited the people to take matters into their own hands at that the judicial system was against them. With messages like this, and racial events unfolding in the country, many riots broke out in the big cities of L.A., Chicago, and New York. Black individuals were no longer willing to go about change peacefully in contrast to their parents generation. They were willing to go out and take what was rightfully theirs, instead of simply begging for it.

Music during these time frames, did not just shape the way in which political events unfolded, but they enticed black men and women to do something about their way of life, be it positive or negative. When somebody hears something everyday in the car, the shop, or even when just hanging around the house, it begins to hit you in some way shape or form. The overall influence of music in these time periods was of such monumental value the America we know now would not be the same. These artists were more than entertainers, they were modern day philosophers who preached lessons that gave people hope. They gave others courage.  They helped everyday people gained the confidence simply by listening to the words they heard. Confidence to do what they never had the strength to do before. Although America still comes under scrutiny for the racial problems it faces today, without the media produced by African American singer/songwriters and the brave men and women who followed their footsteps, we would certainly look much different.

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