Roots: The Impact of Black Music on America and the World

Richard Lawson Singley
17 min readJan 20, 2020
The Old Plantation, ca. 1785–1795, the earliest known American painting to picture a banjo-like instrument

The essence of music is to reflect the times and by doing so, recreate the times.

Long before Rap and Hip-hop dominated the music culture, Black Music had a profound influence on the culture of the United States and the world. From the turn of the 20th century to modern times, African American music has been the heartbeat of America and emulated around the world.

The roots of this uniquely American music lay in those rhythms emanating from the same continent that gave birth to humankind. It was from the shores of Africa that slaves were imported to the Americas in droves, bringing with them the core of the music that would later engulf the world.

Stripped of their humanity and burden with shackled labor driven by the ominous sting of the whip, slaves, in the form of their music, held on to the only piece of their homeland that they could truly embrace. It was music borne of their struggles, of their experiences in a foreign land that professed liberty and justice for all, yet treated them like livestock, unworthy of the amenities of humanity in a nation under God.

Music was a release from the toils and burdens of slavery. Slaves were forbidden to use drums because slave masters believed that drums could be used to send messages to other plantations. Yet in this trouble milieu, they found a way to save their souls through the magic of their instruments. Some, like the banjo, were fashioned by their hands, others like the fiddle were provided by their masters. They sang not out of happiness or merriment, but out of a desire to be free. Although their hands and feet were often shackled; their souls remained unchained.

One of the earliest expressions of Black Music was the cakewalk. It was a dance performed as a contest in which music was played while slaves did a cakewalk to the beat, often making fun of old master without his knowledge. The winner won a cake or took the cake, which is the source of the idiom cakewalk used today. In the late 1800s, artists such as Ernest Hogan and Bob Cole brought this music to off-Broadway.

The rhythms and lyrics of Black Music could be found throughout America. For instance, Dixie, the battle song of the South, was borne from the 1859 minstrel song performed by D.D…

Richard Lawson Singley

Author, educator, historian, former engineer at General Electric. Interested in the origins of all things. Author of A New Perspective