African-American music is an umbrella term covering a diverse range of music and musical genres largely developed by African Americans and their culture. Its origins are in musical forms that developed as a result of the enslavement of African Americans prior to the American Civil War. It has been said that "every genre that is born from America has black roots."
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White slave owners subjugated their slaves physically, mentally, and spiritually through brutal and demeaning acts. White Americans considered African Americans separate and unequal for centuries, going to extraordinary lengths to keep them oppressed. African-American slaves created a distinctive type of music that played an important role in the era of enslavement. Slave songs, commonly known as work songs, were used to combat the hardships of the physical labor. Work songs were also used to communicate with other slaves without the slave owner hearing. The song "Wade in the Water" was sung by slaves to warn others trying to leave to use the water to obscure their trail. Following the Civil War, African Americans employed playing European music in military bands developed a new style called ragtime that gradually evolved into jazz. Jazz incorporated the sophisticated polyrhythmic structure of dance and folk music of peoples from western and Sub-Saharan Africa. These musical forms had a wide-ranging influence on the development of music within the United States and around the world during the 20th century.
Analyzing African music through the lens of European musicology can leave out much of the cultural use of sound and methods of music making. Some methods of African music making are translated more clearly though the music itself, and not in written form.
Blues and ragtime were developed during the late 19th century through the fusion of West African vocalizations, which employed the natural harmonic series and blue notes. "If one considers the five criteria given by Waterman as cluster characteristics for West African music, one finds that three have been well documented as being characteristic of Afro-American music. Call-and-response organizational procedures, dominance of a percussive approach to music, and off-beat phrasing of melodic accents have been cited as typical of the genre in virtually every study of any kind of African-American music from work songs, field or street calls, shouts, and spirituals to blues and jazz."
The earliest jazz and blues recordings were made in the 1920s, and African-American musicians developed related styles such as rhythm and blues in the 1940s. In the 1960s, soul performers had a major influence on white US and British singers. In the mid-1960s, black musicians developed funk and were leading figures in late 1960s and 1970s genre of fusion. In the 1970s and 1980s, black artists developed hip-hop, and in the 1980s introduced the disco-infused dance style known as house music. The National Museum of African American Music opened in Nashville, Tennessee on January 18, 2021. "It’s the only museum in the U.S. to showcase the 50-plus musical genres and styles created or influenced by African Americans — spirituals, gospel tunes, jazz, hip-hop and more."