Blues People is a sociocultural analysis of the multiple roles of music for African American people throughout US history. Tracing the influences and interactions of European and African genres back to colonial times, Baraka shows how innovation and tradition supported and inspired Africans and their descendants even in the darkest times of their enslavement.
Although this type of ethnomusicology has become standard, this pioneering work was not uniformly accepted when published in the 1960s.
Baraka organizes the work in three sections. He begins with a synthetic overview of music in black culture. In the second section, he provides more specifics about the music, covering four centuries. Finally, he focuses on the period beginning in 1930, interweaving his own experience with the close analysis of major musicians and genres. interpretative survey of important genres. In this he attends both to the major contributions of blues, jazz, and rock, and addresses the white and commercial appropriation.
The first full-length analytical and historical study of jazz and blues written by an African American, Blues People: Negro Music in White America presents a highly original thesis suggesting that music can be used as a gauge to measure the cultural assimilation of Africans in North America from the early eighteenth century to the twentieth century. Broad in scope and insightfully opinionated, Blues People caused controversy among musicologists and other critics. Intending his remarks as negative criticism, Ralph Ellison was accurate in noting that Amiri Baraka is “attracted to the blues for what he believes they tell us of the sociology of Negro American identity and attitude.”
Baraka contends that although slavery destroyed many formal artistic traditions, African American music represents certain African survivals. Most important, African American music represents an African approach to culture. As such, the music sustains the African worldview and records the historical experience of an oppressed people.
(The entire section contains 475 words.)
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- Critical Essays