Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

In his introduction, Amiri Baraka states that Blues People: Negro Music in White America is a theoretical book exploring the movement of black Americans from African slaves to American citizens using the analogy of black music. One can learn, Baraka believes, much about American society by looking at how slaves saw music as compared to how modern African Americans see themselves as expressed through jazz.

In the first of his fifteen essays, Baraka begins tracing how Africans became Americans by combining studies of anthropology, sociology, history, linguistics, and musicology. He discusses the changes in slavery from the first generations through the nineteenth century, showing how Africanism became less distinct in slave life as old customs lost meaning and the introduction of Christianity changed religious values. Baraka then maps how the black church became the center of life for both slaves and freed people; Christianity became the social and religious center, creating a social hierarchy for Americanized blacks. Work songs became spirituals and eventually secular forms that dominated American popular music. The leader/response form, in particular, became the church shout, combining song and dance that developed into musical forms in vaudeville, the musical stage, and modern recorded music.

Throughout this history, Baraka traces general social movements, including the effects of emancipation, which decentralized black life as a...

(The entire section is 573 words.)


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Suggested Readings

Ellison, Ralph. Shadow and Act. New York: Vintage Books, 1972.

Harris, William J., ed. The LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka Reader. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1991.

Kofsky, Frank. Black Nationalism and the Revolution in Music. New York: Pathfinder Press, 1970.

Sollors, Werner. Amiri Baraka/LeRoi Jones: The Quest for a “Populist Modernism.” New York: Columbia University Press, 1978.