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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 694

Blues People: Negro Music in White America is a 1963 non-fictional novel written by American writer, poet, and music critic Amiri Baraka, aka LeRoi Jones. It is, essentially, an analysis of African American music and culture.

The idea that came through in the Renaissance and took hold of the West was that life was no mere anteroom for something greater or divine. Life itself was of value—and could be made perfect.

. . . This development signified also that jazz would someday have to contend with the idea of its being an art (since that was the white man's only way into it). The emergence of the white player meant that Afro-American culture had already become the expression of a particular kind of American experience, and what is most important, that this experience was available intellectually, that it could be learned.

According to Baraka, the history of the African-Americans can be chronologically studied, sorted, and classified through their music. Thus, he covers themes that predominately analyze the various musical genres that can be credited to African Americans, such as blues, jazz, soul, and rhythm and blues. He also wrote his opinions on rock ’n’ roll and modern music.

The reason for the remarkable development of the rhythmic qualities of African music can certainly be traced to the fact that Africans also used drums for communication; and not, as was once thought, merely by using the drums in a kind of primitive Morse code, but by the phonetic reproduction of the words themselves—the result being that Africans developed an extremely fine and extremely complex rhythmic sense.

To be sure, rock 'n' roll is usually a flagrant commercialization of rhythm & blues, but the music in many cases depends on materials that are so alien to the general middle-class, middle-brow American culture as to remain interesting… Rock n' roll is the blues form of the classes of Americans who lack the "sophistication" to be middle brows, or are too naive to get in on the mainstream American taste; those who think that somehow Melachrino, Kostelanetz, etc., are too lifeless.

Baraka argued that black music has been extremely influential in numerous art fields. Through his study, he established that music has no race, and that blues is neither black music nor white music. It is simply the music of the American culture.

One of the most persistent traits of the Western white man has always been his fanatical and almost instinctive assumption that his systems and ideas about the world are the most desirable, and further that people who do not aspire to to them, or at least think them admirable, are savages or enemies. The idea that Western thought might be exotic if viewed from another landscape never presents itself to most Westerners.

Aside from the obvious themes of music and culture, Baraka also gave his opinions on religion, mainly Christianity, slavery, race, politics, society, and identity. Thus, his book was praised for its honest, captivating, entertaining, and thought-provoking narrative.

There was no communication between master and slave on any strictly human level, but only the relation one might have to a piece of property—if you twist the knob on your radio you expect it to play. It was this essential condition of non-humanity that characterized the African slave's lot in this country of his captivity, a country which was later and ironically to become his land also.

In the early days of slavery, Christianity's sole purpose was to propose a metaphysical resolution for the slave's natural yearnings for freedom, and as such, it literally made life easier for him. The secret African chants and songs were about Africa, and expressed the African slave's desire to return to the land of his birth. The Christian Negro's music became an expression of his desire to "cross Jordan" and "see his Lord.

One can see, perhaps, how "perfect" Christianity was in that sense. It took the slave's mind off Africa, or material freedom, and proposed that if the black man wished to escape the filthy paternalism and cruelty of slavery, he wait, at least, until he died, when he could be transported peacefully and majestically to the Promised Land.

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