Music Criticism

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

In the early 1960’s, Baraka found the intensity that was lacking in African American literature, which was hampered in expression by African American authors’ acceptance of middle-class concerns. The missing intensity was vibrantly expressed in jazz, blues, and gospel music. Black Music (1967), a compilation of magazine writings on jazz, displays Baraka’s considerable talent as an advocate of the racially conscious and artistically advanced art of musicians such as Sun Ra, John Coltrane, Albert Ayler, Cecil Taylor, Eric Dolphy, and Ornette Coleman.

“Jazz and the White Critic” (1963) argues that the desire of African American intellectuals to be accepted in middle-class American society had prevented them from seriously studying the music, thereby consigning the field to misinterpretation. Baraka’s own Blues People is a major critical history that offered an innovative thesis. Blues People and Baraka’s subsequent essays on African American music explicitly interpret jazz as the product of the African American masses and as constituting a historical record of their experience as outcasts from mainstream American society. This definition of vernacular art traditions, though controversial, would have an influence on academic critics such as Addison Gayle, Jr., Stephen E. Henderson, and Houston A. Baker, Jr., in their discussions of black aesthetics and African American expressive culture during the next two decades.

Baraka argues in Blues People that the art of an oppressed people cannot take the place of freedom and cannot be discussed merely in aesthetic terms. In the place of classical aesthetics, he advocates learning how art expresses either the actual or the desired social...

(The entire section is 715 words.)