Commodification of African American

The Commodification of African American Music

Commodification = the action or process of treating something as a mere commodity. 

This applies to music in the ways that people have been able to make money off of music by making music a commodity. 

Methods of Commodification:

  • Sheet music
  • Performances
  • Radio
  • Records
  • Film and Video

The first example of the commodification of African American music began with negro spirituals and folk music. This genre was first commodified when composers made books of negro spirituals and hymns. The composers proceeded to profit off of the books, making negro spirituals a commodity.

The next era of commodification was run by popular sheet music being sold for individual artists and instrumentalists to perform. Additionally, many black minstrels managed to become popular themselves and would profit off the audience they would draw with their performances. Gospel music also was increasingly popular on radio and record, this genre was very popular due to the prevalence of religion/Christianity in the lives of African Americans.

The next era of commodification found companies profiting off of black performing artists. At the same time, many genres developed and produced very talented artists such as Jazz (bringing forth artists such as Billie, Holiday, Ella, Fitzgerald, and Louis Armstrong to name a few), Blues (B.B. King and Muddy Waters are famous examples), and R&B (Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, and Sam Cooke are examples from early R&B). The performances of these artists, particularly live, were profited off of by white labels. Many artists during this time found themselves being paid significantly less than the amount they were bringing in. 

Today, R&B and Hip Hop are the most prevalent genres containing black artists and musicians. Commodification comes in the forms of media outreach and the use of black people to project and protect white platforms. This form of commodification is sneaking in that black faces are put in front of the methods of marketing to minorities. Many aspects of black culture are trends that influence popular culture in America; therefore, black people and the culture are being commodified for marketing purposes.

Issues with commodification

  • Appropriation
  • Gentrification

The commodification of African American music, historically, was at the downfall or expense of its black artists. This included white people profiting off of black struggles that produced the music as well as white record labels and producers that choose to short-change their artists for profit. Historically, white artists have even gone far enough as to impersonate and steal from black artists, forging a way into genres created by black musicians just for the white artists to take credit for the genre.

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