Commodifications in music:

By: Leah Robinson

Negro Spirituals:

Prior to the Jubilee Quartets and other famous negro spiritual artists, slave songs were very prominent during this time period. White people were fascinated with the African ability to use music to express emotion along with the difference in sound and the different uses of varying instruments. This led to the creation of a book that displayed the top 100 slave songs of the United States. The book was created by white abolitionists in the North who would create, publish, and sell the book with all of the slave songs. Further along in history, the Jubilee Quartets and other performing groups would make money via minstrel shows and live performances. Spirituals to Swing was also a way that black artists made money. John Hammond, the creator of the performance, would pay black artists to perform. He had a heavy desire for Robert Johnson to perform but later found out that Johnson had passed away due to poisoning. 


Folk music brought exposure to many different instruments and showed people around the world the power behind African instruments. Through Folk, the world began to see how influential instruments are when it comes to music and culture. If it wasn’t for Folk music, the banjo, djembe drums, washboards, gourd, etc… would not be sold. The Folk genre made money through promoting and selling these instruments as they are the instruments that are used to create music of this genre.


Sheet music was big for ragtime and was responsible for accumulating a lot of money for ragtime artists and composers. Because ragtime was prominent during the roaring 20s, people began to put money towards buying pianos and other instruments that required sheet music. Through selling sheet music, artists of the ragtime genre were able to make a profit. Scott Joplin is a prime example of this as he made millions of dollars on his songs including one of his biggest hits, Maple Leaf Rag.


Records were very prominent for the Blues genre but sheet music was still present. Many African Americans enjoyed purchasing records and listening to black blues artists sing about struggles that most people within the black community were struggling with. W.C. Handy declared himself to be the king of blues and sold thousands of copies of sheet music generating thousands of dollars. Combined together, the two (records and sheet music) would make hundreds of thousands of dollars for the blues genre. There were also very famous blues musicians whose unique and authentic sound would bring revenue. An example of this is Muddy Waters with his unique use of the electric guitar and the harmonica.

Jazz and Hip Hop:

With the introduction of the radio, Jazz gained commodification via the use of the radio. Radio stations would play popular jazz songs ultimately promoting jazz artists and making them money. The use of the record was also prominent along with sheet music. Hip hop was also very big on radios and boom boxes. Cassette tapes were huge in the 90s and early 2000s and hip hop artists would make a profit off their music via tapes and radios.


Overall, Black artists were able to make money through their music in a variety of different ways. Whether musicians made music off of the talent displayed in their songs or off records and sheet music, money was always being poured into black music. Unfortunately, a lot of these artists were deceived and tricked into giving their money to the larger industry and their managers but nevertheless there were many different ways, often depending on the genre, that artists could make money. In general, record companies like Record Row, Motown, Chest records, etc… gave black artists a chance to be in the spotlight and make a living for themselves.

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