Since the beginning of the 20th century, folk music was created and formed by African Americans during slavery. It was referred to as “negro folk music” to conceptualize the significant circumstances black people were enduring and experiencing around this time. The genre modeled African musical traditions and incorporated struggles and hardships African Americans were going through in the United States. These traditions were passed down to future generations along with the instruments used to make the melodic sounds. Negro folk music served as a way fro African Americans to express their cultural heritage and convey messages of hope, perseverance, and resistance in the face of oppression. Many of these songs were also used as a form of protest against racial inequality, particularly during the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.
Early African American folk music drew on a variety of musical elements, such as complex rhythms and vocal techniques that emphasized pitch and call and response patterns. The music often featured distinctive timbres, with performers using their voices to create percussive sounds or emulate other instruments. In addition to vocals, folk musicians often played instruments such as the banjo, fiddle, and guitar. These elements were all used to create a unique sound that reflected the experiences and cultural heritage of African Americans in the United States.
"White-Washing" Folk Music
Folk music has a rich history in the United States and is often associated with white musicians. However, it is important to acknowledge that the origins of folk music can be traced back to African American communities, who were the pioneers of this genre.
Many African Americans created and popularized various styles of folk music, including blues, gospel, and work songs. These genres were born out of the hardships and struggles that African Americans faced, such as slavery, segregation, and discrimination. These songs often conveyed powerful messages of hope, freedom, and resilience, while also providing a sense of community and connection.
Unfortunately, as folk music gained mainstream popularity in the early 20th century, the contributions of African Americans were often overlooked or appropriated by white musicians. This phenomenon is known as “whitewashing” and has led to the erasure of the African American roots of folk music.