Storytelling: From Africa to African America

From Past to Present

Many aspects of  West and Central African culture such as story telling and style of delivery, have been modernized in the present day African America through various genres of music including Urban Contemporary Gospel and R&B.

Urban Contemporary Gospel

Urban Contemporary Gospel became popular in the late 1980’s and extends into today’s times. Artists like Kirk Franklin, Mary Mary, and Yolanda Adams combined elements of Traditional Gospel and Pop to spread the Gospel of Christ. Testimony is a large part of the sub-genre, as it tells the story of the believer and how divine enlightenment helped them to achieve tranquility and blessings. In Mary Mary’s ” Yesterday,” they sing about their experience with heartache, sadness, and loss and the declaration to put their trust in God because he can handle their burdens. with  As it relates to West African culture, story-telling was and continues to be the way in which the beliefs of the West African communities are kept and shared. 


R&B started to gain popularity in the early 1980’s and continues to expand today with artists like Jazmine Sullivan, Summer Walker, and Ari Lennox. These artists use their voices to tell stories about love, heartbreak, and empowerment. One key element to the performance of R&B is the style of delivery. Artists like Jazmine Sullivan use both her voice and body to personify the words she sings and also get the listener to interact with the song as well. In her performance of her hit song “Bust Your Windows,” she uses riffs, runs,  and audience engagement to enhance the song and help the audience to feel the emotion that the song is trying to portray. This style of delivery is traced back to that of music in ancestral African culture. 

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