African American Music


African-American music originated in the slavery period of the 19th century. It has had a tremendous impact on American music since then. Many songs have become a symbol of slavery, human rights  and the fight for a better life.Today African-American music consists mainly of Negro spirituals, jazz, ragtime, rhythm and blues as well as soul.

In the 18th century slaves sang spirituals  after converting to Christianity. They sang them at work on plantations. Later on they also started dancing to these tunes. Such songs have been the core of African American life for 300 years.

After the Civil War African Americans were employed in military bands. They developed a new style of music called ragtime from which jazz emerged. These musical forms influenced music throughout the USA in the 20th century.

At the beginning of the 20th century African American music started to gain popularity  with musicals written for Broadway. Black singers performed in famous opera houses. In the first decades blues and jazz spread throughout the country. As time went on African Americans were even allowed to study in famous music schools.

In the 40s and 50s African Americans also participated in the development  of a new genre of music called rock'n'roll. Although  the more famous musicians of this period were white, there were many black performers like Chuck Berry, Fats Domino and Ike and Tina Turner.

In the 1960s Motown Records  became a successful platform for African American musicians. Star performers included The Miracles, Marvin Gaye and the Supremes.


In the 1980s Michael Jackson became the most popular Black musician with his record breaking albums. However, there were many solo artists including Lionel Richie and Whitney Houston.

The Supremes

The Supremes


Related Topics



  • although = while
  • consist = to be made up of
  • convert = change to
  • core = center
  • decade = ten years
  • develop = create
  • development = the creation of something new
  • emerge = come up
  • employ = work
  • gain popularity = become more popular
  • genre = here : musical style
  • however = but
  • human rights = the basic things that every person should be allowed to do
  • include = also
  • influence = to affect the way something grows or develops
  • mainly = mostly
  • originate = come from
  • participate = take part in
  • performer = actor or singer
  • plantation = large area of land in a hot country, where crops like cotton, tea and sugar are produced
  • record-breaking = the highest that has ever happened
  • slavery = system in which a person owns another one who works for them for little or no money at all
  • spiritual = religious song sang by African Americans
  • successful = with the result you want
  • throughout = in all of
  • tremendous = very big