Blacks are at the origin of American music. The nation must raise the bar.
President Joe Biden proclamation of June as Black Music Appreciation Month, published just a few weeks ago, succinctly summarized the richness and strength of our cultural contribution, and its need to be recognized. He also set an agenda that pushes the nation to accomplish this: “We must re-dedicate ourselves to eliminating systemic racism from every part of our society and working together to advance racial justice and equity.” But what does the reconsecration imply?
Recorded music is one of America’s most notable global intellectual contributions, and at its core, American music is black music. From blues, gospel, jazz, country and rhythm and blues to house, rock and roll and hip-hop, black artists are frequent inventors, the cornerstone and backbone of musical genres. and the recording industry. Despite this objective fact, blacks in the recording industry – artists, producers, songwriters, managers and executives – are more likely to receive less, ask for less, be less well known, and receive much less credit than their white counterparts.
The slavery mindset is alive and well in the profession. Black artists have historically been deceived and deprived of their masters’ property, voices, copyrights and trademarks, often through bad contracts that took advantage of a lack of financial literacy.
The contributions of black musicians gave “access to the soul”
Musician Aloe Blacc, Professor Rashida Z. Shaw McMahon and filmmaker Leigh Blake on black creativity and what the music industry owes to black people.
The recording industry flourished using harmful racial tropes and unbalanced contracts to maximize profits, as was the case with legal slavery and sharecropping. Following the murder of George Floyd, the Coalition of Action for Black Music has been a powerful advocate for change across the industry. On the weekend of June, the collective of more than 250 of the industry’s most prominent executives, managers and musical artists, released a report exposing the systemic racism that is integral to the music industry and the truth that racial equity is the frontier for a fairer and more inclusive recording industry. The group’s efforts further demonstrate that repairs go beyond money. Restorative justice also involves the recovery and recognition of lost and stolen black intellectual property.
George Washington Johnson, the first African-American artist best known for his multiphonic tune of 1896 “The song that laughs“died in obscurity with little wealth and recognition. By the turn of the 20th century, African Americans had transmuted the voice, instrumentation, and sound of spirituals into gospel and blues, and later into jazz. Charles “Buddy” Bolden, considered by many to be the father of jazz, sold his recordings for sub-sale only so that the wax cylinders would be lost and forgotten before his death in 1931. Like Johnson before him, Bolden was in many ways lost in the history, left in black collective memory, without appropriate flowers.
Born a year after Bolden’s death, Little Richard would merge musical genres into a new invention, rock and roll, for which he too would die without being fully recognized. “I really feel from the bottom of my heart that I’m the inventor (of rock and roll),“an emphatic Little Richard reflected in a 1990 Rolling Stone interview.
Throughout the 1990s, Prince’s public campaign to reclaim property from his masters by Warner Bros. recalls the struggle of his predecessors. A determined prince inscribed the word “slave” on his face until he successfully reclaimed ownership of his intellectual property, highlighting the ordeal as a product of the history of slavery in the United States.
Shortly after the end of the Battle of Prince, Lauryn Hill embarked on a decades-long struggle to retain and reclaim the intellectual property of her likeness and Grammy-winning sound autobiographical masterpiece. “Lauryn Hill’s poor education.“
At the peak of 2021, legendary rhythm and blues artist and recently retired Anita Baker called on fans to boycott the streaming of her music. until managers honor their contractual obligation to transfer to it full ownership of the masters of its award-winning musical catalog.
The imprint of slavery – the racist idea that a black person’s intelligence, invention, and creativity should not be theirs – is everywhere in these individual struggles and in the struggles of a myriad of ‘black artists to obtain ownership of their intellectual property.
To be denied ownership and credit over your intellectual creation and invention is to have your emotional, psychological, and financial well-being at the edge of a razor sharp. The reparation this nation desperately needs and deserves must extend beyond economic reparations and include intellectual reparations – the deliberate and public recognition and acknowledgment of the creations, inventions and ideas of once enslaved people and their descendants. Intellectual repairs would help dismantle the insidious lie that black people are not as smart, creative and inventive as everyone else. The United States has an unfulfilled obligation to properly credit black people for their intellectual property and their contributions to the development and wealth of this nation.
The Biden-Harris administration must lead a comprehensive, truth-driven approach to racial healing and the transformative process demanded by so many members of Congress.
Slavery continues as a deadly mental trick. If President and Vice President Kamala Harris take these vital restorative steps, Juneteenth would mark not only a past that we have survived to overcome, but also a future where the racism and the slavery mindset from which it was born is defeated. . In its place, a renewed nation and world would emerge where our shared humanity is the source of our collective power and the foundation of our mutual prosperity and creativity.
Marcus Anthony Hunter, professor of sociology and African-American studies at UCLA, is the author of several books, including “Radical Reparations ”coming soon with HarperCollins (Amistad).