Celebrating The Legacy Of African-American Music-The Orlando Times
BY JALESSA CASTILLO, TIMES STAFF WRITER
A month to commemorate the musical stylings of the African-American community.
African-American Music Appreciation Month is an annual celebration of the historical influence African-Americans have had on the music industry and is intended to pay homage to the many artists, writers, songs, albums, and inspiring musical moments that have shaped American pop culture.
It began as Black Music Month on June 7, 1979. President Jimmy Carter decreed that June would be the month of Black music. In 2009, the observation was given its current name by President Barack Obama.
“African-American music exemplifies the creative spirit at the heart of American identity and is among the most innovative and powerful art the world has ever known,” Obama said in his 2016 proclamation. “Let us recognize the performers behind this incredible music, which has compelled us to stand up -- to dance, to express our faith through song, to march against injustice, and to defend our country's enduring promise of freedom and opportunity for all.”
African American music is an umbrella term given to a range of music and musical genres emerging from or influenced by the culture of African Americans.
Features common to most African American music styles include: call and response, special vocal effects, improvisation, rhythm, harmony, among others.
The influence of African Americans on mainstream American music began in the nineteenth century. Drawing on traditional work songs, many were coded messages of rebellion against slaveholders, or signaled escape.
By the end of the nineteenth century, ragtime performers like Scott Joplin became popular and some soon became associated with the Harlem Renaissance and early civil rights activists.
“Music has been an integral part of Black people’s lives, it is how we used to communicate back in the day. It has continued to be a part of our lives, it’s how we express what is going on in our lives, it’s how we express our culture through a musical outlet,” said JoJo O’Neal from Star 94.5FM.
The early part of the twentieth century saw a constant rise in popularity of African American blues and jazz.
Jazz is a music genre that originated in New Orleans, Louisiana in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and developed from roots in blues and ragtime. It is recognized as "one of America's original art forms".
As jazz spread around the world, it drew on different cultures, which gave rise to many distinctive styles.
New Orleans jazz began in the early 1910s, combining brass-band marches, ragtime, blues, and other styles. In the 1930s, heavily arranged dance-oriented swing big bands, Kansas City jazz, a hard-swinging, bluesy, improvisational style, and Gypsy jazz were popular.
“Jazz is an American art form,” said Greg Parnell, who founded the Orlando Jazz Orchestra 10 years ago. “It’s something that I feel very strongly about keeping alive and passing on to future generations.”
The group is set to perform at the Blue Bamboo Center for the Arts on July 18th.
Improvisation, creating, or making up, music as you go along, is the most defining feature of jazz. From the collective improvisation of early jazz, to the solo improvisation of Louis Armstrong, to the free jazz of Albert Ayler and Ornette Coleman. Meanwhile, swing was meant to lift people’s spirits. By the mid-1930s, swing dancing had become the national dance and orchestra leaders such as Duke Ellington, Paul Whiteman, and Benny Goodman led some of the greatest bands of the era.
“To me, Jazz means self-expression, freedom, happiness, joy. Music makes you FEEL GREAT and it’s that art form that crosses all barriers-Age, gender, and ethnicity. Whenever we have a tragedy, it’s music that is used to heal us,” said Joseph Patrick McMullen, Founder/President and CEO at HAPCO Music Foundation.
HAPCO provides educational programs to help young people, particularly in Central Florida’s low-income communities, further their education through music and the arts. Since 2001, the non-profit has worked to instill in young people a passion for excellence in all facets of their lives.
Youth receive instruction and insights from educators and mentors who develop and teach their programs. They include university-level educators, professional musicians and artists, and first and second-generation Florida Highwaymen painters.
They also serve the communities’ senior citizens, with special programs that encourage active senior living.
HAPCO programs are offered typically free of charge. With some programs specifically focused on jazz such as Jazz Band Camp and HAPCOLIVE. The live performances include: Jazz Night at The Vineyard which is held monthly on every 2nd Thursday from 7pm-9pm and Town of Oakland Friday Night Jazz in the Park which is also held monthly but on every 4th Friday from 5pm-8pm.
“MUSIC is a true unifier and healer for anything we face and has been for generations,” McMullen added. “It’s an art form where the artist can tell their own story and impact others in a positive way while sharing.”
In the 1940s Jazz musicians were looking for new directions to explore. Trumpeter, bandleader, and composer John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie met musicians such as Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker. Together they experimented and came up with the bebop sound. It had fast tempos, intricate melodies, and complex harmonies. Now there were smaller groups that played only for listening audiences.
Cool jazz developed near the end of the 1940s and the 1950s saw the emergence of free jazz, hard bop, and modal jazz. Jazz-rock fusion appeared in the late 1960s but the early 1980s saw smooth jazz became successful, garnering significant radio airplay.
Dexter’s in Windermere, Florida also celebrates jazz. It has been hosting Monday Night Jazz Jam, the first Monday of each month, for the past three months.
“It is so awesome, it is a great show,” said Brittney Lawrence, front-house manager at Dexter’s. “It’s a really cool atmosphere, just seeing everyone’s enjoyment was amazing.”
They also offer Jazz Night on Thursdays. They have two different groups that perform: The Windermere Trio and The Right Stuff.
Other styles and genres abound in the 2000s, such as Latin and Afro-Cuban jazz. The combination of African, Spanish, and native cultures in Latin America created a unique body of music and dance. Jazz musicians from Jelly Roll Morton to Duke Ellington to Dizzy Gillespie combined their music with this Latin sound to create a powerful blend.
Other genres of music blossomed from the African-American community throughout the decades as well, such as soul, funk, and disco.
As of recently, Hip Hop and R&B have become popular genres of music originating in New York’s African American communities, becoming popular with other races such as Latinos, Whites, and Asians.
“June is Black Music Month but really that’s just the time to highlight it,” said O’Neal. “We live Black music every day. It’s a part of our fiber, of our very being.”