Wednesday, November 30, 2016

How Music Killed Racism

Before I even get started, let me say that racism in America will never disappear completely. So, if you're one of those hyper-sensitive people that looks for evidence no matter how obscure, this is not for you. I suggest, with all DUE respect, go back to your coloring and eating boogers. I'm speaking in general terms about how America was transformed from a country with predominantly racist views to one in which it had all but disappeared for all intents and purposes. Music, and more importantly, black musicians, is what/who we have to thank.

I grew up in a culture that remembered discrimination very well. I listened to older Italians talk about how they couldn't get jobs because of their nationality. I've been on my own since I was 12 or 13 living on the streets of Boston and my friends were a mixed bag of misfits who had one thing in common...The Blues. My friend Entz (whose family was from Germany) had a record player in his basement and we would gather on weekends or afternoons and listen to the greats- Muddy Waters, Big Bill Broonzy, Tampa Red, Elmore James and a host of others. Almost all of our musical "heroes" were black, so racism just didn't seem to make any sense to us.

Music was the catalyst that brought 1950's America out of it's racist coma. Values that pervaded white culture since after the War of Northern Aggression were vanishing. As the saying goes, "rock & roll was here to stay." It was driven by music that had it's roots in black culture. The blues and later jazz were products of the gospel music and "slave songs" of the American South and were perhaps the only uniquely American contribution to world culture.

Not many in my generation will ever forget sitting in a car with their girlfriend listening to Johnny Mathis to "get her in the mood." Johnny's singing transcended race and spoke to us on a much deeper level (somewhere just below the beltline in many cases). Black music was pervading America's youth culture, much to the dismay of many parents and other authority figures; but we didn't care...and we also didn't care that the musicians themselves were predominantly black.

Chuck Berry brought us Rock & Roll. Admittedly, there were many, many white R & R musicians and they were good as well, but there was something special about Chuck- he was animated! While most musicians stood and played, Chuck danced around the stage doing his now famous "duck-walk." Elvis may have come fairly close, but most of his early music was cribbed from black artists and while Chuck danced, Elvis shimmied and shook. He reminded my friends and I of an "escaped mental patient." (Not my words, you can thank Peter Christian [not his real name] for that)

As the 50's turned into the 60's the music got even better and racial barriers melted even more, despite the cries of racism by people who stood to gain themselves. The black music culture gave us Jr. Walker, the Temptations, Otis Redding, B.B. King The Four Tops and many others. Artists such as B.B. King and Otis Redding had been around for years and were being discovered by white audiences. Racism, as an institution was disappearing. There will always be instances of it somewhere, but the outright practice was all but gone. The Civil Rights Movement and ensuing legislation was made possible by black musicians who made their culture acceptable to white youth.

Next: How Politicians Brought It Back

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