HISTORY + MUSIC
African American Music As American History
Censorship, banning books, and dishonest teaching can’t stop the truth
Governor Ron DeSantis and other Republican governors around the country think they can stop the story of African Americans from being told by passing book bans and censoring discussions about race, but they can’t. It’s never going away. In fact, it’s right here in our faces, a daily reminder. It is in Black music. African American music.
‘My People’ (Duke Ellington)
From field hollers to ragtime to blues to jazz, the history of African American people is rooted in music. Songs from musicians like Scott Joplin, Louis Armstrong, Red Allen, Duke Ellington, Muddy Waters, Skip James, Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday tell our story in America.
In 1963, Duke Ellington composed a long compositional work called “My People.” It became Ellington’s historical declaration on the condition of African Americans. Ellington dedicated part of the composition to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He wanted to do his part in the struggle for equal justice in America, so he wrote a song that told a story.
The song included poetry, spoken word, and show music, including tap dancing, jazz, blues, gospel, and orchestral arrangements. Not only did Ellington want to voice support for the civil rights struggle, but he also wanted to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. It is a timeless record now. Duke Ellington documented history with his song.
‘Strange Fruit,’ performed by Billie Holiday
Another example of the way African American history was recorded in the song is Billie Holiday's rendition of the song “Strange Fruit,” a timeless addition. The song became a living, breathing protest song against the lynching of African Americans. The song has been the subject of documentaries, feature films, books, poetry, other songs, and historical studies. When you listen to the song, you want to know more. You want to find out about the sick American legacy of lynchings.
Thousands of African Americans and other Americans were lynched in America. Most…