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Dawn of American music

Set in the 1830s, the myth goes Thomas Dartmouth Rice (otherwise shortened as T.D. Rice): a white man, an anonymous unsung actor just trying to make ends meet happened upon an old black man cleaning a horse in a stable. The man, who was doing his job on property owned by a white man, heard the tune this old black man was singing and marveled at the way the man moved his body as he was cleaning this horse. Now, what may have been a black man enjoying himself to others, Rice saw differently. He saw a God-given opportunity. He took this bright idea of his to the theatres at the time and he paints his face black. Of course, nowadays, society recognizes this highly offensive act as a term called "blackface": the practice of using makeup to imitate the natural appearance of a black person. However, T.D. Rice, unaware of this offense, goes out on stage and instead of doing his regular act, he uses the horse groomer’s tune. Except now, he gave the tune his own spin of lyrics and the lyrics give the horse groomer a name: Jim Crow. From this, the crowd goes crazy, and thus, minstrel music was born.

Of course, this is just a myth but the long history of discovering music after was not. It shows that at its core, American music has black elements, elements such as "an imagined blackness, real, actual Irish melodies, and Polish music, with what we would now call the gospel, but spiritual harmonies, interlaced together with this African banjo” mixed together in minstrel music that paved the development of American music. At the time, people were torn on whether to continue practicing slavery or abolishing it entirely and so according to Wesley, the theatres with actors doing blackface and fun minstrel music in the back "offered an opportunity [for people] to feel good about a thing that actually felt really bad at the time" Although the minstrel show didn’t exactly provide an answer, it provided a platform for which people "could either escape from actually having to think about that question that really was tearing the nation apart, or depending on which show you would wind up seeing, fully engaged you in the lightest possible way about enslaved people and how you didn’t really have to feel so bad for them, because they like being enslaved." Without a doubt, this was a sickening thought process that may have run in some Americans' heads, and in sitting in that theater, "watching these white men in blackface make fools of black people, a white audience could, in turn, feel cultured, superior in a way."

When most Americans turn on the radio, hardly anyone would jam to nowadays popular music whilst thinking of this racism rich history that has atomized itself into American music, that it's hard to distinguish between black and American music, myself included. Personally, I gathered from this the irony of continuous racism towards black people and yet, embrace their culture in our daily lives. Not just music, black culture is ingrained into American's lifestyles as well, such as in food and the movies we watch.

In the end, writing this article won't exactly put a stop to racism, unfortunately, but I hope to raise awareness on this issue and help people to recognize the importance of the large multitude of cultural practices that black history has brought to present-day, American society.


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