The Impact of African-American Music on American Culture – John H. Hudson



John H Hudson Bio

John H. Hudson is an active coach for executives and leaders. His professional experience includes 35 years as a Human Resources executive. John H. Hudson is the author of Choosing the Right Path which provides guidance to retiring Baby Boomers and the organizations they are leaving. In June 2008, Choice Magazine featured John H. Hudson and his perspective on bridging across cultures in the coaching relationship.

John H. Hudson received his coaching certification from The Hudson Institute of Santa Barbara. He holds an MBA from the University of Phoenix and completed the University of Michigan Advanced Executive Program. He also holds a B.A. in Liberal Arts and is a graduate of Ohio State University.  You can contact John through John is married to Wanda and they have two adult children. Thank you, John.


The Impact of African-American music on American Culture

Describing the African-American influence on American music in all its glory and variety is an intimidating – if not impossible – task. African-American influences are so fundamental to American music that there would be no American music without them. People of African descent were among the earliest non-– indigenous settlers of what would become the United States, and the rich African musical heritage that they carried with them was part of the foundation of a new American musical culture that mixed African traditions with those of Europe and the Americas. Their work songs, dance tunes, and religious music – and the syncopated, strong, remixed rock and rap music of their descendants – would become the lingua franca of American music, eventually influencing Americans of all racial and ethnic backgrounds. The music of African-Americans is one of the most poetic and inescapable examples of the importance of the African-American experience to the cultural heritage of all Americans, regardless of race or origin.


How did black music affect American culture?

African-Americans and the musical culture they brought to this country developed within the bonds of slavery. Of all the developing genres, the blues would be the most far-reaching with its influence felt in everything from jazz to rock, country music to rhythm and blues, and classical music.


Why was music important to African slaves?

Music was a way for slaves to express their feelings, whether it was sorrow, joy, inspiration, or hope. Songs were passed down from generation to generation throughout slavery. These songs were influenced by African and religious traditions and would later form the basis for what is known as Negro spirituals.


What is the history of black music?

African-American music is an umbrella term covering a diverse range of music and musical genres largely developed by African-Americans. Their origins are in musical forms that arose out of the historical condition of slavery that characterizes the lives of African Americans before the American Civil War.


What is black culture?

African-American culture, also known as black American culture refers to the contributions of African-Americans to the culture of the United States, either as part of or distinct from mainstream American culture.


How did jazz influence American culture?

Throughout the 1920s, jazz music evolved into an integral part of American popular culture. The primitive jazz sound that had originated in New Orleans diversified, and thus appealed to people from every echelon of society. Fashion in the 1920s was another way in which jazz music influenced popular culture.


What was the purpose of Negro spiritual to slaves?

Negro spirituals communicated many Christian ideals while also communicating the hardship that was a result of being an African-American slave. The spiritual was often directly tied to the composer’s life. It was a way of sharing religious, emotional, and physical experience through song.


What are some musical styles from the United States that have been influenced by African traditions?

Some of the styles that have been influenced by African traditions are blues and gospel, jazz, country music, R&B and soul, rock, metal, and punk hip-hop, as well as other niche styles and Latin American music.

Given its importance in American history and culture, exploring the history and impact of African-American music is a key part of the mission of the National Museum of African-American history and culture. Music occupies a unique place in the museum both because of its importance in its own right and the integral role that music and musicians played in all aspects of African-American history, from civil rights struggles and religious ceremonies to social commentary and community building.

The most distinctive features of African-American musical traditions can be traced back in some form or another to Africa. Many of the expressive performance practices seen as synonymous with African-American music, including blue notes and call and response, have their roots in techniques originally developed in Western and Central Africa before arriving in the United States via the middle passage. Over the centuries, African-American musicians have drawn on the ancestral connection to Africa as a source of pride and inspiration. One of the most evocative illustrations of this connection is a wooden drum originally used in the sea islands off the coast of South Carolina, probably in the 19th century. As an American manifestation of an African musical tradition, the drum illustrates one of many ways that African culture persisted in the United States, even during the long night of slavery.



Although the African elements of African-American musical culture remain strong, the music of African-Americans is a hybrid of the musical traditions of Africa, Europe, and Native American cultures, along with other influences from around the world. This process, which began in the 17th century with the arrival of the first enslaved Africans at Jamestown, continues into the present as black musicians continue to draw on diverse influences to create new sounds. It is this hybridity that makes African-American music a distinctly American phenomenon. In the 19th century, the creation of the banjo is a vivid example of the fusion of African and European musical traditions that African Americans created in America.

The banjo was one of the most important instruments in early African-American music, and though seldom associated with African-Americans in contemporary popular culture, it is a classic example of the way that African Americans blended African and European musical traditions together in the United States. The earliest banjos were likely based on West African lutes. Over the course of centuries, banjo makers gradually adapted their instruments to conform to European tuning systems, resulting in a truly American instrument that incorporated Western music theory even as its design recalled its African models.

Jazz is another iconic example of African-American musical hybridity that occupies a central position in the musical influence on American culture. In the late 19th century, African-American musicians combined popular songs and marches with African-American folk forms like Ragtime, sacred music, and the blues to create a new form of heavily syncopated and improvisatory music. Jazz, as the music came to be called, today occupies such a central place in America’s cultural heritage that many fans and scholars call it “America’s classical music.”

America is truly a melting pot of cultures, and the influence of African American music has played a prominent role in bringing that pot to the boiling point.