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Rock and Roll surely is the melting pot of influence; jazz, gospel, folk, country, blues and all the subgenres that inherit those musical families are all parts that make up the whole that is Rock and Roll. The spring of popularity that Rock saw in the 50’s and into the 60’s was created equally from a mixture that had almost as many facets as the music: sex, race, under stimulated youth, a change of lifestyles and attitudes about social norms were all within the scope.
With the melding of ideas and lifestyles it should be no surprise that one race began copying another; there was mass exposure to many new things, one of them being music. Music is, in my opinion, where the potential lies for anybody to communicate and get along. I can only imagine the first time a kid growing up in a suburban neighborhood listening to Sinatra and The Andrews Sisters in the late 40’s reacted the first time he heard something come from the Mississippi Delta or the clubs of chicago. I reckon it would be no different than the first time I heard The Misfits or Smashing Pumpkins after being inundated with Boston and Avril Lavigne by way of the radio. There’s only so many times you can Praise the Lord and Pass The Ammunition before you start investigating something that speaks to you.
I do not believe the use of black music by white artists should be viewed as an attack or misappropriation by the artists themselves. It is unfortunate, but it comes down to the attitudes of the audience and social beliefs of the regions. The people of the Southern States were living in the Jim Crow laws, the social norms were not the kind to allow for black music to become mainstream. It took white musicians who were inspired by the black musicians to help bring the soul, rhythms and dances moves to the ear of society. Does this mean the artists were racist? That argument can not be made. Did they profit? Obviously they did; Elvis is a shining example of the success black-inspired music. Saying that the success of every Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis or Buddy Holly diminishes the success of every Little Richard, Miles Davis or Shirelles only further perpetuates the idea that their music did not carry the same worth.
Rock and Roll is not Black music, it is a genre that borrows elements that build a beautiful homogenous blend of genres and styles. As it stands, I remain unswayed over the idea that Rock and Roll is theft of a culture. Music, regardless of genre, borrows from others. Early country borrowed from european folk tunes and later added hawaiian slide, big band and swing into the mix. We do not see articles condemning French House DJ’s for sampling or mixing beats inspired by (or taken from) funk and disco. The record industry pushed artists that they knew would sell; does that make them racist? Given the time period you may figure there was a bias, but a bias that made them money. It was all about business and what would sell. Black music and and Musicians were underground because white society would not allow them to become popular and it seems to me that the white musicians helped popularize these acts and brought them to the mainstream. I have never heard of a musician at the top of their game ever deny who he or she (Clapton, Auerbach, White, Page) takes their guitar licks from. Did the fame of every Elvis overshadow the contribution of the previous black artist before him? I would argue that for the white rocker inspired by the black blues or jazzman, it certainly did not. It only gave the music they loved and loved to play meaning, a validation that non-musicians would not understand. It is unfortunate that at the time and even now that many people did not realize, know or actually care what inspired the music they were listening to, but we have to look at the societal context and not the players themselves.
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