Black Music And The Civil Rights Movement

4061 words - 16 pages

On July 5, 1954, forty-nine days after the Supreme Court handed down the decision on the Brown vs. Board of Education case, a nineteen year old truck driver recorded an Arthur Crudup blues track called “That’s All Right Mama” (Bertrand 46). Memphis disc jockey Dewey Phillips found the cut and played it on his radio show a few weeks later. He received calls all over from people, mostly white, who wanted to hear more. He quickly located the musician and brought him into the studio for an interview, audiences were shocked to learn that Elvis was white (Bertrand 46). Elvis’s music brought black music into white mainstream pop culture almost overnight. The breakthrough of Elvis happening almost simultaneously with the dawn of the Civil Rights Movement was no accident. As any scholar of the humanities would tell you that often times after a great war there exists a time of enlightenment, prosperity and reformation. One such cultural revival took place in this nation after the closing of the Second World War. The progressive thought of the ‘50s nurtured new ideas and cultures including the Civil Rights Movement and the fast spread of rock and roll. In an essay entitled “Color” written to Esquire magazine in 1962 the essayist James Baldwin describes the revival of white culture after WWII with the following passage:

The Puritan dicta still inhabit and inhibit the American body and soul. Joy and sin have been synonyms here for many generations that the former can now be defended only on therapeutic, i.e. pragmatic grounds, necessitating a similar metamorphosis for the latter. Now it is suggested that we Live-a little! (Baldwin, Color 673)

The “Puritan dicta” outlined by Baldwin represents the American ideology before World War II. The Puritans as the first settlers of this nation set the mold for many common American ideologies. In the Puritan world white represented good and black represented evil, including Africans and their culture. After the War Baldwin states that the former puritanical views of whites will be challenged. Musicians such as Elvis Presley were the first to issue this challenge to white society. Early rockers such as Elvis would pave the way for social commentary in music that would add much fire to the Civil Rights Movement.

In order to fully understand the explosion in popularity of black music in the years following World War II, one must understand the social conditions in which blacks and whites lived in the American South. An article entitled “Not Just the Same Old Show on my Radio” delves into the very issues behind racism. The article names aspects necessary for social segregation to exist:

1.) There must be a stigmatism of the oppressed group.

2.) There must be some sort of “labeled interaction” between groups.

3.) There must be a hierarchy of discrimination. (Kloosterman, Quispel 152)

In the case of the American South we see evidence of the Baldwin’s...

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