Dance In The Early Twentieth Century

1928 words - 8 pages

The history of Jazz music is one that is tied to enslavement, and prejudices, and it is impossible to separate the development of Jazz music from the racial oppression that occurred in the United States as they are inextricably connected. Slavery was a part of our country’s development that is shameful and yet, lead to some of the greatest musical advances of the twentieth century.
Slavery in the United States first began in 1619 when Dutch traders seized a Spanish slave ship and brought those aboard to the North American colony of Jamestown, Virginia. When the North American continent was first colonized by Europeans, the vast land proved to be more work than they had anticipated and there was a severe shortage of labor. Land owners needed a solution for cheap and plentiful labor to help with the production of profitable crops such as tobacco and rice. Although many land owners already made use of indentured servants- poor youth from Britain and Germany who sought passage to America and would be contracted to work a given number of years before they were granted freedom- they soon realized that in order to continue expansion they would need to employ more labor. This meant bringing more people over from Africa against their own will, almost depleting the African continent of its healthiest and most capable men and women (Slavery in America, 2009). Individuals with African origins were not English by birth, instead they were considered foreigners and outside English Common Law and were not granted equal rights. Many slave owners intended to make their slaves completely dependent on them and prohibited them from learning to read or write. The oppression of black slaves was on the rise and many sources estimate that nearly twelve million slaves were brought to the New World during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Although African slaves were granted little to no rights and their culture was shunned, they managed to maintain something that connected them all to each other and their ancestry- song and dance.
In early colonial settlements, folktales and stories circulated within slave communities, reflecting African traditions and symbolism. These stories provided slaves a chance to escape their realities and experience all which they had lost when they were brought to the New World. However, the most noted forms of expression and art within the African slave community was through song and dance. For slaves, music and dance held both worldly and spiritual meanings. The rich musical traditions created by slaves had an enormous impression on the development of American music. The roots of gospel, blues, and ragtime music stem from plantations through the use of hollering, singing, and call and response. With these techniques, slaves communicated with one another across fields, organized work, and commented on the cruelty of their masters. Some masters felt it necessary to ban music and singing to maintain order and avoid any rebellious...

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