It was refreshing to read this week’s readings because it was on a subject that I already know some information about. Nevertheless, I was surprised by how little I knew. Most of my experience has come from listening to old Jazz and Blues tunes, but I found that there was still a lot out there that I had yet to discover.
I suppose the most important issues that can be gained from the reading are the exploitation of Black music both through the style and the artists themselves.
I found Reebee Garofalo’s quote of “black roots, white fruits” very intriguing. It suggests that White music has found its style in Black music while becoming popular off of it. Plus, roots are not as appealing to the common artist as fruits (although, I happen to love eating roots). The overall quote suggests that White people have exploited Black musical stylings for their own need, and have become more popular than Black musicians because of it. Sure, there have been many standout Black performers, but, compared to the many Black artists that do not get recognized and the White artists who do, the difference in size is overwhelming.
Also found in this article is the examination over what the music of African Americans should be called. Garofalo tracks the naming of the music through the years by starting off with “race” music to “ebony,” “rhythm and blues,” and soul. All of which eventually lead to the current, more broad title “Black Music.” The return to deciphering the actual music by Black people through their color creates an overarching umbrella of musical styles. Rap, Jazz, Regae, Rock, Blues, etc. all fit into this very large category. It seems that these sub genres mostly just reflect that we cannot judge by the subgenre but through the categorization of Black music. We do not refer to people who are white creating music as “White Music” or any other race. So, it’s strange to me that it is necessary to have this giant category. I believe that we could just say that many of the genres of music come from Black people and have often catapulted the careers of White people. I feel like it would be much easier just to refer to music now as “oh that’s hip hop by a Black man.”
However, I suppose the inherent flaw in my reasoning is trying to ignore the history behind music. If, under my belief that we should ignore race in the overarching title of music and only focus on the subgenres, then the history of the genres may become lost. So, it seems to me a fine line that must be crossed, and I’m not exactly sure how to do it. I suppose I’ve recognized the problem with my theory, but I do not know how to solve it.
Another moment of exploitation can come directly from the managers of Black Artists themselves. It was disappointing to read so many instances of the managers taking advantage of the artists and gaining so much money out of it. In comparison, the actual artists recieved very little of what they should have made while the managers took a lot of it from them.
I found it extremely troubling with the tale of Bessie Smith. I could not believe that she recorded 160 titles for Columbia only to recieve $28,575 in ten years. That number must have been decent back in the 20s and 30s, but it was so spread out that she hardly made that much money at all. It was just disappointing to find out that she never got money from the royalties and the managers and record company collected that from her. Even though she fired her first manager and then got some of her songs copyrighted in her name, it seems as if she was ripped off.
I found the parts about The Beatles acknowledging their inspirations interesting because it seems as if they were open about them, but the public and media shunned those other artists because they were Black. I would imagine some people trying to find the “roots” of the music if they loved The Beatles enough, but it seems that many people didn’t care about that and paid more attention to the white, young men singing about love. I also thought of Led Zeppelin throughout the article and how they are considered a classic rock band that was extremely experimental and creative. Yet, most of their songs are based off of classic blues numbers (in some cases even full lyrics), that they only occasionally credit. Because they were White, it seems like they could easily get away with musical stealing.
Which also brings up the point of the white “cover” band. This instance would be the White artists covering blues songs in order to make them more popular with a White audience. It seems as if the plundering of Black music because it was considered great showed that White music was relatively unimaginary.