Think of a summer day. Now think of the song “Summertime” by DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince or the song “Hot Fun In the Summertime” by Sly and the Family Stone. Isn’t there something about those songs that makes a great summer day even better? That’s the essence of black music. If you’ve fallen in love, or fallen out of love, then you know the power of a great song to transform. Even in these times, when technology and gossip seems to overshadow the music as an art form, there’s still somebody out there making music and performing for the love of it. There are more live televised singing competitions than ever before and more legendary artists performing their hits on those shows.
This year, Jennifer Holiday and “American Idol” runner-up Jessica Sanchez put on a singing duel on the show’s season finale that led viewers to contend that it was the greatest live performance in the show’s history.
This past week featured Hot 97’s famous Summer Jam concert in New York, The Roots’ annual picnic in Philadelphia and the “Watch The Throne” tour with Kanye West and Jay-Z in Paris all going on at the same time. The weekend before, Beyonce performed in Atlantic City and so did New Edition. Frankie Beverly and Maze are still touring after four decades and in a month, the Essence Festival, one of the biggest summer showcases of Black music, will be heading into its 17th year this 4th of July weekend. The “Marley” documentary, an intimate look at the late reggae phenomenon’s life and music, was released to critical acclaim in April. Nas and Usher, two artists who began their careers as teenagers and seen them have last through their adulthoods, both release brand new albums this month.
Black music has gone through many incarnations, but it remains the powerful soundtrack to our lives. From the song stylings of the doo-wop groups of the 50’s to Motown to the street testimony of hip-hop’s great poets, black music has evolved into so many different forms and genres and influenced so many. Rock ‘n roll would not exist without the blues. Rhythm and blues would not exist without gospel. Hip-hop would not exist without reggae and roots music. The storytelling in country music is reflected in both R&B and hip-hop. Today’s pop music is now heavily dominated by acts based in hip-hop.
Pop sensation Adele, a white woman from the United Kingdom, and teenage superstar Justin Bieber (discovered and mentored by Usher) have sold more albums than just about anyone else as of late and both are heavily influenced by R&B. Even Lady Gaga can claim a connection to black music – she was discovered by producer (and Tamar Braxton’s husband) Vincent Herbert and signed through Akon’s label.