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The Impact of Music on African-Americans, Research Paper Example

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The 1960’s and 1970s played host to one of the most spirited changes in American society.  This  era shaped major changes in music, politics, revolutionary movements and an explosion of individual expression.  It also an era of growth of  African American youth involvement in politics, education, social issues and the music movement. As a result of the African American music influence, many American youths were exposed to  new forms of  music and stylish clothing while expressing themselves politically and socially. The cultural change was not greeted or accepted at first because the normal sound of the sixties still magnified the sound of Elvis Presley, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones and did not match the new music followed by African American youths. The 1960’s were a time of upheaval in society, fashion, attitudes, and especially music. Before 1963, the music of the sixties still reflected the sound, style and beliefs of the previous decade and many of the hit records were by artists who had found mainstream success in that decade  (ThePeopleHistory.Com).

In the 1960s African American youths found a voice that had important societal implications which revolutionized popular music. This music gave birth to a diverse range of soul and funk music. It was this music that allowed African American youths to express themselves in a non-violent way. The non-violent movement for civil rights started in the sixites, and  it was during this time that non-violent techniques began to pay off (Vox 2).  African Americans used lyrics and music to protest social issues of racism, war, bigotry, and unequal treatment of all people. It was on February 1, 1960, some five decades ago, that the student movement was initiated when four youths were arrested for demanding service at a segregated whites-only lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C (Azikiwe 1). There are several events that were responsible for African Americans becoming more involved in movements such as the  ones for civil rights, women’s rights and gay rights.  The focus of on personal civic activism, among other things, reaffirmed women’s authority over their homes and local communities in ways that questioned the responsibilities and limitations of government challenge the growth of the modern states (Meltzer 58).

The untimely assassination of President John F. Kennedy fueled many movements in the United States and motivated the African American youths to become involved in social movements such as the civil rights movement.  It is clear that the assassination of JFK helped the African American youth push the civil rights movement onto the world stage. The change in power from Kennedy to Johnson in the White House was critical for the legal ramifications of the civil rights movement in the 1960’s. Lyndon B. Johnson was a supporter of the civil rights and was responsible for fighting for legislation changes in Congress.

Disco Impact

In the 1970’s the disco explosion and the new dance groove catered to the dance clubs and to the African American youths. The psychedelic age took society by storm,  including  communities such as Atlanta and New York City. The disco craze started in Philadelphia and  led  American culture into the disco age. Some of the most significant movements of the sixties–feminism, gay rights, and the struggle for racial and ethnic minorities  (Echols 9) – were greatly developed in the seventies.   The impact of disco changed the African American culture in Philadelphia,  where the spread of the disco craze became world-wide. The disco era entered the nightclubs, bringing millions of African Americans to the dance floors of America. Soon, the mainstream American youth followed on forums such as the Dick Clark American Bandstand. Originally disco was a form of black commercial pop music that became the fad of gay men in the white and Latin clubs of New York.  This account probes the complex relationship between disco and the era’s major movements: gay liberation, feminism, and African American rights (Echols 53).

The African American women were the first to embrace the colorful and experimental dress of the disco era. The disco music eventually expanded globally to different groups, cities, states and other continents. During this time disco was changing the American culture. The disco music displayed current events in their lyrics that support social movements such as women’s rights, liberalism, and the gay rights movements.  The Motown sound became an incubator for the disco music artist to bring this funky new sound to African American culture. One of the most interesting points made by Alice Echols is that the disco era, along with the gay movement,  seemed to contradict all the racial and discrimination goals that African Americans fought for years to obtain. The disco age music inspired the Van McCoy song “Do the Hustle”, as well as dances like the electric slide, the swing, and the bus stop. These disco dances combined African American, Latin and 1950s swing bee bop moves. The disco age change the face of music forever.

African American Youths

The music of the 1960s and 1970s reflected the feelings and thoughts of African Americans fighting for equal rights. The African American youths became so immersed in the Civil Rights demonstrations and rallies because the music helped to express what many people felt about racism and discrimination. The civil rights movement used freedom songs to spread their message, adapting folk and pop tunes with contemporary topical lyrics, or writing new songs addressing social injustice in general, and injustice for African-Americans in particular (Underberger 3).  The music of this era helped the African American youth talk and sing about the societal changes needed for equality. Whether sung at mass meetings, on marches and sit-ins, or en route to some of the Jim Crow South’s most forbidding jails, or whether performed on stage or record by one of the musical ensembles formed by civil rights activists, these songs conveyed the moral urgency of the freedom struggle (Ward 3).

This struggle was helped by the change from the  political views of John F. Kennedy to Lyndon B. Johnson. Johnson was successful in passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  The African American youths became the front-line leaders in fighting discrimination because they wanted an equal chance of the same educational rights enjoyed by other Americans. The music was a way for the African American youths to express themselves without violence and provided an outlet that created unity among all American youths. But the musical and civil marches came with a price:  many African Americans gave their lives for this freedom. The Black Power movement took the lives of many African Americans who believed that the issue of freedom and equality in the United States was worth the risk (Hill 46).

The African American youths were also responding to the turbulent times which went along with the war in Vietnam. In addition to the progress of the civil rights movement, the movement against the war influenced the state of mind of American and African American youths. The youths’  lifestyle and  music mirrored this changing time of the disco era. The musical changes brought about by the  Motown sound expressed the feelings about war, government and humanity. The African American youth gravitated to the music to express this new found freedom of speech and make a difference in society with a musical voice. This social and musical change would impact the way people viewed the social change in America lead by the  African American youths.  In the 1960’s and early 1970’s music was an element that really impacted the way many individuals believed and acted. Music awakened individuals to become involved with politics and with social causes like the women’s movement which complimented the movement of African American youths and used music to expression their views of the world. It was the advent of the 1960s and 1970s music that spurn the social change which started the movement. The African American musical expressions appealed to the American people while getting their message across that social change was coming. Popular music also impacted the way everyone thought about politics.

The disco music of this era provided worldwide exposure of African American music which was vibrant with societal messages and philosophical lyrics and that expressed the social tone of the times. One the artist that impacted African American youths was Marvin Gaye. Marvin Gaye’s song “What’s Going On”  is probably best-remembered as music that reflected the social awareness.  It was clear that African American youths had a change in their views because music lyrics addressed the social consciousness of the 1960s and early 1970s. The 1970s music impacted the African American youths to gravitate towards the African heritage. This rich music brought about Black Pride, the Afro-eccentric look and the African American musical  explosion.

The 1960s and 1970s Movements

The 1970s brought about one the most significant changes in the political power structure in history. The African American youths were able to use black music expression, rallies, and new-found freedom of speech to make changes in their society. This era is marked by a significant change:  the black music bands of the time wrote songs that addressed the social thermometer. The black group called the Spinners wrote a social song along with Marvin Gaye contributing to the African American youth’s political views of the world. Those views were expressed in lyrics and cultural tones which spread all over the world. Musical artist were a big part of the social change that supported movements around the globe. The musicians like Smokey Robinson, Sly & the Family Stone, George Clinton and Motown spread the word musically about the American society. The popular R&B music was making a major contribution to the Civil Rights movement while integrating change using the music of the sixties as a voice. Motown was a Detroit-based record label that quickly became the favorite music of African American youths, which used this new-found sound to make statements in the political world.  Motown was an influential music stream that contributed to the growth of African American youths because the music addressed racism, love, and war. Motown records were the best representative for social change for African American youths. The African American youths followed role models such as African-American singers, songwriters and musical groups that helped to break the chains of segregation.  The musical platform gave African-American performers and musicians an opportunity to deliver a message that the whole world could hear.

Political Climate

The Black Power movement was intended to give African American people a voice that was different from that of the status quo. The movement, founded by Huey Newton did several things to the black communities, including giving the black race a sense of pride. The music of the 1960’s,  such as lyrics of the Temptations “people moving in, people moving out,  why because of the color of your skin, run, run but you sure can’t hide”. It was the music that soothed the hearts and minds of American youths who could have turned to the violent side of the Black Panthers to express their views. On March 2, 1970, roughly one hundred people protested outside the U.S. embassy in Grosvenor Square, London, in support of the U.S. Black Panther founder Bobby Seale, who was on trial for murder in New Haven, Connecticut (Angelo 18). The music of the 1960s and 1970s gave African American people a source of pride and motivation to fight the battle of free speech and equal education. The original vision of the Black Panther movement was serving the needs of oppressed people in the communities while defending them against their American oppressors. The initial success came with raising the consciousness of black people concerning politics, world views and equality in the United States. The Black Panther movement shifted to a political movement that was using intimidation and violence to address the government’s issues. The Black Panther movement did not fix the political problems that African Americans faced in the 1960s and 1970s, but did make some good contributions to the development of black politics. Those contributions definitely improved the status of the black voice. The Black Panther movement was the successor to the Civil Rights Movement and it gave the African American a new way of thinking about equality by any means necessary. The relationship between the Civil Rights non-violent movements and the Black Power movement contributed to the African American mindset. The radicals Panthers and the mainstream Civil Rights together made a change in America. However, the music was the main theme that provided a voice for the whole world to hear, how African Americans were being treated in the streets of America. The consensus is that the oppositional messages of the Black Power movement in some way elevated the opportunity for African American people to have more of a voice in politics and societal changes. Many musical singers like James Brown made an impact in the 1960s and 1970s singing the famous song “Say It Loud, I am Black and I am proud”. The Black Power activists implemented politics with vigor, variety, wit, and with a creativeness that forged a new way of approaching African American equality in the United States.

These movements changed the political landscape for  African Americans while presenting to the world that Americans were suppressing people of color. This platform brought about a better understanding of the Civil Rights Movement. These movements created political and grass root organizations that were led by African American youths, women and social activists.  The modern women’s movement began in the late 1960s. A lot of women who took part in the movement had also worked in previous movements, where they had often been relegated to menial responsibilities, such as photocopying and answering phones.  Many of the women of the times complained about these roles and questioned the typical roles for women in the United States. The music in 1960s talked about women’s rights and voiced the concerns that many women were unable to say to their husbands, leaders, or Congress. The music of the 1960s opened a new channel of communication: political music with a message. Motown made a major contribution to the expression of the African American youths by releasing a song called “War” which played in the playgrounds of America to the rice patties in the Vietnam War. The Vietnam War was a different kind of movement for women that served their county. The journey for women started in the 1950s and early 1960s as women began putting pressure on the leaders to change the old tradition of women getting married and having children. The women just watched as the men when to fight the wars. That way of thinking was being challenged by thousands of women that served in Vietnam, proving that women could provide a contribution to society.

The prevailing thoughts are that women do not have the ability to lead a business or fight a war because of their limitations of their fragile physical frames. For many years, the thinking of the United States was that women are expected stay home take care of the children while the man went to work to make a living. As a result, many women in the U.S were not included in the workforce and were excluded from making a living working well-paying jobs. Women only gained the right to vote in 1920 but that did not include African American women, who did not have a voice in the political arena.  The women’s movement did not have the support of all activists because the theory of women having the same opportunity as men was not a part of the ideology in the 1960s and 1970s.  However, the fight for equality helped the efforts of African American women gaining their independence during the Civil Rights Era.  African American women did gain the benefits from the 1960s women’s movement in the U.S.

Social Movement

These social movements in the U.S included civil rights movement, music movement, anti-war movement and civil rights movements that all provided avenues for African American people to get involved with making social changes. The social movement was not all about the African American plight: it was a fight to organize movements against injustice and to gain rights for all of humanity. The civil rights movement was the first movement in the 1960s to bring about change and awareness to the world. This social movement produced the most important American social leader of the 20th century. Martin Luther King, Jr. was the pride, the voice, the words and the motivation for black people to make a change. King understood the significance of making the racial discrimination issue a world issue, and so the American traditional way of living was watched by millions.  Protests, marches and boycotts formed a key part of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s strategy as he and other nonviolent civil rights leaders sought to press the government in Washington for change (Elliot 1).

The civil rights movement took root in 1960s. Originally, it was organized by black Americans in the South, who were fighting the racial discrimination and the unlawful segregation of whites and blacks. The music of the 1960s voiced the protest against racial discrimination in lyrics that reached the world.  The significance of this music reached the world with songs against the war in Vietnam and about social injustices like racism and oppression. Almost every country in the world flocked to listen to the 1960s music which talked about  oppression. The goal was to make the Southern black experience a problem for all humanity. The social movement began to take shape in society when African Americans began exposing the separate bathrooms and other public facilities, lynching, and unequal treatment in education. The movement spurred the ending of racial segregation by passing the 1954 Supreme Court ruling  Brown v. Board of Education. This legislation made it illegal for any American or any organization to racially segregate educational opportunities.  Before this landmark court decision, the racial conditions in the North were much better, but the North still had segregation of schools and this phenomenon was a commonplace everywhere in the United States.

Many white US citizens, including many white people from the South,  were surprised by the violent behavior that protesters experienced in the Deep South. In 1963,  horrified US citizens had a chance to watch on their television screens as the police force commissioner in Birmingham, Alabama placed an order for dogs to attack peacefully marching black men, women, and children. This led many Americans to begin to believe that  social change could be made without the violent actions which dominated the news in the 1960s and 1970s;  in today’s world, societal change can be made with freedom of speech without fear of persecution” (Hillyer 21). The outrage of the country and the willpower of the activists led to the passing of civil rights legislation. In 1964, pushed by the civil rights movement and under the authority of President Lyndon Johnson, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act. This law disallowed segregation in public facilities and made discrimination in education and occupational arenas illegal. In 1965 Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, which expelled the use of any voter qualification systems that stopped blacks from voting. Although many fights still lay ahead, the civil rights movement had utilized a marketing campaign of nonviolent, immediate action to end centuries of open, legal racism in the USA. The movement demonstrated to activists in other areas that they could work for change beyond the borders of the customary political system. They could use sit-ins, boycotts, marches, and rallies to concentrate attention on their cause and help initiate change in legislation.

 Social Expression

The United States African American youths and American college students’ movement were responsible for  significant social change in the 1960s. The youths of this era were responsible for making Americans listen to the horrors of racism, violence,  and segregation. The social movement now included not only African American youths but also white college students. The student movement strengthened the movement for change in the condition of  black people in America. The most misunderstood aspect the civil rights movement and the women’s movement is the belief that only black Americans fought the battle. There were  just as many whites that did not agree with the racism, poverty and the Vietnam War. The African American people were fighting for equality, while the student movement wanted democracy for all and not   just the elite. The students shaped the economic, political, and social platforms while encouraging Americans to work together to make a change. The students helped give the power and freedom of speech back to the people.  There were many student activists in the 1960s who fought against racism, segregation and unequal treatment of women. Many college student activists were aggravated by the intensifying Vietnam War, the prevalent poverty in the midst of great prosperity, and the widening gaps of racial inequality.  The African American experience with revolutionary  music, social changes, and desegregation all played a part in shaping the thoughts, attitudes, and motivations for black people. The Black Power movement of the 1960s and 1970s gave the African Americans the belief and confidence to fight against racism in the North and the South and the music of this era provided a stage for African Americans to voice their concerns as a race, while reaching not just the valleys of California but the world. The movement was responsible for developing the racial pride which was integral to the civil rights movement, and the African American people, who had been oppressed for hundreds of years, finally found a voice in America with music, perseverance and the determination to be equal.

Works Cited

Angelo, Anne-Marie. “The Black Panthers in London, 1967 — 1972: A Diasporic Struggle Navigates The Black Atlantic.” Radical History Review 103 (2009): 17-35. Academic Search Elite. Web. 27 Apr. 2013.

Azikiwe, Abayomi. (2011).Youth play pivotal role in the Civil Rights Black Power Movement. Retrieve from http://www.workers.org/2010/us/youth_pivotal_0218/

Echols, Alice. “Hot Stuff: Disco and The Remaking Of American Culture.” Atlantic Monthly (10727825) 305.2 (2010): 98. Academic Search Elite. Web. 28 Apr. 2013.

Elliot, Mark. (2013).The Effects of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Retrieved from http://www.ehow.com/info_8355055_effects-civil-rights-movement-1960s.html

Hill, Rickey. “The Bogalusa Movement: Self-Defense and Black Power in the Civil Rights Struggle.” Black Scholar 41.3 (2011): 43-54. Academic Search Elite. Web. 27 Apr. 2013.

Hillyer, Quin. “Justice, Denied.” American Spectator 43.9 (2010): 18-22. Academic Search Elite. Web. 27 Apr. 2013.

Meltzer, Paige. “The Pulse and Conscience of America” The General Federation and Women’s Citizenship, 1945-1960.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 30.3 (2009): 52-76. Academic Search Elite. Web. 27 Apr. 2013.

The PeopleHistory.Com.(2013). The 1960’s. Retrieved from http://www.thepeoplehistory.com/60smusic.html

Underberger, Richard. (2013). Voices of the Civil Rights Movement Black American Freedom

Songs. Retrieved from http://www.allmusic.com/album/voices-of-the-civil-rights-movement-black-american-freedom-songs-1960-1966-mw0000093001

Ward, Brian. (2013). People Get Ready: Motown and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and the 1960s. Retrieved from http://www.gilderlehrman.org/history-by-era/civil-rights-movement/essays/%E2%80%9Cpeople-get-ready%E2%80%9D-music-and-civil-rights-movement-1950s

Vox, Lisa. (2013). Timeline of the Civil Rights Movement 1960-1964. Retrieve from http://afroamhistory.about.com/od/civilrightsstruggle1/a/timeline1960.htm

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