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Black artists draw from rich history

Staff Reporter

Published: Thursday, February 20, 2014

Updated: Thursday, February 20, 2014 01:02

African American culture has provided an outlet of expression for years through music and literature, and those outlets are still being used for political and social expression today.

The stanzas of poetry still linger on the stages of theaters while the dancers leave their hearts and souls on the concrete sidewalks of Louisiana. African American literature is what binds the community, according to senior communication studies major Le’Antranell Gibson said.

“African American people used art to express [themselves] back then,” Gibson said. “Now we use it as a part of our identity. We identify with each other through art.”

The legacy of African American music can be found in the pews of churches and on the corners of any neighborhood across the country.

Blues music was one of the most popular ways to send a message to the African American community. It originated on Southern plantations and evolved from African spirituals and chants about the struggles and inner conflicts of a people.

“One major development in African American Art was the abolition of slavery,” Associate Professor of English Victoria Lantz said. “The art responded to the oppression inflected upon black citizens.”

Musicians such as Louis Armstrong and Etta James have ballads that are still played on airwaves, expressed the trials and hardships of love and life in the early 1900s such as Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” and “At Last.”

In Etta James’ classic “At Last,” she speaks about the joys of finding love.

“At last, my love has come along. My lonely days are over, and life is like a song,” she sang.

You can find those same sentiments from modern soul singers such as Anita Baker with her song “Angel.”

“Love like ours is heaven sent, each day a day to remember. I feel so safe, feel secure with you,” she sang.

Modern music reflects the sounds of the past, and poetry is no different. In fact, music and poetry often complement one another because of the songwriting process or because of the melody that plays while a poet recites his/her lines.

“Poetry has evolved into many different things, but the most prevalent evolution that it has made is the transition into hip hop and rap,” senior mass communication major Corey Chenier said.

Soul and jazz poet Gil Scott Heron often included music in his poetry. He fused blues, jazz, soul music and paired that combination with his mix of rapping and reciting. He wrote about social issues as well as the history and relevance of blues music in the 1970s and 1980s. Other poets in Heron’s time are Wanda Robinson, Alice Walker and Nikki Giovanni.

These poets were the voice of the people that were inspired by artists dating back to the Harlem Renaissance. 

Today there are many poets and rappers who can hold that have been inspired by older music and literature. Common, Queen Latifah, Kanye West, Saul Williams, John Legend and Sunni Patterson are all examples of keeping music unique to the African American community alive.

“African American arts have evolved into different nuances with the same components,” Associate Dean of Students Jeanine Bias said. “It has become something new while still carrying the characteristics of the old school.”

Some might argue that art has lost its authenticity and substance, but the African American arts have made an impact on the world that reflects a vivid image of its history.

The African American arts have served as a movement and strengthened the culture of African American people who express themselves without any restrictions or limitations.

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