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A Short History of African-American Folk Music

From the blues to zydeco, and jazz to hip-hop, slave-era spirituals about struggle and personal empowerment to the forefathers of rock and roll, America’s roots music is absolutely replete with the influence of the African-American community. Understanding the history provides a wonderful way to celebrate black history month than by taking a look at the incredible music that has been contributed to the American story by African-American musicians and writers.

The influence of African-American musicians on the evolution of folk music has been immeasurable. Many of the songs that have come to be synonymous with struggle, empowerment, human rights and perseverance have come from the African-American community. From folk-blues singers like Huddie Ledbetter (a.k.a. Leadbelly) to hip hop artists like Common, Talib Kweli and the Roots, the folk music of the African-American communities has embodied the struggle of marginalized people in America.

As far back as African-American history stretches, it has been accompanied by a soundtrack of incredible music. Some of the most timeless songs of empowerment and perseverance come from the American slave fields and communities of forced immigrants held in bondage throughout the early country.

During this time, much of the music among the slaves was a series of calls they would make to each other in the fields.

It was the early call-and-response hollers that would later be translated and echoed by street peddlers (a.k.a. “criers”). These call-and-response songs were as often aimed at spreading news or information, as they were about passing the time while they worked. Other music of the time came from religious ceremonies.

Great songs that have become synonymous with the plight of every community since then that has stood up for its own rights include spiritual songs like “We Shall Overcome,” “I Shall Not Be Moved” and “Amazing Grace.”

I Try to Stay Here But My Blues Start Walkin

After the Civil War ended with the Emancipation Proclamation and the newly freed former

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