The Timeline of African American Music, is an interactive project by ethnomusicologist Portia K. Maultsby in collaboration with Carnegie Hall. Maultsby and a group of nearly thirty scholars have created a project that presents “a detailed view of the evolution of African American musical genres that span the past 400 years.” As popular music scholar Reebee Garafolo writes in “Media, Technology, and the African American Music Business,” African Americans “have participated in all aspects of music-making in the United States since before it became a country,” and the vastness of the timeline demonstrates that. From early folk and spirituals to today’s rock, hip-hop, and electronic music, there’s hardly a genre that isn’t, in some way, part of the story of Black music.
In a series of essays and archival images and recordings, the timeline traces the roots and branches, the straight lines and detours, the history and future of Black music. With the vast number of scholars working on the project, it would be difficult to dedicate a post to each of them, so in this, the final installment of a series of posts highlighting the project, we’ll explore the work of two of the nine scholars who contributed introductory essays to the project, as well as a sampling of the work of some many people who brought this remarkable project to life. Much more of their scholarship can be found in the JSTOR archives.
Douglas Henry Daniels is the former Chair of Black Studies and Asian American Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. In three essays for the timeline, Daniels focuses on jazz, a type of music that is both wholly its own thing but also blurs the lines of genre. As he explains, “histories present the music as if it is fundamentally linear in its evolution. This, at best, tells only half of the story because musical evolution is also circular.” Jazz finds its sound in blues, in gospel, in funk, and through global influences.
And, as fellow timeline scholar Paul Austerlitz notes, the global impact of jazz, particularly Caribbean and Afro-Latin, was responsible for “fostering rich new forms of creativity.”
Austerlitz, an ethnomusicologist, points to the “shared background of Africa-based music in the United States, the Caribbean, and Latin America” as “solid grounding for the rich dialogue of Afro-Latin jazz fusions, which have made indelible marks on music in all the Americas.”
Explore the work of:
Douglas Henry Daniels
- Local and International Trends in Dominican merengue
- Interrogating Caribbean Music: Power, Dialogue, and Transcendence
Other scholars involved with the timeline represented in the JSTOR archive:
Dina M. Bennett
Conjuring Freedom: Music and Masculinity in the Civil War’s “Gospel Army” by Johari Jabir, Review by Dr. Dina M. Bennett
Joyce Marie Jackson
Deborah Smith Pollard
George L. Starks, Jr.
The Jazz Text by Charles Nanry with Edward Berger; Jazz Is by Nat Hentoff, Review by George L. Starks, Jr.