SUMMARY: It is the purpose of this paper to examine how the efforts of early black rock musicians led to the breaking down of racial barriers and to the overall success of the black music industry. The Rock Music industry introduced African Americans to the boardrooms of major American companies. The fact is that African Americans make up a significant portion of the business culture in American popular music, past and present. Artists like Chuck Berry, Chubby Checker, B.B. King, and Little Richard, have all brought significant influences into the American Music scene.
It can be clearly stated that the state of affairs in the business, cultural, popular, and political worlds for the African American fifty years ago was rather dismal. Denied basic legal rights, musicians were exploited to the great profit of whites who took profits without having put anything into the music. The musicians themselves, some of whom rose to enormous stardom, faced significant challenges. Black performers like Sammy Davis Jr, and Lena Horne who had long dominated the club circuits and casinos in the 40’s and 50’s were denied access to the public whom they performed in front of and were required to sleep in black only hotels. Legends of rock and roll music like Chuck Berry, B.B. King, Chubby Checker, and Little Richard succeeded not only in bringing their music to a truly blended audience, but to an entire generation of people who grew up perceiving others differently.
Increasingly, artists such as these played to white audiences who then forced their families to deal with the facts of the modern day – that blacks and whites did more than live in the same communities, they actually shared significant similarities. Increased purchasing led to increased income and thus increased power and influence for the African American musicians. Eventually, the barriers of race broke down and now black artists, producers and labels thrive in a multi - billion dollar industry. It is the purpose of this paper to examine how the efforts of early black rock musicians led to the breaking down of racial barriers and to the overall success of the black music industry.
The rise of the small R&B companies in the late 1940’s and into the 1950’s is one of the most significant chapters in the history of American music and of the nation itself. Music companies represented the truly first significant step forward in the business for the African Americans in which a true foothold could be gained in a mainstream industry. The Rock Music industry introduced African Americans to the boardrooms of major American companies. The fact is that African Americans make up a significant portion of the business culture in American popular music, past and present. One of the most important things that defined the r&b world, one that separated it from most other American businesses, was the ability of blacks to form businesses and profit from a product their own people created. Hierarchical enterprises more often than not have openings through which individuals are able to exercise a degree of autonomy, however constricting the overall system may be. Ignoring those loopholes, one might argue, satisfies our ideological predilections but simplifies, if not falsifies, the history of a complex and contradictory industrial system. Two brief examples of this form of limited but very real autonomy involve African Americans: one took on an active administrative role in the direction of a white-owned business, while the other acted as a stylistic intermediary by conducting and arranging the music that emanated from a system that employed him on a piecemeal basis (Sanjek, 1997).
Artists like Chuck Berry, Chubby Checker, B.B. King, and Little Richard, have all brought significant influences into the American Music scene. Chuck Berry, perhaps, stands out most significantly of all because he was the progenitor of the rock guitar sound. He was the first artist to use his guitar as another voice in the songs and to make it sing. The unique sound he created with his fast and complicated guitar playing quickly became the standard of play in all rock bands, both black and white. As a songwriter, Berry was among the best of his generation. His lyric portrayals of the fun and frustrations of life as a teenager were both clever and stylistically very solid. What makes them even more remarkable, is that white and black children both found themselves strongly relating to the songs written by a black man in his mid-thirties.
The artists who became attached/associated with Motown Records became even more widely accepted and successful. Berry Gordy’s creation gave artists such as those mentioned above the vehicle with which they could launch an internationally successful career. Motown directly helped crystallize the formation of a public taste for black music that took on the generalized aspect of the whole American culture. But, the black-owned labels and the black performers continued to meet with restrictions and barriers of racism, frustration, and cynicism. America was ready, at last, to listen to black musicians, but it was not fully ready to go to work for blacks. When B.B. King and Chubby Checker became involved in the production end of music, they introduced a level of respectability, quality, and experience that others simply didn’t have.
Sam Cooke, who had been a very successful singer, became an even more successful businessman. He was one of the few members of his generation of musicians who was able to secure and maintain ownership over his music (and thus preventing others – particularly white record executives – from taking partial credit and thus a share of royalties from them). He became one of the first black artists who, through his financial gains and business acumen, was in the position to actually control his own career. All of that gave Cooke the ability to help his fellow black artists achieve the kind of mass-market exposure and appeal that he had maintained. One of the most significant contributions that Cooke made was to help black artists establish and maintain the copyrights to their own work.
When one looks at the overall impact of the black musician upon the overall economic picture for African Americans, it becomes quite clear that individuals with great talent and keen business sense were able to forge ahead in the American economy much as white Americans had been able to do for nearly two centuries. The result of the efforts of artists such as Chuck Berry, B.B. King, Chubby Checker, and Little Richard, was that the nation became exposed to a palatable, energizing, engaging, and ultimately a very commercially viable form of music. That music became the key to the breaking down of racial barriers. We can write any academic essays you need
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