Following the end of the war, the United States Congress passed the first Civil Rights Act granting freedom and citizenship to over 4 million former slaves. The patterns of black cultural life changed as former slaves adjusted to freedom. With the creation of land-grant colleges, former slaves and their descendants had new educational opportunities that in turn produced future leaders for black America at the dawn of the 20th century. The Fisk University Jubilee Singers and other student groups disseminated concert choral arrangements of slave songs throughout the United States and Europe during this period. A second generation of highly visible black singers likewise graced the concert stage at this time—particularly Anna Madah, Emma Louise Hyers, Nellie Brown Mitchell, Marie Selika Williams, and Flora Batson, as well as the celebrated M. Sissieretta Jones (the “Black Patti”), a gifted soprano who sang at the White House and made three global tours as the star of her own touring show.
Blackened-face minstrelsy, which initially developed in the antebellum era with white actors who performed in dark makeup and mimicked black stereotypes, became extremely popular during the late 1800s. Many African American entertainers performed in blackface shows, bringing authentic Negro folk songs and dances such as the cakewalk and the hoedown to the popular American stage for the first time. African American musical celebrities of the time included Billy Kersands, Sam Lucas, and James Bland. Bland, a composer as well as entertainer, wrote more than 600 songs, including “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny,” the state song emeritus of Virginia. Other African American composers of popular songs during the period included Gussie Davis and Ernest Hogan.
By the end of the 19th century the syncopated instrumental music used to accompany plantation dances had evolved into “ragged” (or “jig”) piano, which itinerant black pianists played in logging and mining camps, honky-tonk dives, red-light districts, and saloons in the South and along the eastern seaboard. Initially improvised, these ragged compositions gave rise around the 1890s to ragtime music—namely, ragtime songs (sometimes called “coon songs” or cakewalk songs) and ragtime piano—an early precursor of jazz. Ragtime emphasized a heavily syncopated treble melody against a steady bass line in duple meter (two beats to the bar). Among the influential black composers of ragtime were Scott Joplin, Thomas Turpin, Scott Hayden, Joe Jordan, James Scott, and Eubie Blake.
The blues also emerged in the South around the end of the 19th century. Bunk Johnson and W. C. Handy recalled first hearing the blues roughly between 1880 and 1903. The music drew upon earlier black folk-song forms and styles such as lined-out hymns, spirituals, field hollers, and work songs. Unlike these repertories, early blues featured a solo singer accompanied by an unamplified guitar or string band. As popularized by Handy, the standardized model for the blues consisted of a three-line lyric with an aab rhyme scheme, a corresponding twelve-bar melody, and a distinctive chord progression (series of chords). The blues strongly influenced the development of jazz as well as later styles of popular music such as rock and roll and rhythm and blues.
The roots of black gospel music can be traced back to song practices developed in newly established Pentecostal and Holiness denominations within urban black ghettos in the 1870s and 1880s. Black gospel—which incorporated elements of the lined-out hymn, Negro spiritual, and the blues—began to crystallize as a distinct musical style around the 1900s. First introduced by unaccompanied male quartets singing in close (“barbershop”) harmony, it was later popularized by soloists and solo-choral groups that sang with piano or organ accompaniment. Pioneering composers of gospel songs included Charles A. Tindley, Thomas A. Dorsey, W. Herbert Brewster, and Lucie Eddie Campbell, as well as the singer-composers Roberta Martin, Mahalia Jackson, and James Cleveland.
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